Traditional Chinese Medicine: Healing at Home
words of Indra Budiman
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LESLIE ZHANG
Styled by Audrey Hou
Health is, in a sense, synonymous with integration: it refers to wholeness and whether or not a system is in harmony or in disharmony. It’s no wonder, then, that many of the world’s most time-honored medical practices, like the three included in our Get Well series, are rooted in holism, treating our individual systems in relation to the larger system that connects us – how we are integrated with nature.
My grandmother was always the one who banished disease from our bodies. As immigrants, we couldn’t afford a family doctor or expensive drugs, so my Mak was our medicine man. I remember sleepless nights, when I was kept awake by the hum of the humidifier and the camphor-spicy smell of tiger balm that permeated the air. When one of us fell ill, my Mak would drag a quart dipped in Tiger Balm in quick, long strips over our backs until scarlet marks appeared – a sign of recovery. After a night’s rest, the marks faded with the disease. The wind had been expelled and the body was aligned again.
The methods used by my Mak were rooted in the ancient practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. Unlike Western medicine, which focuses on the physical body, TCM promotes holistic health by reaching out to the intersection of mind, body, and soul. TCM is rooted in Taoist philosophy and views the human body as a microcosm of the universe, meaning our bodies are formed from the same patterns that shape the Earth and the cosmos. In order to heal, we must listen to the teachings of the natural world.
I practice TCM to make it more accessible to people like me, queer and trans people of color who are looking for healing but don’t know where to start. Illness stems from a lack of harmony: we cannot expect to heal the body without understanding the underlying causes, such as emotional stagnation or untreated trauma. Gay people and other marginalized people, in particular, tend to cling to our pain and trauma. We carry it on our backs with nowhere to put it and nowhere to lay our head. TCM allows us to get in touch with our pain, not repress it, but see it as part of our healing journey. Chinese medicine is folk medicine; it is important to me that TCM is something that can be shared within communities as an ethic of caring and caring.
If our bodies heal when we are in alignment with our surroundings, how can we honor this sacred connection so healing can flow both ways?
Because the wisdom of Chinese medicine is so aligned with the rhythms and patterns of the Earth, our healing is inextricable from the healing of the earth. Methods like cupping and gua sha aim to clear the body of toxins and stagnation, and our planet deserves the same treatment. If our bodies heal when we are in alignment with our surroundings, how can we honor this sacred connection so healing can flow both ways? What healing could come from the mind-body-soul-earth connection? We can find immense power in taking a healing step beyond the individual body and into communities, building fortresses that resist destructive capitalist structures and tend to the momentum of local resilience.
Medicine grows all around us, whether it takes the form of the herbs that grow in our disturbed spaces or the way we support each other. The moment we are honest with ourselves, release the fear of pain, and choose the path of healing, we find that the greatest medicine has always been within us.
Learning to heal myself with TCM has given me a greater sense of empowerment: if something goes wrong, I have the tools I need to seek alignment again. Chinese medicine theory holds that the steady flow of qi, an energetic life force that powers our basic functions, is essential for optimal well-being. Qi flows through 12 channels, called meridians, each of which relates to a specific organ or system. TCM practitioners point to certain points along these meridians to stimulate an intended organ or system and promote balance.
When doing bodywork at home, you can press these points to mimic the effects of acupuncture. These sensations can be quite intense, especially if it’s your first time. Please go at your own pace and remember that although these methods may be painful, they will not harm you.
Here are three points related to general well-being:
- 1. Yin Tang, or Hall of Impression, is located halfway between your eyebrows, below the center of your forehead. Stimulate to treat insomnia, anxiety, headaches, congestion.
2. Tan Zhong, or Chest Center, is located in the center of your breastbone, midway between the nipples. Stimulates the circulation of qi in the lungs and relieves chest tension.
3. He Gu, or Union Valley, is located at the depression where your thumb and index finger meet. Massage by sandwiching this point between your other fingers and applying increasing pressure. It relieves tension and treats headaches and emotional distress.
You can use these points in acupressure (acupuncture without the needles):
1. Press tip firmly with fingertips, increasing pressure intermittently.
2. You can increase the motion to tapping to stimulate motion along a channel.
3. To guide the qi downward, direct the tapping motion towards your feet.
You can also use these points in gua sha, which means “scratch the wind”, by scraping the surface of the skin with a hard edge to create a slight abrasion, opening the blood vessels and creating a passageway for the pathogenic wind to pass through. run out. TCM believes that wind is one of six pernicious influences that can cause imbalances in your body and weaken your qi. You can do gua sha anywhere you feel any type of pain – just imagine creating a passage for the pain to release and escape. I use it on the chest to treat congestion or to clear the airways, or on the side and back of the neck for headaches.
1. To use these points in gua sha, you will need a coin and an ointment, such as tiger balm. Position the piece with its edge flat against the skin and scrape horizontally, never vertically.
2. Scratch from the center of the heart outward from the body on your chest, below your collarbone or wherever there is stagnant pain.
3. Move the patch in quick, long strips along the skin until redness appears.
TALENT Chaoyu Xie, Hangxin Hua, Wenhui Lin
MAKEUP Yooyo Keong Ming HAIR Bin Han
CAST Vince Lou PRODUCTION Adam Chen, Zijie Zhao, Xiaolin Jiao
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS You Wu, Jiabin Shen
STYLING ASSISTANTS Yixuan Chang, Danney Li, Yi Yang
CREATIVE AND ART DIRECTION ASSISTANTS Binhai Wang, Bei Yuan, Shujie Chai
MAKEUP ASSISTANT En Zhan HAIR ASSISTANT Jingya Dong, Dawei Xie
CALLIGRAPHY Yuenian Zhang
Atmos Store Volume 05: Beehive
Atmos Store Volume 05: Beehive
In the face of the climate crisis, one thing is clear: we will only achieve an ecologically just future by working together. If humanity is to heal its relationship with the rest of creation, it must restore harmony, which cannot exist without collaboration. And what could be more emblematic of holism and harmony than a beehive?