Try These Traditional Chinese Medicine Practices to Take Care of Yourself During Quarantine

Whether you live in a state that’s starting to reopen or you’re still under lockdown orders, you might find work-life balance non-existent and your Zoom social life exhausting.

Take a break from some of these wellness practices rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, including qi gong, acupressure, and herbal remedies. This branch of medicine is rooted in the idea that qi, or life force, circulates in the body and that any imbalance can cause disease. Traditional Chinese medicine, which dates back to the Shang dynasty, the oldest on record in China dating back to the Bronze Age, accounts for up to half of all medicine consumed in China, according to the World Health Organization.

While many benefits of the branch of medicine are still unscientifically proven and experts warn that it should not be used as a replacement for conventional treatments for serious conditions, practitioners say it can be a source of stress relief and wellness during quarantine.

San Francisco’s restaurant, China Live, serves green tea, one of many traditional teas and tonics said to have certain health benefits.Courtesy of China Live


What it is: Qigong, which roughly translates to “life force,” is an ancient Taoist and Buddhist practice of movement, breathing, and meditation that can improve both mental and physical health. Many elements of qi gong are also found in tai chi. “It’s basically the Chinese version of yoga, except it doesn’t require as much flexibility or strength,” said Claudia Chen, a licensed acupuncturist based in Vancouver. “It uses physical movement to allow the flow of energy – qi – to move freely through our bodies, which optimizes our health and well-being.”

How to implement: The gentle, dynamic movements of qi gong are easy to learn and require little space – about as much as you would need for yoga. Many sessions begin by inhaling while reaching palms flat for a full body stretch, then pressing palms down while exhaling. Another simple move known as the owl gaze involves looking over one shoulder and then the other. No special equipment is needed, and beginners who need instruction can find lessons online.


What it is: Acupressure has been used in China for thousands of years to stimulate the flow of qi. In accordance with the philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, balancing yin and yang energy can treat a variety of physical, mental, and emotional ailments with firm pressure, rapid tapping, and slow kneading. In Japan, acupressure is better known as shiatsu. “It’s acupuncture point stimulation without needles,” Chen said. “You can massage your points to relieve stress and boost the immune system.”

How to implement: At a time when his patients cannot come for acupuncture, Chen recommends practicing acupressure at home. She said pressing on the fleshy area between the thumb and forefinger – which is supposed to send energy to the large intestine – can help expel pathogens. “We often use this point to help someone recover from a cold or flu, so it’s known as an antiviral point,” she said. “It also improves circulation and is a well-known point to help relieve a headache.”

Another acupressure point, which is said to nourish the blood, is found just below the knee, on the outside of the shin. “I’ve heard acupuncturists call this point the vitamin C point or the ‘chicken soup point,’ because it’s a very good immune booster and strengthens the body as a whole,” Chen said. To calm the mind and relieve anxiety, she also recommended tapping the “third eye” between the eyebrows while breathing deeply.

Teas and tonics

What it is: According to ancient Taoist philosophy, herbal teas and tonics containing ginger, echinacea and astragalus herbs and reishi mushrooms can boost immunity.

How to implement: Most teas and tonics can be easily prepared at home. George and Cindy Chen, co-founders of San Francisco Market bar and restaurant China Live, suggest using a French press to brew a combination of anti-inflammatory herbs rich in antioxidants, such as crushed ginger, turmeric, l garlic, cayenne pepper, basil and mint, and adding lemon and honey to taste. “The main ingredient is licorice root, along with other traditional Chinese medicine dried herbs like ginseng,” Chen said. “For taste, add honey to it as it can be bitter.”

Kathy Fang, chef and co-owner of San Francisco’s Fang Restaurant, suggested making caffeine-free, naturally sweetened hot teas with goji berries or dates. “It is believed that hot liquids should be consumed to stay healthy and hydrated and to avoid consuming cold liquids,” she said.

Image: Eight Treasure Tea
San Francisco restaurant China Live offers Eight Treasure tea made with traditional ingredients such as lotus seeds, goji, jujube date and jasmine pearl, which are believed to have many benefits for health.Courtesy of China Live

food therapy

What it is: Many of the same traditional beliefs about herbs also apply to cooking. Ginger is a common ingredient in Chinese cuisine believed to promote health, while ginseng herbs are believed to increase strength and blood volume, and jujube is often used to relieve anxiety and is used as a digestive aid rich in nutrients. Other beneficial ingredients include goji berries and cordycep mushrooms.

How to implement: Fang said many of the same ingredients used for teas and tonics can also be used in cooking. “Making bone broth or chicken soup with a ton of ginger is great during this time, especially if someone is feeling down,” she said. Ginger is a warming herb believed to promote circulation and treat phlegm in the lungs. Her Mushroom Ginger Chicken Patties recipe is easy to serve over rice or a green salad.

Josh Grinker, chef and owner of New York restaurant Kings County Imperial, said ginger is a key ingredient in his cooking. At home, he recommended adding ginger to stir-fries or dipping ginger zest in broths.

Rehydrated goji berries, believed to nourish the blood, liver, spleen and lungs, can be put into smoothies or as toppings for yogurt bowls or congee. Rare cordycep mushrooms are prized for their anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits and can easily be added to a stir-fry or fried rice. Like many ingredients in TCM food therapy, cordyceps are most commonly found in dried form and must be rehydrated before they can be consumed.

For more tips and instructions, George and Cindy Chen recently launched a web series teaching viewers how to cook Chinese food at home.

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