From cupping to acupuncture, how to incorporate traditional Chinese medicine in your wellbeing routine

author:WFAS Click:1691 update:2019-08-08

THE world of wellness is forever looking for the next new thing, but it might be time to open your eyes to something a little more ancient.


Here's how to get started on Traditional Chinese MedicineCredit: Getty Images

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), once the preserve of specialist clinics, is becoming more mainstream. Some NHS hospitals now offer acupuncture as an effective tool for pain relief, while YouTube videos demonstrating the ancient Chinese remedy of cupping are racking up millions of views.

TCM has been around for thousands of years, so why are we only waking up to the possible benefits now?

Emilia Herting, TCM practitioner and co-founder of Escapada Retreats, says: “After all the wellness fads and trends of recent years, people are turning back to the old ways of healing.

“Chinese medicine views the mind and body as interconnected, and the self as connected to the environment, so it chimes with the current thinking about treating our mind and body as one, because they affect each other.”

Here's how to get started.


What is it? Inserting micro-needles into the body's pressure points to stimulate the self-healing process and regulate the flow of the body's energy or qi (that's pronounced “chee”, FYI).

What is it good for? Practitioners claim that it is good for treating everything from depression and arthritis to migraines and fertility issues. Acupuncture facials have become an alternative to Botox, with celebrities such as Millie Mackintosh and Jennifer Aniston being big fans. Kim Kardashian West even 'grammed a selfie of her face turned into a pin cushion.

Can you do it at home? “If you have a specific issue to treat I'd recommend seeing a trained acupuncturist,” says Deborah Warden of London's Goose Green Clinic.


Acupuncture helps the body to heal itself and its energy - or qi - to flow betterCredit: Getty - Contributor

“But applying [needle-free] pressure to the acupuncture points on your own hand can promote the self-healing process. For example, the hand valley point can be found in the tough skin between the thumb and index finger. Applying firm touch to this pressure point may help reduce stress, as well as encourage feelings of relaxation.”

What does it feel like? Even if you're scared of needles, these are so tiny you barely feel a scratch.

Any evidence it works? It's complicated. Studies have found that acupuncture offers a greater benefit in pain relief than placebo, but the evidence isn't considered to be strong. Plus, there is no reliable evidence that it improves fertility. However, a 1996 report in the International Journal of Clinical Acupuncture reported that of 300 people in China treated with facial acupuncture, 90% had improvement in the elasticity of facial muscles.


What is it? Cupping involves lighting a match inside a silicone or glass cup to create a vacuum, then placing it quickly on to the surface of the skin where it is left for up to 20 minutes.

The resulting suction pulls the skin away from the body and into the cup, which causes red – and later purple – spots. The idea is that it promotes blood flow and prevents the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles, hence its popularity among athletes at the Rio Olympics (and Gwynnie P on the red carpet in 2004).

What is it good for? It's been used to treat everything from migraines and weight loss to resolving back pain and lowering cholesterol.


Cupping promotes blood flow and prevents the build-up of lactic acid in the musclesCredit: Getty - Contributor

Can you do it at home? For obvious reasons, we wouldn't.

What does it feel like? Kind of like having a hot vacuum cleaner applied to your back. Not exactly painful, but definitely not relaxing either. The bruises can take a couple of weeks to disappear.

Any evidence it works? A 2015 review of the evidence found that cupping might provide some relief for chronic neck or back pain, and more research is underway.* As with acupuncture, there's currently no evidence it can help with fertility issues.


What is it? This treatment is based on the theory that the feet provide a map of the whole body, so the toes reflect the head, the ball of the foot reflects the chest and the arch of the foot mirrors the digestive organs. Reflexologists apply pressure to the different zones of the feet to energise the body and encourage it to heal. Celebs including Emma Stone and Holly Willoughby swear by regular reflexology sessions.

What is it good for? It may be helpful for people experiencing back pain, stress-related conditions, hormone imbalances and sleep disorders.


Reflexology is based on the theory that the feet provide a map of the whole bodyCredit: Getty - Contributor

Can you do it at home? Reflexologist Hannah Adams advises anyone suffering from a long-term problem to book a session with a professional, you may need as little as three sessions. “The effects can be profound,” says Hannah. Try this DIY method to induce sleepiness: on the bottom of each foot, “walk” your thumb up from the base of the heel to each toe (imagine your thumb is a caterpillar inching its way up your foot), then press these reflex points with the outer edge of your thumb or tip of your forefinger.

What does it feel like? Seriously relaxing. You'll have your eyes closed so will likely fall asleep, and you might even see colours or images as you feel sensations in different parts of your body.

Any evidence it works? Due to its non-invasive, complementary nature, reflexology is widely recognised by the NHS and there's anecdotal evidence of its positive effects in a variety of health conditions.** However, there's no hard evidence to suggest it's more effective than a simple massage.

Gua Sha

What is it? Seen everyone rollering their skin with a crystal on Instagram? That's gua sha. “This 'skin scraping' self-care technique is used to unblock the body's meridian lines – also known as the energy highways,” says gua sha facialist Su-Man Hsu. “Using a smooth tool such as jade roller, you apply pressure to your skin to stimulate microcirculation, or energy flow, so that toxins can be released from the body.”

What is it good for? Practitioners claim it can help migraines, neck pain and symptoms of perimenopause, such as hot flashes. It also has aesthetic side effects, Su-Man explains. “It can have a detoxifying effect on the face and neck, reducing puffiness and draining the lymph glands, while also minimising the appearance of wrinkles and leaving your complexion tighter and brighter.”


Gua Sha is a 'skin scraping' technique used to unblock the body's meridian linesCredit: Getty - Contributor

Can you do it at home? Yes, with practice. “Watch tutorial videos to get a feel for the technique, and use a lot of product such as cleansers or facial oil so that the roller glides on the skin and doesn't scratch,” says Su-Man.

What does it feel like? The rollers feel cool and smooth, and the rhythmic strokes are super-soothing.

Any evidence it works? Studies have found that gua sha improved circulation and reduced neck pain, but more research is still needed.*** Many testimonials say it defines your cheekbones and brightens your skin.