Needles are nothing to fear. At least, that’s what Dr. Wu Jiaqi tells younger patients when their treatment at OASIS Healthcare requires acupuncture.
“If the doctor is experienced, there will be no pain, because he will have practiced enough that his hand won’t shake,” explains Wu, who has performed acupuncture for more than five decades and received the National Prize in Chinese medicine in 1989.
The 2,000-year-old discipline of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is attracting many once skeptical foreigners, who now long for natural healing alternatives. Wu says these laowai patients are more open to ancient holistic treatments, be it qi (aka life force energy) balancing advice or herbal treatments, cupping or acupuncture.
Alex Tan, a practitioner at The Hutong’s Straight Bamboo TCM Clinic, says the discipline’s true lure lies in its philosophy as much as its practices. He explains: “We treat the main imbalance, not the signs and symptoms. This is the main difference between TCM and Western style biomedicine. People come to TCM because they also want to learn more about how their lifestyle is part of their imbalance, and what they can do about it on a practical, daily choices level.”
It’s a far subtler, more nuanced approach than many may realize. Natural remedies can ease everything from common colds and stomach issues, to more severe problems like liver imbalances. OASIS’s TCM clinic features a room stacked with drawers full of over 330 herbs. The hospital’s most frequent prescription is the Hong Hua (Red Flower) herb that, among other benefits, invigorates blood flow.
Beijing United Family Hospital also offers a variety of TCM services, including acupuncture, reflexology, and cupping, as well as herbal remedies and moxibustion therapy.
Quality vs. Qualifications
First time TCM patients are often troubled most by whether or not their practitioner is properly qualified, or how those credentials are even measured. A colleague of Dr. Wu’s at OASIS Healthcare, and former chief physician of acupuncture at Dongzhimen Hospital, Dr. Tang Lixin says concerned patients should always ensure that their practitioners have a university degree (which requires at least five years of study), or a doctorate (which requires eight years) – along with at least one year of experience treating patients. International SOS Beijing Clinic – which offers a range of TCM services from acupuncture to massage therapy – maintains a strict process in place to ensure that their medical professionals are highly credentialed
and experienced in their specialized fields.
Tan obtained a TCM Bachelor of Health Science from the University of Sydney Australia, and has studied and practiced for more than 10 years. He feels practicality far outweighs theory, adding: “Some of the practitioners I met that have no degree, [but have worked]with a master for 15 years without formalization in China, are fantastic practitioners.” While he feels certification and theory are essential for practitioners, he can’t say the same for extensive university degrees, let alone doctorates. Think about a good carpenter: Is it more important that he went to the best school, or that he has lots of experience and a great mentor?”
Dr. Tang says demanding higher qualifications are by no means elitist, given today’s TCM climate, where more and more practitioners work without a license. “In a big hospital, it’s no problem, because without a license, no one can work there. But with smaller places, you should ask to see [their credentials].”
Tan says: “If you’re going to your local massage guy down the road and they are going to do acupuncture, then yeah, you want to make sure of [their qualifications].” He adds that patients might be pleasantly surprised by the smallest scale facilities, which though may not look pristine, may feature qualified TCM massage practitioners. Often, Chinese physiotherapists specializing in bodywork healing, open their own clinics and work independently with good results.
Nutrition as Medicine
Many first time patients may fret over whether their practitioner has enough diplomas to properly wield a needle. But Tan says that outlook is a bit misguided – at the best of times, he says TCM patients shouldn’t even have to worry about painful looking treatments.
Patients at Tan’s clinic can expect not to be prodded by needles or heated cups right away. Instead, they should field basic questions about their eating and sleeping habits.
“Only when diet and lifestyle fail, should we use herbal medicine and acupuncture,” Tan says. Many patients visit him for nutritional and wellness advice as the foundation for changing their underlying imbalances. “We’re looking at what can help you get the most out of your lifestyle choices using the ancient wisdom of Daoism. We should be using Chinese medicine philosophy preventatively as well as clinically.”
Recently, those ancient practices have been adapted to contemporary issues. “Obesity is a big problem with young people today, more than ever before,” Dr. Wu says. Indeed, acupuncture can help stem such appetites. “And I’ve also used acupuncture to help people quit smoking, or stop drinking too much vodka.”
Tan encourages TCM’s preventative nutrition disciplines, especially for youngsters struggling with dietary issues. But often, the root of the problem is lifestyle. He explains, “Unless their imbalance is quite severe, it goes back to dietary problems and talk about changes in lifestyle that get the body back to a more positive self-healing state.”
Basic TCM Practices
When diet and lifestyle adjustments aren’t enough, TCM’s more famous practices are called for. Here is a list of the basics.
When it’s used: For a variety of ailments that are often pain-related; everything from headaches to arthritis.
How it works: Dr. Tang of OASIS Healthcare says: “Needles, which stimulate the nervous system and modulate the flow of energy, are carefully inserted in the skin according to the condition being treated. Acupuncture is a safe and often painless way to invigorate the body’s natural healing abilities.”
Where to get it done: Beijing United Family Hospital, International SOS Beijing Clinic, OASIS Healthcare, Beijing’s Hong Kong International Medical Clinic, and other TCM centers
When it’s used: Insomnia, joint pains, addictions, digestion or fertility issues
How it works: Think of it as mini acupuncture for the ear. Dr. Tang of OASIS Healthcare says, “The ear is a miniature map of the body, containing over 200 pressure points corresponding to different parts of the anatomy.”
Where to get it done: OASIS Healthcare, Hong Kong
International Medical Clinic, and other TCM centers
When it’s used: Muscle soothing, pain and stress relief, removal of body toxins.
How it works: Heated cups are applied to the skin (usually on the back) and soon provide suction. The resulting stretching boosts circulation and drains toxins.
Where to get it done: Beijing United Family Hospital, The Hutong’s Straight Bamboo TCM Clinic, OASIS Healthcare, Hong Kong International Medical Clinic, Joyful Bliss Wellness Center, and other TCM centers
When it’s used: Muscle tension, inflammation, nerve pain, menstrual cramps.
How it works: After oil is applied to the skin, practitioners use a slice of jade or other blunted tools to scrape at the skin with “smooth, pressured strokes,” explains Dr. Tang. As a result, qi and blood flow are boosted.
Where to get it done: OASIS Healthcare, The Hutong’s Straight Bamboo TCM Clinic, The Meridian, Joyful Bliss Wellness Center
When it’s used: For everything from sore soles and toes, to improved blood pressure and reduced stress.
How it works: Like the TCM “mini map” theory for the ears, practitioners believe applying pressure to different parts of the feet can help heal corresponding parts of the body.
Where to get it done: OASIS Healthcare and a variety of TCM facilities and massage spas
Beijing United Family Hospital 北京和睦家医院
Mon-Sat 8.30am-7pm (individual clinic and department hours may vary), 24-hour emergency care. 2 Jiangtai Lu, Chaoyang District (5927 7000, 5927 7120 ER) 朝阳区将台路2号
The Hutong’s Straight Bamboo TCM Clinic
Call ahead for an appointment. Straight Bamboo TCM Clinic hours: Mon-Thu, Sat 8am-6pm. 1 Jiu Dao Wan Zhong Xiang Hutong, Dongcheng District (159 0104 6127, firstname.lastname@example.org) 北京东城区九道湾中巷1号
Hong Kong International Medical Clinic
Call ahead for an appointment. 9/F, Office Tower, Hong Kong Macau Center Swissotel, 2 Chaoyangmen Beidajie, Dongcheng District (6502 3426) 北京港澳国际医务诊所, 东城区北京港澳国际医务诊所, 朝阳门北大街2号港澳中心办公楼9层
International SOS Beijing Clinic
Mon-Fri 8am-8pm, Sat-Sun 8am-6pm, 24-hour emergency care. Suite 105, Wing 1, Kunsha Building No.16 Xinyuanli, Chaoyang District 6462 0333) 朝阳区新源里16号琨莎中心一座105室
Joyful Bliss Wellness Center
Tue-Sun 10am-10pm. 3/F, 32 Liangma Qiao Lu, next to Golden Land Office Building, Chaoyang District (6433 6232) 朝阳区亮马桥路32号 高澜大厦附楼三层
Call ahead for an appointment. Daily 9.30am-9.30pm. 9-10-A, Si’de Park, Fangyuan Xilu, Dongsihuan, Chaoyang District (8456 7010) 朝阳区东四环芳园西路四得公园9-10-A
Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9am-noon. 9 Jiuxianqiao Beilu, Chaoyang District (400 876 2747) 北京市朝阳区酒仙桥北路9号
Photos by Mishka Family Photography