Traditional Chinese medicine or TCM is more than acupuncture, cupping, gua sha and bitter herbs: They’re just some of the myriad of ways in which we can stimulate qi, unblock stagnations and help the body find homeostasis. In ‘Medicine Women’, we explore these high vibrational, local practices that draw from ancient roots where mind, body and spirit are treated as one. Hearing from the healers themselves, our local Southeast Asian healers share their modern, life-affirming mantras and generational wisdom with us.
Ervina Wu, physician, co-founder and CEO of Yina on TCM
A born and bred Singaporean, US-based physician Ervina Wu recalls a medicine cabinet of her childhood, filled with traditional remedies for just about every common ailment. From canker sores to minor sprains and tummy aches, “we would often go to TCM medicine halls to get our cooking herbs—a family favourite is tremella, aka snow mushroom soup.
“When I attended university in the US, I started off with pre-med studies but decided later that holistic medicine was my true path. While in grad school, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was treated with integrative oncology, which I highly recommend for any cancer patient. During chemo, I experienced all the typical symptoms, loss of hair, appetite and energy. However I quickly recovered with TCM treatments. Within a week after getting my TCM treatment, I regained my appetite and energy. While the treatments were simple, they were just auricular acupuncture and topical patches, the experience was so profound that I went on to China to get my PhD in TCM with a scholarship from the Chinese government
“Chinese Medicine at its core is about disease prevention and healing. It’s been around for at least 2,500 years; it’s more than medicine, it’s also a lifestyle practice. It’s based on the idea that health is the result of a balance between the body’s various physical and spiritual systems, and that illness is caused by an imbalance or blockage in these systems.
“TCM is also influential to traditional Japanese (Kanpo) and Korean (Hanbang); this is why you might see TCM and east Asian medicine used interchangeably, all of which is based on the same principles documented in the oldest known TCM medical book, Huang Di Nei Jing – The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic.
Health is “ultimately about defining our nature as humans and our connection to nature itself, which is at constant odds with the modern world.”
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“While it is commonly translated as vital energy, qi is more than that. Qi is the common thread that connects all things, it takes a myriad of forms. It includes yin and yang, and is both potential and actualisation of transformation. There are a myriad of ways to boost qi, but in general you want to eat food (mostly warm) that’s good for the spleen (your digestive system in TCM), keep a healthy mindset, rest well, and practice mindful physical exercises.
“To boost or preserve qi, it is important to make sure you have enough qi and a good flow of qi. Everything you do affects your qi, I always tell patients to pick their battles wisely. Sometimes it’s as simple as going to bed early for optimal sleep quality which ultimately boosts qi. Going to bed late, insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality will deplete qi and blood. Deficient qi can also cause poor sleep, and it can end up in a vicious cycle.
When is your qi stuck or off balance? “So many tell-tale signs ranging from indigestion to insomnia, anger to grief, breakouts to dull-looking skin. Sometimes, we see patients who have normalised their issues. It’s important to see a practitioner to address any underlying issues and get to an optimal state of vitality so you are familiar with what it’s like to be in balance.
When it comes to TCM techniques such as acupuncture for beauty and wellbeing, “achieving and maintaining youthful, vibrant skin is a multi-pronged approach. First, it’s about mental and emotional internal balance. A clear mind reflects through your eyes and face. Second, a nutritious and healthy diet. A healthy gut biome prevents inflammation and improves skin complexion. Third, menstrual health. The skin can be a window to what is occurring inside your body, so make sure to seek help if you have irregular or problematic periods. Fourth, sleep. We’ve always considered sleep to be the best beauty serum and it’s free! Fifth, movement. It doesn’t have to be an intense crossfit class. TCM actually advises against activities that cause excessive sweating as they can deplete qi.
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“Lastly, intentional skincare products that nourish, protect, and rejuvenate your skin. Our luxury skincare line is formulated with time-honored botanicals to deliver naturally healthy, radiant looking skin.”
Physician Zhou Jing of Thomson Chinese Medicine on the benefits of cupping and moxibustion
“Traditional Chinese medicine is about a holistic approach to health and wellness. It focuses on establishing balance in the body between different elements. Here, prevention should be the goal rather than seeking treatment only when illness arises,” says physician Zhou Jing.
Designed to restore balance and promote healing, treatments such as acupuncture, cupping, gua sha, moxibustion and exercises such as qigong, tai chi and martial arts are integral to TCM. Rather than offering a magic bullet, maintaining good health according to TCM “requires one to adopt a healthy lifestyle that is in accordance with the natural order of the universe and seasons. For example, sleeping at normal hours, eating seasonal fruits and veggies and moderation in work and rest.”
Falling ill easily, taking a long time to recover after an illness or generally feeling fatigued with increased hair loss, unexpected weight gain or loss are just some tell-tale signs that your body needs added TLC.
When a 60 minute aromatherapy massage doesn’t cut it, take it to the next level with cupping which uses heated glass cups applied to the skin. The remedial treatment leaves circular merlot-hued marks on the body, as sported by Olympic athletes, and the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Kim Kardashian and BTS’s V or Kim Taehyung.
“Cupping creates negative suction on the skin, promotes blood flow to muscles and alleviates muscle tension and strain. Sliding cups along meridian channels rejuvenates the qi within them, unblocking any stagnation,” says Zhou Jing. The goal here is to “promote blood flow, while alleviating muscle tension and strain.”
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Cupping is widely performed here at TCM clinics across Singapore, and benefits most “unless one is severely diabetic or has other serious medical conditions like cancer or heart disease. Cupping and acupuncture can be done several times a week as the effects are cumulative and frequent sessions can lay the momentum for promoting the intended healing change in the body.”
Moxibustion or sticks of dried mugwort that are set alight is “used mainly for “cold” syndromes as it has warming properties. It can be used for a variety of conditions including pain and menstrual issues.” Used along targeted meridian points and trouble spots such as a cramping uterus during menses or fertility treatments, the penetrating heat stimulates blood circulation,
Photography, creative production and set design: Studio Oooze
Beauty direction: Alli Sim
Hair and make-up: Karol Soh
Nails: Ann Lim
Stylist: Joey Tan
Photography assistants: Belynda Wong and Muhammad Alif Noor Hazemi
Beauty assistant: Verity Cheng
Model: Sherinn/Misc. Management
Special thanks to physician Zhou Jing of Thomson Chinese Medicine