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Your tongue speaks for your health

“Stick out your tongue!” This is what a traditional chinese medicine (= TCM) pratictioner will say to you as soon as you are checked. But don’t worry, he is not making fun of you.

Your tongue does more than just taste food and articulate words, and that was well known since ancient times. Back then doctors had to practice the “tongue diagnosis” to check the overall patients’ health, when x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans did not exist.

But even now it is a very usefull diagnostic tool, because once this check is done and other aspects of the patient’s status are evaluated, the TCM practitioner may recommend treatment with such therapies as acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet and/or massage.

Why the tongue exam assess the overall health

In TCM, it’s thought that different areas of the tongue reflect connections in the body, both to the meridians and the 5 major internal organs (liver, lung, spleen, heart, and kidney). Therefore, it is very useful and important for confirming or not a diagnosis. It can show also strong visual signs of a person’s overall energetic balance or imbalance.

What to look for

There are mainly 4 features in a tongue that should be examined:

Color: An healthy tongue looks pink and vital. Of course the natural tongue color can vary individually, but taken in conjunction with other information, it is still a very good indicator of what is happening inside your body. Changes in tongue color are said to be te sign of a chronic illness.

Shape: Normal tongue shape is neither too thick nor too thin and the body is smooth with no cracks. This feature tells the amount of the fluids and moisture running through the whole body.

Changes in its shape may include a swollen or puffy tongue, presence of cracks and curling at the sides of the tongue.

Coating: Normally your coating is thin and white/yellowish, but if you are getting sick, you may see a thicker coating developing. The consistency of the tongue’s coating also indicates the state of the fluids and heat in the body (more or less dry tongue).

As the coating is the feature that changes more rapidly, it provides an indication of acute illness in process.

Cracks: When ulcers, wounds or open areas appear on the body tongue areas usually indicate an imbalance problem (deficiency) in that organ and/or meridian. For instance, horizontal cracks are commonly associated with Yin deficiency.

Some tips and key point

  • Remember that some disorders don’t show up in the tongue, and that’s why the TCM pratictioner evaluates the patients’ health considering more diagnostic tools.
  • The tongue should be examined for no longer than 15 seconds at a time, otherwise the extending position may cause changes in its shape and color.
  • Color can be changed by food and beverages, smoke or lack of personal hygiene. Please brush your tongue and avoid oral intakes such as coffee, green tea, beet, or artificially colored candies before your assessment.
  • Patient’s age, gender and weight can influence the tongue look. For instance, overweight patients can show a larger and lighter color tongue and infants tend to have white thick coating that is easily removed, or commonly peeled tongues.
  • The season of the year can affect the look of your tongue. Infact it should be normal during spring, but it may tend to be more dry during summer or more damp in the winter.
  • The time of the day could also be an influencing factor. The coating of the tongue usually becomes thinner as the day progresses, while the color becomes more red and shiny.

I bet now you are very curious to look at your tongue in front of the mirror and check your health. So…which tongue are you?

Massage Techniques – Part 2

There is a lot of misinformation and prejudice towards Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and oriental techniques in general. Since this is what I specialise in I decided to talk about few manipulative techniques that can be used together (or separately) to restore the natural energy balance and body wellness.

Hopefully this small contribution to the body of knowledge on the web will help setting the record straight about the true and proven benefits of TCM.

This is the second part, and if you missed the first one you can find it here.


Cupping therapy might be trendy and “new agey” now, but it is definetely not new. It goes back to ancient Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures, described first also in an Egyptian papyrus dated 1,550 B.C. This therapy consists in placing special cups, heated with fire using alcohol or herbs, on the skin for a few minutes to create suction. The cups can be made of glass, bamboo or silicone, and the session can be described as “wet” or “dry”.

During a dry session of cupping only suction is used, and the cups can be removed and replaced quickly or simply dragged along your skin. During the wet cupping instead a tiny cut on your skin is made and the suction of the cups is used to drag out a small quantity of blood. Your practitioner, your medical condition, and your preferences will help determine what method is used, but to be honest I have never seen wet cupping being used in a Western country.

At the base of cupping’s principles there is the belief that the suction facilitates the healing with the flow of blood and “qi” in the body. This may relieve local muscle tension, but generally improve relaxation, overall blood flow and promote cell repair. It may also help form new connective tissues and create new blood vessels in the scars. Cupping has been used to treat a wide range of conditions, including migraines, anxiety, fertility, rheumatic disease, blood disorders, skin disorders etc.

Before you get concerned, I must say there aren’t many side effects associated with cupping. But the ones you may experience will typically occur during your treatment or immediately after. These includes feeling lightheaded or dizzy, sweating or nausea. If you will experience wet cupping there is an higher risk of infection, burning or bruising, although some red bruises left by the cups are perfectly normal and will disappear in maximum 3 to 4 days. Extra caution should be taken also for children, seniors, pregnant or menstruating women, but generally always check with your GP or pratictioner first.


Gua sha is a natural, alternative therapy coming from ancient China that involves scraping your skin with a massage tool to improve your circulation. The name comes from the word “gua”, that means “scraping” and “sha”, which are the transitory therapeutic petechiae intentionally created by the pratictioner with the tool.

Usually before the session the pratictioner applies massage oil on the skin, then starts scraping it with short or long strikes and always towards one direction. Generally gua sha is performed on a person’s back, buttocks, neck, arms, and legs, but a gentle version of it is even used on the face.

This technique is intended to address stagnant energy, qi, in the body responsible for inflammation. Rubbing the skin’s surface is thought to help break up this energy, reduce inflammation, and promote healing. That is why it is usually used to relieve muscle and joint pain and relief musculoskeletal disorders. But gua sha can also boost the immune system healping treating a cold, fever, or problems with the lungs, and other benefits include helping women during menopause, insomnia, anxiety and fatigue.

But, does it have any side effect? As a natural healing remedy, I can say gua sha is safe. It should not be painful, but because it involves rubbing or scraping skin bruises can occur, although you should not bleed. Bruising usually disappears within a couple of days, but if you take blood thinners or had recent surgery you should not have the treatment done. As always, check with your GP and pratictioner.

Moxibustion stick burning and glowing

Massage techniques – Part 1

There is a lot of misinformation and prejudice towards Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and oriental techniques in general. Since this is what I specialise in I decided to talk about few manipulative techniques that can be used together (or separately) to restore the natural energy balance and body wellness.

Hopefully this small contribution to the body of knowledge on the web will help setting the record straight about the true and proven benefits of TCM.


The term “Tui Na” (pronounced “twee naw”), which literally means “pinch and pull,” refers to a form of Chinese manipulative body therapy often used in conjunction with many other therapies, such as moxibustion, acupuncture, cupping, herbalism, etc.

During a Tui na session, the pratictioner may use a variety of manipulation methods, from gentle to very firm, such as brush, knead, roll, press, and rub the body areas. Tui na is not generally used for pleasure and relaxation, but rather as a treatment to address specific patterns of disharmony and iillness. Infact, like acupuncture, Tui na aims to harmonize yin and yang in the body by manipulating the Qi in the acupuncture channels. It also includes what is popularly known as “acupressure,” where practitioners use finger pressure instead of needles to stimulate the acupuncture points.

In ancient China, medical therapy was often classified as either “external” or “internal” treatment. Tui na was one of the external methods, although it can be used to address both internal diseases and external injuries. Many people seek it to relieve multiple disorders including insomnia, constipation, headaches, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, and emotional problems. It can also treat disorders related to digestive, respiratory, and reproductive systems, stiff neck, distension of shoulders, sciatica, and sore back.


Moxibustion (or “moxa”) is a form of heat therapy in which dried plant materials are burned on or very near the surface of the skin. Usually the material used is Chinese mugwort (aka Artemesia), but it can be made of a mix of other substances as well.

Moxibustion can be direct and indirect. During direct moxibustion, a small, cone-shaped amount of moxa is placed on top of an acu-point and burned. This type can be scarring and non-scarring, depending on the fact that moxa stays on the skin area until it burns out completely, or it is removed before it burns the skin. I must admit I have never seen a scarring moxibustion technique in Western countries, while in China was quite common.

Infact indirect moxibustion is currently the most popular form of care because there is a much lower risk of pain or burning. The practitioner lights one end of a moxa stick, roughly the shape and size of a cigar, and holds it close to the area being treated for several minutes until the area turns red. Another indirect form combines moxa on top of acupuncture needles.

Benefits of moxibustion

The general purpose of moxibustion, like several forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is to strengthen the blood, maintain general health and stimulate the flow of qi. That is why it is very common for patients receiving moxibustion to report a sudden flowing of warmth that quickly radiates along a specific pathway, away from the site of application. This is a good result, as it indicates the arrival and flow of the Qi in the freed energy channel. Usually the patient also experiences a pleasant heating sensation that penetrates deep into the skin, but should not feel any pain, blistering or scarring unless the moxa is left in place for too long.

Moxibustion can be used for several general diseases as well, such as pain due to injury or arthritis, digestive or bowel problems, gynecological conditions (quite common breech presentation in late term pregnancy), protection against cold and flu strains, and many more conditions that follow a “cold pattern” and naturally feel better after heat application.

Moxa can be easily used at home and itt is not uncommon for some practitioners to train their patients to use moxa on themselves to strengthen the effect of the clinical sessions between appointments. But although it is a very safe practice, to gain the best benefits from a Tui na and moxibustion treatment right for your condition, it is always better to check with a professional pratictioner first.



Photo: G. Olivetti

The 5 Elements Chinese Theory

Based on observations of the natural world, ancient Chinese people recognized continuous patterns of transformation and change in the universe. Initially, these observations were interpreted using the Yin-Yang logic, but later these interpretations were expanded using a new theory called the “Wu Xing“. Wu Xing, also known as the Five Elements, is a conceptual scheme that many traditional Chinese fields used to explain and describe interactions and relationships between phenomena and grouping objects, from cosmic cycles to the interaction between internal organs, and from the succession of political regimes to the properties of medicinal drugs….the categories are limitless. The Five Elements reflect a deep understanding of natural law, the Universal order underlying all things in our world.

The theory assets substances can be divide into one of five basic elements: Wood (木 ), Fire (火 huǒ), Earth (土 ), Metal (金 jīn), and Water(水 shuǐ), which contain their own specific characteristics and properties.


So what does the Five Element theory say to us about the world we live in? First, it speaks about how all things are connected. Everything within each element is related. Let’s take the Water element as an example: when it is winter there is a cold essence, it relates to and impacts in some way the kidneys, the emotion fear is linked, though not always in an obvious, visible way.

Second, the Five Elements show us how the structures and systems in our bodies are connected to each other, how we are linked to our environment and the natural world, how our world is part of the greater universe. Many people today have lost this deep connection to nature and no longer are able to feel this truth resonate in their being.

These elements are five fundamental energies in nature in motion. There is a dynamism between them, they are not static. Within their structure there are two fundamental relationships: generation (the external circle) and overcoming (the internal arrows). Without the balancing nature of these two relationships, things would fall out of order in a flash:


The Five Elements are aspects of Qi. Also health is the result of a harmonious balance of all of them. The Qi of the elements waxes and wanes in daily and seasonal cycles. Each one of us is an unique and characteristic blend of the influences of all the elements.

People who have a strong energy of the Wood element have a clear vision and goals, and know how to bring them into being. They excel at planning and decision making and can be forceful in disagreements. When the Wood Qi is weak, people can be indecisive, without strong direction in life and stuck. When the Liver Qi is congested or stagnant, people can be arrogant, over controlling, and have angry disposition and digestive problems. They may have a tendency to be workaholics or have addictive personalities, including the possibility of abusing drugs and alcohol. When Liver Qi is imbalanced, sour and bitter flavours are said to benefit its meridian, while acid food the opposite. Common illnesses include migraines, eye and sinus problems. For women, menstrual problems are frequent.

People with strong Fire energy may be quite charismatic, excelling at comanding others to action. They may love talking and socializing. When the Fire Qi is weak, a person may be lackluster or bland. They may suffer from anxiety, restlessness and insomnia, be too excitable, easily stimulated to excess, or they may be emotionally cold and unfeeling. Common diseases include palpitation, high blood pressure, heart problems and sores on mouth and tongue. People strongly influenced by the Fire element may be vulnerable in very hot weather and usually are calmed down by walking. The bitter flavour favors the Fire Qi.

Someone with well developed Earth energy is well grounded, nurturing, compassionate person, sometimes perceived as the archtypical “earth mother”. Earth people like to bring others together and make good mediators or peacemakers and reliable friends. When people have weak Earth Qi, they can be worriers, prone to pensiveness and overwork. They are vulnerable to digestive problems and they may gain weight easily and lose it with difficulty. Their bodies have a tendency also to make excessive mucus. Those with weak Earth Qi often feel better when they limit cold, raw foods and dairy products. They usually crave sweet, but they should eat warming foods and grains to stay well grounded. Common illnesses include: fatigue, diarrhea, gas and bloating, food allergies and sensitivities, eating disorders, heartburn and canker sores.

A person with well balanced Metal energy is well organized, self disciplines and conscientious. They like structure and rules in their life. A person with Metal Qi imbalance may be grief-stricken, sad, overly critical, having trouble in letting go. When the Metal energy is weak, there can be diseases of the lungd and skin. This energy peaks in the fall. In the cool, crisp, clean air of the autumn, metal people feel they can accomplish anything. The color of Metal is white, and thats is why people strongly influenced by the Metal Qi usually look pale.

When the Water Qi is strong, a person is fearless, determined and can endure many hardships in following their dreams and goals. Longevity is also considered to be associated with healthy Kidney Qi. When it is weak, there can be problems with water metabolism, such as urination, fertility or sexuality. This type of person could be anxious, fearful and withdrawn, and in more severe cases phobic. There may be also diminished hearing or ringing in the ears. The Kidney Qi rules in the winter.


Pictures taken from:

The Healing Technique of Hand Reflexology

Every single part of the human body is connected through the nerves through feet, hands and ears“. This is what the ancient healing technique of reflexology believes.

According to this principle, the different organs in the body have nerve endings that culminate in the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. These nerve endings and their associated organs have been identified by reflexologists and divided into various zones or pressure points. Any disfunction or blockage in the organs causes pain in the associated pressure point and when this one is stimulated, the blockage is removed and the organ returns to its proper function.

If you would like to compare, the prime difference between the hand reflexology and foot reflexology is that the first one uses the key points in the hands, instead of the feet, for stimulating the nerve to relieve tension, stress and imbalances of various connected parts/organs. Hands are also more flexible and the reflexes are much deeper beneath the skin as compared to the feet where the reflexes lie close to the skin surface. This means that one needs to reach deeper and hold for a longer time period in hand reflexology to stimulate a point in the hand as compared to the feet reflexology, where the effect in much efficient and quick.

Nowadays our hands are perhaps the most active parts of the human body, as most of our daily activities involve the use of the hands in a more sedentary lifestyle. It is no wonder that most people’s hands and bodies are in such agony! Hand reflexology is actually a natural form of alternative massage therapy that targets the key body zones of your body right from the palm of your hands. There are people who get instant relief from various conditions by doing this and even more who get gradual benefits only by doing it daily.

Studies conducted to measure the efficacy of this olistic massage have shown that it is beneficial for the whole body circulation and heart and produces the same positive effects on the brain as meditation. Plus, reflexology can help you to beat stress. It is also used to treat diseases and conditions such as constipation, headaches (migraine or sinus induced), and asthma.

Hand reflexology is a popular and easy self-massage technique. A simple massage takes only about ten minutes and it does not require any special oil or lotion, unless you want it, but only thumb, finger, and hand massage movements. One should be familiar with a hand chart, which is a graphic display of how each part of the body is represented in both hands. Using this chart as a guide, you can focus the massage on specific problem areas.


By following a series of simple steps, an easy hand reflexology self-treatment can be performed. You should follow these steps first on the right hand, followed by the left.

  1. Sit in a comfortable chair in a quiet room, use relaxing music, pillows, incense or candles as you wish. Enter a state of relaxation using a bit of your favorite oil hands, if you like.
  2. Rub the cream on your hands for several minutes until completely absorbed. This will relax your hands and increase flexibility in preparation for applying reflexology. Be sure not to use a cream or oil greasy your hands are not slippery.
  3. Close your eyes and focus on any area of your body where you feel an uncomfortable pain. Sometimes you just feel as if some part of your body feel misaligned.
  4. Consult a hand reflexology map to identify the points of reflection in your hands that correspond to the parts of your body you want to work.
  5. Firmly press the reflex point you need to stimulate. You can gradually increase the pressure to make sure you’re “activating” the reflex, but loose a little if you feel some pain.
  6. Hold the pressure for 30 seconds and release. Wait a few seconds and repeat. You can press either 30 seconds or you can press and release the point of a pulsed for 30 seconds.
  7. Use your thumb to apply light pressure technique pressure if you are uncomfortable. To do this, use a circular motion over the same point of reflection for about 5 seconds, then rotates in a circular in the opposite direction for 5 seconds. Repeated several times for each point of reflection.
  8. Reflexology applies to all areas in both hands, but lend him more attention on problem areas.
  9. When you’ve finished your reflexology session sit quietly for at least 10 minutes. If possible, lie down and rest well for half an hour.
  10. Drink several glasses of water after applying reflexology. Water will help to drain the toxins released from your organs and muscles during the session.




Picture taken from: http://www.massageiraniyan.ir/fa/galleryfa/the-pictures/category/1-anatomy