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January 21, 2016

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TCM calls for feet soaks

Foot baths were once a daily habit for many in China. Today though, this tradition has been largely washed down the drain.

However, adherents of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) still recommend this particular tradition to promote blood circulation and drive away “pathogenic energy,” especially during cold winters.

“The feet are very important in health maintenance. The ancient Chinese often compared the human body to a tree, with the torso as the trunk, the arms the branches and the feet the roots,” says Jiang Zaifeng, director of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Health Department at the Bao Zhi Di Culture and Arts Salon. “It is said that a dying tree withers first in its roots, and an aging person first feels their health recede from the feet.”

For this reason, Jiang and others say, foot care is an important part of overall health.

Massages, foot exercises, soaking in hot water and taking herbal soaks are all recommended. There’s also acupuncture, accupressure (reflexology) and application of herbal pastes to the feet.

Simple soaking can be surprisingly effective, say TCM practitioners. Six meridians (liver, gall bladder, kidney, spleen and stomach) reach the feet, each of which has more than 60 acupunture points. The feet have points that correspond to many parts and organs of the body.

Soaking in hot water activates blood and energy throughout the body. In herbal foot baths, the skin absorbs elements through the skin and these travel through energy channels to target points. Soaking until there’s a sweat can relieve symptoms of cold, flu and menstrual cramps.

Herbal soaks can be beneficial to those with chronic stomach inflammation, high blood pressure and stroke patients.

Ideally, the feet should be soaked once a day in a relatively deep basin, more than 15 centimeters deep so the calves can be soaked as well. Start with hot (about 40 degree Celsius) water but don’t fill up the basin. As the water cools, keep adding hot water to keep up the temperature.

When you start to break a sweat, remove your feet. A little sweating is a good sign of unblocked energy channels, yet too much sweating isn’t ideal as it consumes too much energy. Healthy people usually start to sweat after around 20 minutes of soaking; it may take longer for those with energy-flow problems. If you don’t sweat in 40 minutes, don’t soak any more. Try again the next day.

It’s best to soak feet before going to bed, especially in winter. This will help you stay warm and get a good night’s rest. Don’t soak an hour before or an hour after meals; don’t soak after consuming alcohol or when feeling fatigued.

If you feel dizzy when soaking your feet, add some cold water so the blood vessels contract. That should help relieve dizziness.

A daily hot water soak is enough for healthy people who sweat quickly. Adding herbs can help unblock energy channels and relieve problems. First boil the herbs in water and then add the mixture to the foot basin.

Most of foot-bath herbs are available at TCM pharmacies.

Herbal ingredients for feet baths:

Ginger and baijiu

Ingredients: Ginger slices (50g), baijiu (50ml)
Directions: Boil the ginger in water for a few minutes. Add ginger soup and baijiu to hot water in a basin. Soak for 15-30 minutes or until there’s a slight sweat.
Benefits: Helps unblock energy channels, dispels pathogenic yin (cold energy), reinforces yang (hot energy). Especially good for those with cold extremities in winter.

Ginger and dandelion

Ingredients: Ginger (50g), dandelion (50g)
Directions: Boil ingredients in water. Add soup to hot water in a basin. Soak feet in mixture for around 20 minutes or until there’s a slight sweat.
Benefits: Ginger helps dispel pathogenic cold. Dandelion helps dispel pathogenic heat and toxins. This mixture helps relieve symptoms of flu, fever or headache.

Mung beans and baizhi (angelica dahurica root)

Ingredients: Mung beans (100g), baizhi (15g)
Directions: Soak bean and baizhi in water for 20 minutes. Boil ingredients. Add soup to foot bath. Soak feet for 15-30 minutes.
Benefits: Mung beans help relieve swelling and nourish skin; baizhi is anti-bacterial, helps relieve inflammation and accelerates metabolism. This mixture can also prevent and relieve chilblains.

Motherwort, chrysanthemum, huangqin (baikal skullcap root) and yejiaoteng (Tuber Fleeceflower Stem)

Ingredients: motherwort (30g), chrysanthemum (15g), huangqin (15g) and yejiaoteng (15g)

Directions: Boil ingredients together for 40 minutes. Filter the decoction and add it to hot water for a feet bath. Soak feet in it for no more than 30 minutes.

Benefits: Activates blood circulation, warms the uterus and relieves painful menustration.

Wuzhuyu (Fructus Evodiae) and vinegar

Ingredients: wuzhuyu (40g) and vinegar (30ml)

Directions: Boil wuzhuyu in water for 40 minutes. Put the filtered decoction in a basin together with hot water and vinegar. Soak feet in mixture for no more than 30 minutes.

Benefits: Helps dispel pathogenic coldness, relieves headache, vomiting and sleeplessness.

Danggui (Angelica) and longan

Ingredients: danggui (40g), longan (25g)

Directions: Boil the ingredients in water for 40 minutes. Pour filtered decoction in a basin. Add hot water. Soak feet for 15-20 minutes, or until there is a slight sweat.

Benefits: Helps nourish blood and benefits skin, relieves pigmentation in the skin.


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