Dear ancient TCM physicians from a very distant past, you might not have been able to predict how the world will turn into hundreds and thousands of years later. You might not have expected to have an impact on future beings’ ways of living. But, you have definitely influenced a certain petite wanderess –– me –– as a traveller in the 21st century.
Because of learning how to live better with TCM, my daily lifestyle –– even my travelling style –– have changed! From the TCM theories and lifestyle habits that ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners painstakingly learned, consolidated, and passed on, I can no longer revert to my old travelling style.
How learning about ancient Chinese medicine practices and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) wellness, changed the way I travel
Ever since I got acquainted with the beautiful, ancient school of TCM philosophy, my lifestyle habits have taken a 180-degree turn from that of a typical designer/freelancer’s (which has been my actual job the past few years).
Needless to say, learning TCM knowledge and skills as a professional therapist has also influenced how I travel. Today, as a travel blogger, I’m gonna share some TCM wellness tips which will hopefully benefit you on your travels!
Being the vain blogger, let’s start with something superficial first before we move on to the more serious aspects. Fashion’s first, hehe.
TCM changed my travel fashion style.. & #ootds
Cover up, cover up.
I have become the rather conservatively-dressed traveller… by revealing lesser skin.
Due to my size, all my life, I’ve never liked to wear much of sleeved tops or jeans; clothes like that always make me look short and add bulk to my petite frame. However, ever since I learned TCM, I’ve kept in mind a few important points which thereby affect my outfits. The outcome is, I have morphed into the more conservatively-dressed traveller.
These days, I wear bottoms that will cover important areas like knees and ankles. Now, when I travel, I wear jeggings and yoga pants very often. Yep, I know, yoga pants don’t really fit into the ‘conservative dresser’, but at least my legs are not exposed that often these days 😆The other benefit is, my skin will not touch outer surfaces like.. seats. #CleanlinessFreak much!
Scarves & shawls have become a staple in my luggage! No more back-baring tops.
There’s an acupoint at the back of the head, and another at the back of your neck, that are super important.
The acupoint at the back of your head – one on each side – is called 风池 (Feng Chi, GB20). The one at the back of your neck, right below T7, is called 大椎 (Da Zhui, GV14). These acupoints are vulnerable acupoints where coldness, wind, and dampness – as defined in the TCM context – easily enter our body.
大椎 is also the cross-point of a few major Meridien Channels – it being blocked means many meridien channels will be blocked. These acupoints should be always be kept well-covered.
To make this simple to remember, cover the back of your neck when you’re in air-conditioned environments (including being on public transport, in malls, hotel rooms). Scarves are now my new best friend! Other than being very useful for entering places like temples, providing warmth and comfort, the scarves provide some coverage for the above-stated acupoints.
And as much as I can, I try to avoid back-baring clothes, which is honestly quite tough because I wear Uniqlo’s Airism tank tops everywhere. Simple, I just drape a shawl over my back.
On getting sick overseas, TCM has made me relook at common ‘travel ailments’ differently
About the need to stop Traveller’s Diarrhoea
Charcoal pills and even TCM pochai pills (保济丸) had been some of the usual medication I used to pack on travels. But, a recent chat with my TCM teacher made me realize that, if you get diarrhoea from eating bad or dirty food, it is very much about your system needing to purge toxins out from your body.
If it’s not for reasons of convenience, such as being on a road-trip in the rural part of Myanmar with limited toilets, I now choose to not take medicine to stop diarrhoea, as strange as this may sound.
The human body is intelligent – it comes with its own self-protection system. If there’s bad bacteria that entered your system, a well-working body will automatically want to purge out the toxins, asap. By making you go to the toilet, or even have you throw up. These are symptoms; the actual root cause is simply food-poisoning. Therefore, if you attempt to stop the symptoms (stop the diarrhoea), the poison gets suppressed deeper within, and kept within your system. Why would you want that?
The worst kind of reaction is to have no reaction upon eating dirty food. Because it can imply that your internal system has turned into an environment that is accustomed to keeping (storing) bad bacteria.
If you really must have medication, my physicians recommend these TCM medications for emergency purposes, when travelling to places of questionable hygiene.
1. 藿香正气水 (the prescription with alcohol inside. People allergic to alcohol need to avoid.)
Diarrhoea and the worry about dehydration
Next, the common worry is that diarrhoea will cause dehydration. Dehydration is a small ‘loss’ compared to keeping actual bad bacteria in your system. Just remember to rehydrate after your diarrhoea spell. Drink warm water, avoid anything chilled, eat light food to lessen the load on your digestive system, and get good rest.
Motion-sickness can be alleviated by pressing a magical acupoint!
Because of TCM, I learned that my motion-sickness need not be controlled by pills. Before seeking treatment or learning about TCM, I used to get bad car-sickness on bumpy or long journeys.
There’s one magical acupoint to massage when you can feel motion-sickness acting up. It’s called, 内关 (Nei Guan / PC6). To locate it, it’s 3 fingers’ combined width away from the base of your wrist, right in the middle of the 2 taut veins at the back of your hand. You can check google for 内关’s location.
Massaging 内关 acupoint should help to alleviate your unease from bumpy journeys or long car-rides. I tried this TCM tip on my eastern Bhutan road-trip two months ago, when car journeys could take more than 10 hours a day. It worked well.
PS: If your motion-sickness is of cervical issues (your neck), which causes uneven muscular tension between both sides, this results in unequal oxygen and blood flow to your head, including unbalanced ear pressure – a common cause for motion-sickness. It will be good to get your neck issues treated properly before travelling.
Bye, Vitamin C tablets, or other travel supplements.
It was easy to pop a Vitamin C tablet and drink it every morning, as we believed Vitamin C boosts our immunity, to “prevent things like flu when we travel”. However, there is a limit to how much vitamin C your body can absorb. The daily recommendation for Vitamin C is 90mg for men and 75mg for women (source), while each Vit C effervescent tablet typically contains 1000mg. This means your system will need to process and purge out the excessive amount in order to maintain a healthy level. That processing is an additional burden on your digestive system.
Get informed and do something for the sake of your health today.
To get around this, I now work on keeping up with maintaining a healthy immune system daily, and choosing to lead a healthier lifestyle when I travel, instead of only hoping to boost it through tablets.
TCM now provides the foundation of almost all my dietary choices.
My first water intake every morning, even while travelling, is hot ginger tea.
Instead of drinking some warm water every morning, even when I travel, I bring those small sachets of ginger tea cubes, ready to make with hot water. A small cup of ginger tea warms the tummy, and is also meant to provide many benefits, especially for women.
As a herb, ginger is believed to ‘raise and spread out’ your Yang qi (life force, the main source of energy) in the body, so it is always great to consume it in the morning.
(Similarly, avoid ginger tea after 3pm, as from that hour onwards, the Yang qi needs to return to & ‘hide’ in your vital organs to rest, do other functions to keep your body system healthy, and prepare for the next day.)
Yes, I pack my own travel kettle and a small Muji glass tea cup into my luggage!
Don’t hurt the Yang energy. Now, I avoid “cooling food”, including most fruits, salad, milk.
In TCM, salad is too ‘cold’ for our system. Raw veggies are also harder to digest as compared to cooked veggies. Thankfully, I’ve never liked salad, and only loved certain fruits. A lot of veggies are too cooling actually, unless they had been cooked with ginger or garlic to remove / reduce the cooling element.
According to my TCM teacher, most fruits belong to the ‘cold’ region (寒/凉), except for mango, durian, longan, lychee, rambutan, jackfruit. In case you wonder, a fruit need not necessarily be chilled in order to be cold. An orange or pineapple at room temperature is still ‘cold’.
What happens when we eat the ‘cold fruits’ then? In ancient TCM philosophy, eating cooling fruits will harm your Yang qi (loosely translated as thermal energy) and damage your body constitution. Yang qi is the life force that makes everything work in your body, the life force that keeps you healthy and strong.
For women, plenty of feminine illnesses are caused by our womb being too ‘cold’ (子宫寒). And, humans get ill because the Yang energy in our system is too low or weak.
On flights, instead of juices or alcohol, I ask for hot tea, coffee or warm water.
Orange juice, soft drinks in ice, or even cocktails sounded like such a good idea on flights, I thought. Ever since I started implementing TCM into my life, it takes much self-discipline to hold my tongue from ordering those beverages from the flight crew, Instead, now, I almost only ask for hot drinks or water on flight.
Orange juice is believed to harm the heart, and the heart is the most important organ in our system.
I’ll think really hard, then try my utmost to reject eating or drinking anything cold.
Wine or gelato in Europe. Mango crushed-ice desserts in Hong Kong. Thai milk tea ice-cream in Bangkok. Chilled milk tea with pearl bubbles in Taipei. Lavender ice-cream in Hokkaido. Smoothies and fruit juices. Sashimi. The list simply goes on. This is probably one of the toughest lifestyle changes for me, but as much as I can, I avoid chilled stuff now, travelling or not.
There’re many health articles (such as this or this) out there sharing about why you should avoid cold drinks. It’s really simple even if explained with science. Cold things make things contract, including your blood vessels. When things can’t move smoothly, they get stuck. We want things to flow smoothly around the body; you really don’t want anything to be stuck, right?
The biggest influence TCM has is on my travel lifestyle!
TCM’s relation to us as humans is very easy to summarize:
We are, always will be, and should always be at one with Mother Nature.
TCM philosophy believes in waking and sleeping at the RIGHT hours.
Now, I wake up earlier, and try not to sleep too late.
When I travel now, I try to wake up at more decent hours in the morning, such as by 7am or 8am, and try to sleep at about 10+pm or 11+pm. Ideally, the correct sleeping hour (for Singapore) is 8.30pm..! The latest time to sleep would be by midnight, and even so, it’s considered too late.
It gets more tricky when it comes to travelling to places like Norway in spring, where sunrise is very early while sunset is super late.
You need to move, but don’t over-exhaust your body with full workouts.
It’s important to move for the sake to upkeep your joints’ mobility, but it’s super important to not over- work out.
TCM talks about conserving energy, and utilizing energy in an efficient way, as our qi is a limited resource. The only exercise I ever do when I travel is either yoga or taiji in the daytime (morning preferably), or, hiking. I don’t visit places like the gym, nor do activities like jogging.
Because now I know better how our internal systems work, I no longer consider evening yoga classes (except Yin/Restorative).
Any form of workout should only happen in the daytime.
The reason you should not be doing any exercise past sunset is, as the day comes to an end, your Yang energy (阳气 + 气血) needs to return to your vital organs to get ready for the next day. If you exercise late, you’re burning energy, forcing the Yang energy to exit again from your system in order to keep you going strong, which is against nature. Makes sense? Perfectly! 😬
I plan my showers and hair-washing like an important project.
You might have heard of old wives’ tales against showering at night.
Guess what, the old wives are correct! 🤣
- The best time to shower is in the afternoon, but this is impossible to achieve when you’re travelling. I mean, you can’t be shopping halfway at Chatuchak, and then head back for a shower, before going out again, right?
- The next best time to shower would be in the morning.
- Bathing at night is damaging to your health.
Washing hair too many times is also not encouraged, even more so at night. Daily washing of your hair is considered too frequent, *gulps*.
Which means, if you should wash your hair, only do it in the daytime. I haven’t achieved this aspect successfully yet, because I get really paranoid about my hair with all the dirt and dust touching my pillow and then transferring onto my face, *cries*. But I’m getting there, eventually. Fingers crossed.
If you really must bathe at night, the secondary, none-foolproof method is to shower really quickly, and then immediately, blow-dry your hair very dry after a night shower!
Hello, early, light dinners. Byeeee suppers.
Our digestive system is the most important system within the body.
Digesting is more than about breaking down food or processing & absorbing nutrients. Our digestive system is also in charge of how our muscles grow and repair. It also directly affects our metabolism rate and the functionality of our immune system. Can you see the extensive implication? It’s really a lot! Therefore, TCM believes the digestive system should be protected, not abused – from overworking / over-eating.
Our digestive system is not afraid of being starved, but is afraid of being STUFFED.
On my first night in eastern Bhutan, our plans were delayed, and we arranged to have dinner at 8pm, Bhutan-time. That would be 10pm in Singapore. I didn’t eat, simply because it was really too late. In Singapore, I try to have dinner as early as I can, or skip it totally.
The heaviest meal of the day should be lunch, not dinner.
Why should you eat dinner early? It’s because your body needs time to digest food. If you eat late, and sleep soon after, the body does not have enough time to finish digesting the food, or the digestive system overworks. If you eat late then purposely sleep late in order to give your digestive system more time to work, it’s double damage, because you’re supposed to sleep early to recharge your system, remember? See? TCM wellness can be really easy to understand.
Any food that is not completely digested will result in it fermenting (the more awful word is rotting) inside your body, which results in toxic gases developing, affected passages and organs bloating, and rubbish. Accumulated rubbish in the system is believed to be the cause of many serious illnesses.
If you really must eat dinner, do it as early as possible (before 5pm or 6pm latest), and eat food that’s easier to be digested.
TCM’s influence on my traveller’s mentality
TCM is a holistic way of living – including mind and spirit.
Because of TCM, I stopped applying “Carpe Diem” on my trips.
Carpe Diem – Seize the Day.
For spending so much money, time and effort to organize every trip overseas, every hour awake should be precious and fully made use of, right? No! TCM is actually more than just about eating and sleeping.
Haste creates stress on your system, whether you feel it or not. I now make peace with each day’s plans, with minimum stress. Should things go wrong, any emotional impact I feel is never a lot.
You can call this mindful travel!
I plan solo trips as a form of rejuvenation.
Actually, TCM or not, every now and then, or at least once a year, I’ll book a solo trip overseas. The only intention is to spend some time on my own, to take things slow, and recharge my mental and spiritual self. On solo trips like that, I’ll slowly head out exploring, or if I feel like staying in, I just do. There is no pressure to fulfill anyone’s preferences.
‘Strange’ practices get implemented on solo trips.
“Quietening the heart” (静心) is a very important aspect of TCM practice.
Although I don’t meditate as often as it would be beneficial for my mind, I apply a different method of quietening the mind and the heart, such as through practising calligraphy. On my recent solo trip to Chiang Mai, I brought my practice sheets, calligraphy brush, and ink. On some nights and even some mornings, I practise Chinese calligraphy. It’s very effective to calm nerves down, and sets me in a very peaceful state of mind.
You can achieve this too by other quiet habits like reading a book before bed.
Hope this post on TCM philosophy provides a simple introduction to traditional Chinese medicine and ancient practices for you!