From yoga studios to the matcha craze, a broad range of Asian practices have become mainstream in Western wellness. Most of these techniques were developed in ancient China and India and are based on traditions of more than 2,000 years. While some may consider them trends today, various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, exercise, and body treatments are actually rooted in centuries-old healing practices. As they go mainstream, it's important to recognize their cultural significance and honor the communities that have kept them alive—especially now, during AAPI History Month and a time when anti-Asian hate crimes have surged.
To learn more about the different types of Eastern wellness techniques currently populating our beauty and wellness industry, L'OFFICIEL delves into their ancient origins.
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine of ancient and empirical origin from China that until the mid-1900s, was judged as unscientific and unverified practice in the West. From the post-war period onwards, the scientific validation of acupuncture led to the discovery of its mechanisms of action, especially in the neurological field. With the insertion of needles in specific points of the human body, acupuncture promotes the health and well-being of the individual. According to traditional Chinese medicine, stimulating these points can correct imbalances in the flow of qi, one's vital energy that flows in well-defined channels, known as meridians, which connect acupuncture points. The meridians ultimately carry vital energy throughout the body, giving life to an energy cycle that connects all the organs and systems present in the body. In the Chinese conception, if one or more meridians are blocked and the regular flow of the qi is interrupted, health issues or diseases arise.
The origins of yoga can be traced to northern India over 5,000 years ago. Not specific to any particular Hindu tradition, Yoga was mainly intended as a means of spiritual realization and salvation, therefore it was interpreted and disciplined according to the different schools, or darsanas, in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The literal translation of the Sanskrit word yoga is yoke, intended as a bond or union of the whole—body, mind, and spirit—to the natural world and its elements. In the West, this ascetic and meditative practice was introduced in the 19th century to bring people a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual exercises carried out through postures, or asanas, that aim to provide physical fitness, stress-relief and relaxation.
Gua Sha, which literally means "to scrape sand," is a practice belonging to traditional Chinese medicine. It consists of the face being stimulated in specific areas with a tool commonly made from jade or rose quartz. A practice that is currently gaining traction on social media, Gua Sha is done by performing scrapings on the epidermis that are meant to release unhealthy bodily matter from blood stasis within sore, tired, stiff or injured muscle areas in order to stimulate new oxygenated blood flow to the areas, thus promoting metabolic cell repair, regeneration, healing and recovery.
Cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine that originated in ancient China, but also in India, South America, Egypt, and the Middle East, which involves placing cups directly on the skin to create suction so as to facilitate the flow of qi in the body. Based on the principles and theories of traditional Chinese medicine, which include the theories of yin and yang, the five elements, and meridians, cupping therapy is another method, like acupuncture, that aims at targeting stimulation of the meridians to regulate the flow of qi, positively influencing the internal organs and functional cycles of the body.
Another type of traditional Chinese medicine treatment similar to acupuncture and cupping, moxibustion involves burning moxa, a cone or cigar-shaped stick made of ground dried mugwort leaves, on the patient's skin or near the body's meridians and acupuncture points. Practitioners from China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia believe that the resulting heat helps stimulate these points and improves the flow of qi in your body. Moxibustion can be used in combination with a massage. acupuncture needles, or as a single technique.
Matcha is a finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves traditionally consumed in East Asia and originating from imperial China, when it was used in the Sui dynasty. The way we consume matcha today, however, was created by the Japanese. The green tea plants used for matcha are shade-grown for three to four weeks before harvest, and once done, they are steamed, dried, and reduced to a very fine powder ready for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which centers on the preparation, serving, and drinking of matcha as hot tea, and embodies a meditative spirituality. Matcha used in this way is referred to as ceremonial-grade because of the powder's very high quality. Though still an amazing antioxidant and health ally, today lower-quality matcha, also referred to as culinary-grade, is also used to flavor and dye foods, such as mochi, soba noodles, green tea ice cream, and matcha lattes.
Chinese herbology is a part of traditional Chinese medicine that deals with the intake of drugs of natural origin, similar to Western herbal medicine and the clinical practice of healing using naturally occurring plant material or plants with little or no industrial processing. Chinese herbal medicine is much less known than acupuncture although it shares its ancient origins and a history based on the observation of a practice lasting thousands of years. Herbs most commonly used include some familiar ones such as mushrooms, ginger, licorice, cinnamon, salvia, and ginseng, among others, as well as some anima and mineral products.