It was the beginning of the school year, I'd just arrived in China the week before, and my new friend and colleague walked into our office.
It took me just seconds to notice the dark purple spots on her neck and upper arms. Had she been beaten?
I wanted to inquire about her well-being, but being new to the culture, I was unsure of how to approach the subject.
I didn't have to wonder for long. Soon more teachers arrived in the office and started openly talking about the spots.
After thinking about it, they were perfectly round and in a pattern; it could hardly be due to domestic violence.
Following the chatter amongst the teachers, my friend explained to me that she'd had the treatment done the day before. It was a way to relieve stress and tension for her body, along with warding off a whole array of maladies.
1. Cupping Therapy 拔罐子 (bá guàn zi)
The cupping procedure, 拔罐子 (bá guàn zi), is painless and is a form of deep-tissue therapy.
It's said to release toxins, clear blockages and refresh arteries and veins. Fire is put into the glass cups and then placed on the skin; pressure is created as the cups are removed.
The red and purple spots aren't burns, as I so naively first thought when I heard the word 'fire', but blood that comes to the surface.
Fire cups can be used at home, but there's also a little device that makes it easier to do at-home treatments on yourself and your loved ones. The one my sister-in-law has is plastic and at first glance resembles a small air pump.
Since my surprise introduction to fire cups, I've had them used on my feet when I've gotten foot massages. It's a strange sensation but does feel good.
Another friend swears by her weekly treatment from a local massage therapist.
Like her, most Chinese people I know are extremely careful and diligent when it comes to their health.
From getting up at dawn to go out for a vigorous badminton match before breakfast and taking breaks to jump rope at work to after dinner walks and games of volleyball, they get in a good deal of physical activity.
They also make time for unusual practices like cupping and a few other things that keep them healthy.
2. Herbal Foot Baths 足浴 (zú yù)
Soaking their feet is as much of a nightly ritual as brushing their teeth for many.
Frugal folks, like my in-laws, just fill up their specially designated basin with herbs and warm water and soak their feet for about 20 minutes while they watch some television.
Others opt for a special tub that not only keeps the water at the right temperature but has built in rollers for an at-home foot massage, 足疗 (zú liáo).
3. Moxibustion 艾灸 (ài jiǔ)
Waving a smoking cigar-like instrument made of mugwort in front of your stomach sounds a bit like something you'd read in a Harry Potter novel, but you can consider it the Chinese equivalent of Midol.
Mugwort is an Asian herb used for cooking and medicinal purposes. TCM doctors claim it's good for many things from losing weight to relieving menstrual cramps and repairing vision to restoring fertility.
It supposedly helps promote circulation and balances out a body with too much coldness or too much "yin".
The mugwort stick, 艾灸棒(ài jiǔ bàng), is lit and held in front of the body parts to be treated as smoke wafts over the body.
I’ve been told doctors commonly prescribe this and patients use it as an at-home remedy.
4. Yang Yang Nao 痒痒挠 (yǎng yang náo)
The first things that my kids spot at anyone's house are the back-scratcher-like utensils that are used to bring balance to the body by touching the pressure points to stimulate healing and promote wellness.
Fortunately the kids know how these multi-functional tools are to be used and they'll immediately grab it and start hitting everyone on the back. I stop them and remind them about etiquette, but the hosts almost always encourage the kids to continue on.
Chinese use these spiffied-up back-scratchers to roll, press, rub, brush and knead their back and joints to release their 气 (qì), or energy.
By the end of our visit, everyone gets a free massage of varying quality and the kids have practiced an act of filial piety. A win-win, no?
5. Gua Sha 刮痧 (guā shā)
'Gua' means to scrape and 'sha' is a red rash so basically you're rubbing your skin with a tool that's made of bone, jade or hard plastic to induce a rash.
Sounds really helpful, right? The idea behind this is that the rubbing movement helps stagnant blood get moving and release toxins out of your system.
The rash, which will vary in color depending on how toxic the blood is, usually goes away in a few days.
Among the many ailments that guasha helps with are congestion, stress, inflammation, fatigue, asthma and varicose veins.
Tip: Open our free video-based pinyin chart to check your pronunciation of these words. The chart has video explanations for difficult sounds and audio demonstrations for all 400+ Mandarin sounds!
Honestly, looking at the tool makes you wonder whether it really is painless or a form of self-torture. But really, it doesn't hurt and after a few times, it feels quite good.
Is it effective? I haven't done it enough to know but I'd sure love it if my varicose veins improved as a result!
Chinese people have tons of other traditional remedies. A lot of them can be found in traditional medicine. But even among Chinese people, there are mixed opinions about whether they're the best way to tackle an illness.
One of Yoyo Chinese's intermediate videos interviews several Chinese people about whether they prefer Chinese or Western medicine when they're sick. You can listen to their honest opinions about it here:
Have your Chinese friends persuaded you to try any of the remedies I've listed above yet? Tell us about your experiences!