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Four Self-Care Skills I Learned Growing Up In China


Self-care, the practice of taking care of one’s own mind and body during times of stress, has become a trending topic on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr. Celebrities love it, influencers adore it, and the Atlantic even published an online self-care guide. #selfcare!

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that “self-care” - the hottest new thing on the internet - is something I’ve been practicing since childhood, simply growing up immersed in Chinese culture! Self-care for me is a set of practices passed down through my grandmother, my aunts, and my teachers.

Without further ado, I want to share some of my best, authentically Chinese #selfcare tips. My American friends are usually skeptical at first, but they really work. Try these out for yourself!

1. Five minute eye massage

While Yangyang and the team were in China this summer filming Yoyo Chinese's upcoming Upper Intermediate Conversational Course, their cameraman noticed this man on the subway, who appeared to be trying to rub a hole right through his skull:

This may be a strange sight in the US (where the cameraman is from), but in China no one would think twice.  That's because we all learned this eye massage as school children!

Every morning in my elementary school in China, a familiar voice comes on over the broadcast speakers, and we all take a break from our work for the daily five-minute eye massage. The eye massage, or 眼保健操 (yǎn bǎo jiàn cāo) uses Chinese acupressure technique to release tension from eye muscles, increase facial circulation, and refresh your mind with a little break in the day.

Every student who attended public school in China learned the eye massage. It consists of four segments of stimulating different pressure points with your eyes closed, and the whole thing takes less than five minutes!

Even today, when I’ve been working in front of the computer for a while, my eyes get cranky and teary. It’s almost like they are trying to tell me: “ 我很累!” (wǒ hěn lèi)- “I’m so tired!”  When that happens, I like to take a break to do the five minute eye massage. Even if I don’t have time to do the whole thing, I choose one of the segments to go through. It makes a huge difference!

If you 做电脑工作(zuò diàn nǎo gōng zuò) work with computers - this self-care tip could be very useful. It’s also great for people who love to  打电脑游戏(dǎ diàn nǎo yóu xì) - play video games.

Watch this awesome video to learn how to give yourself a proper Chinese eye massage:

Try it next time you are feeling that heavy eye fatigue and enjoy it's rejuvenating effects!

2. Suncare/Skincare

Tanning is a concept I only learned after I came to the United States. Exposing yourself to the sun? On purpose??? The Chinese women I grew up around would scoff at such a crazy idea. It’s common knowledge in China that the sun is bad for your skin, whereas the United States seems to be a little behind the curve when it comes to sun protection.

The women in my family are religious about staying out of the sun, and it’s something they ingrain in their children. When the summer comes and the sun is strong, there is a huge arsenal of tools we use to keep away from UV rays. Hats, scarves, long pants and long sleeves are popular, but so are items that are bizarre by Western standards, like sun-umbrellas, even facekinis (see the admittedly frightening photo above)!

In Unit 31 of the Yoyo Chinese Intermediate Conversational Course, we asked regular people on the streets of China what type of boyfriend or girlfriend they prefer. Many people answered: “我喜欢皮肤好的!” (wǒ xǐ huān pí fū hǎo de) which means, “I like someone with great skin!” 

So if you want great skin, do as the Chinese do and stay out of the sun!

Here in the US, I have toned down my use of sun protection tools, but never leave the house without a healthy layer of sunscreen. In my experience, sunscreen from Asian skincare lines are strong, yet easily absorbed by the skin. No more white, goopy messes!

3. Herbal Home Remedies

When 夏天 (xià tiān) - summer turns to 秋天(qiū tiān) - fall, I usually get the sniffles. When that happens, the first thing I do is brew a big pot of brown sugar and ginger tea. Ginger is a “heating” ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, and chases the cold out of your body.  After I drink the hot ginger tea, I feel good as new.

When there’s a big deadline coming up, it’s easy to feel stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. Physically, you might be having dry mouth, nosebleeds, and even a ton of break-outs! In traditional Chinese medicine, we would describe this condition as 上火 (shàng huǒ), when there is too much excess heat in the body. (Our full primer on 上火 (shàng huǒ) can be read here).

When this happens, I make 绿豆水 (lǜ dòu shuǐ) - mung bean water - to cool the body down just like my grandma taught me to do.

To me, these two home-remedies rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine are as normal as American chicken noodle soup for a cold. These are the types of self-care tips I learned growing up with a loving Chinese family, and they are my first line of defense against sickness and stress.

So when you feel a little under the weather, maybe 身体有点儿不舒服 (shēn tǐ yǒu diǎn(r) bù shū fu), a simple home remedy based in traditional Chinese medicine can provide some much-needed relief.

Here is the recipe for mung bean water if you are interested in trying it out. Feel free to improvise and adapt to your tastes.

绿豆水 (lǜ dòu shuǐ)Mung Bean Water

· 1/3 cup of dried mung beans

· 6 cups cold water

· Chinese rock sugar to taste

1. Add mung beans and water to a pot and bring to a boil

2. Once water boils, bring the heat down to a gentle simmer

3. Simmer until the mung beans are cooked and burst open, add sugar to taste. 

You can eat the beans if you’d like, but some people choose to toss the beans out and only drink the water.

4. Soaking your feet

When summer turns into fall, many Chinese people will drag a large wooden basin out of storage. It’s the season to 泡脚 (pào jiǎo) - soak your feet in hot water.

In traditional Chinese medicine and reflexology, the feet are intimately connected to the rest of the body, with zones on the feet corresponding to specific organs. By soaking the feet in hot water, people can increase circulation and stimulate organ functions. Plus, it feels like a mini spa treatment!

To 泡脚 (pào jiǎo), simply fill a basin with hot, but not burning water, and submerge your feet for ten to twenty minutes. You can add some ginger slices, or epsom salt for additional health benefits.

冬天 (dōng tiān) - Winter is right around the corner, will you try to soak your feet when it gets cold?

I’m always curious, if you grew up in a different culture, what are some self-care tips you learned that the rest of us might not know? Share with us in the comments below! And if you have any questions about the self-care tips in this article, please send them to us in the comments.