Traditional Chinese Medicine Practices for Digestion Issues

One of the reasons I started learning Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was because I had stomach pain from the age of 11. A GP told me when I was 17 that it was probably IBS from being stressed about my A-Levels, handed me a leaflet and got up to show me out of the door. I used to be curled up in agony sometimes from the pain. I was vegetarian from the age of 10, had eating disorders from the same sort of age, and ate absolute rubbish a lot of the time because my Mum worked and was out most evenings (my parents got divorced when I was 9) and I would make my own lunches and dinners a lot of the time. We weren’t well off at all. Sweet and sour packet rice with tinned tuna was a particular favourite! Or Supernoodles. I can also remember a lot of micro chips.

I don’t remember doing any cookery in school, and my Mum wasn’t interested in food or cooking (in fact she saw food as ‘the enemy’), and this was the 80’s and early 90’s, so fast, easy food was really all you got on TV. My lunches in secondary school were from the chip shop (chip butty most days). I had pretty much no clue about nutrition and was only interested in fat content (except the chips of course!). I checked the packaging of everything (except the chips) to make sure it had less that 8% fat per 100g, that was my only concern.

There were a couple of years when I was doing my A-levels and living with my Dad and step-mum where varied, home-cooked food most evenings. I was still vegetarian – you know, the kind you got in the 90’s who ate fish too, still very careful about fat intake and very particular about when I ate. Then I moved away to go to uni and all hell broke loose in terms of my diet, drinking and general self care. Very typical student! I was definitely not alone in not eating enough but drinking far too much, and had a few friends who I worried about because of how thin they were becoming…not myself though.

When I moved to Manchester for my MSc, things got even worse. I was having a wonderful time socially, but not looking after my health at all. It got to the point where I was having a bowl of peas for dinner before going out for the night drinking (etc). I had the best time socially, during my early years in Manchester, but I was falling apart because of depression and other mental health imbalances that I wasn’t addressing. The problem is, if your digestive health is out of balance, that means the Earth energy in your body unbalanced and causing the rest of your system to be out of harmony too. As well as digestive issues causing many obvious problems like bloating, pain, reflux, colitis etc, the knock on effect is that toxins build up in your body and can lead to fatigue, low immunity, eczema, insomnia and depression.

I’ve written before about how I cut and ran from my messed up life and went travelling for 13 months. To put it in a nutshell, I needed to work out what was good for me, not what I was good for according to other people which had felt like my life up to then. I was vegan on and off by then (21) and still having terrible pains and bloating. Travelling through Australia back then at the very beginning of the 21st century was not easy. I mostly lived on bread and peanut butter. When I returned to the UK I was at least a stone heavier than when I’d left, (despite having hardly any money to eat a lot of the time). I’d studied shiatsu for 3 months while in Hobart, after realising I wanted to be doing something like this for a living. After a terrible bout of food poisoning from some beans I’d kept for too long, I was very grateful to be learning how to balance and strengthen my body myself and learning a bit of qigong to aid our understanding of energy flow. Money ran out and it was time to move on from Tasmania. It wasn’t until I got home to the UK that I was able to look for something similar to help me heal myself and other people.

I don’t know if you’re a believer of the universe working in mysterious ways, or that you always get what you need at the right time, but while I was working for an amazing lady who campaigned for disabled people’s rights and was instrumental in establishing direct payments for disabled people, I came across a brochure her massage therapist had left there. Listed were page after page of traditional, ancient healing techniques that would be taught over three years. 20 years on, I’m still learning from this same incredible tutor!

The first thing that my TCM, Daoist and Buddhist healing tutor addressed was my digestion imbalances. There are hundreds of breathing techniques, qigong exercises, meditations and acupressure and tuina massage techniques, as well as advice about what to eat and drink (and what not to) in order to correct the damage that all clear, strengthen and rebalance the digestive system. I lost around a stone pretty quickly. It was like my digestion had suddenly been ‘switched on’. I could feel when I was hungry better, notice when I was full more easily, cleared any bloating and understood what foods were causing problems. I’ve been so much healthier and less inclined to eat rubbish since beginning my training because Traditional Chinese Medicine and Daoist practices connect us with what’s going on in our body. Qigong is probably the most effective method for correcting any chronic illness. There are lots of qigong exercises which focus on clearing, strengthening and harmonising the digestive system. Deep breathing techniques improve the function of our organs and reset our central nervous system, among other things. Acupressure and tuina massage work on the meridian channels to help the smooth function of your organ and energy systems. You only need to be prepared to put in the work and practice consistently to get the benefits.

This is a whole healing system which has been well established and used for around 4000 years. It involves tuning in with greater awareness to our diet as well as breathwork, movement and massage. It’s not some miracle or something that’s hard to achieve. These self-healing, mindful practices are all available to you to learn and practice to improve your own digestion and overall physical and emotional well-being. Listed below are a few simple ways to get started if you have any digestion issues.

  • Breathe in though your nose, a long slow breath into your tummy. This helps massage the intestines, get oxygen fully into your organs, and clear blockages in your digestion.
  • Starting at the centre of your chest, place one palm over the other and push down the front of your body to just below your navel. This aids your digestion, and harmonises yin and yang energies in your body.
  • Turn your tongue in circles inside your mouth (with your mouth closed), like a towel going round a washing machine. Swallow after 10 turns, repeat three times (so 30 turns). This kick-starts your digestion.
  • Place one palm over the other in line with the bottom of your ribs, swing your hands round to one side and then across to the other 10 times or until the area is hot. This invigorates your spleen and stomach.
  • Eat whole, unprocessed foods, food that is warm or at least lightly cooked, food that would naturally grow in the climate you’re in, and hardly any non-foods (processed, junk food). These all support your digestive system to function well.

Along with the methods listed above there are a vast number of other TCM techniques that can hugely improve, and with enough practice, clear problems like IBS, colitis, stomach pain, indigestion, constipation and diarrhoea. Join me on Facebook or Instagram (links below), or send me a message if you would like personalised support.


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