Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an ancient form of medicine. It’s based on the concept of qi, or the vital energy of your body. Qi is said to flow through body channels called meridians.
TCM also revolves around the idea of yin and yang, or the opposing elements of qi. Yin and yang must be in harmony in order for qi to be in balance.
In TCM, overall health depends on a balanced qi. This includes mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. But if qi is imbalanced or blocked, or if yin and yang aren’t in harmony, sickness can occur.
TCM aims to rebalance qi using tonification, a therapy that’s said to improve energy flow. It can be done through various techniques, like acupuncture and massage.
There’s no hard evidence that tonification is effective, though. Scientists have not proven the link between tonification and health, let alone the existence of qi.
Let’s look at what tonifying typically involves, along with its purported benefits.
The process of tonifying the body can be done in various ways. These treatments are provided by a TCM practitioner.
Depending on your specific health problems, a practitioner might use:
Tonifying by massage
Massage is the practice of stretching and manipulating your skin, muscles, and joints. A provider uses their hands to do this.
In TCM, one type of massage that’s used for tonification is called shiatsu.
Shiatsu involves gentle pressure, which focuses on the body’s meridians. This is thought to balance the flow of qi and encourage self-healing.
Tonifying by acupuncture
Acupuncture is also used for tonification. The therapy uses thin needles, which are inserted into certain points on your body’s meridians.
The needles are said to trigger energy flow, which helps balance qi.
Acupuncture might also be done in the form of acupressure. In this treatment, the provider uses their hands or thumbs to place pressure on meridian points. This is also thought to rebalance the flow of qi.
Tonifying by diet
A TCM-guided diet is said to stabilize or unblock qi. The idea is to nourish the body parts located along the meridians.
Examples of foods included in a TCM diet include:
- Chinese yam porridge
- steamed chicken
- mung bean lily congee
- fried walnut with leek
- angelica, ginger, and mutton soup
A TCM diet is also said to help the body get rid of toxic substances.
Tonifying by herbs
Another form of tonification is herbal medicine. In TCM, herbs are used to promote well-being by restoring qi.
There are many herbs used to tonify qi. Commonly used herbs include:
Depending on your treatment, herbal medicine can be taken as:
A practitioner might also use moxibustion, which involves burning dried herbs on or near your skin. The heat is believed to stimulate energy flow and promote healing.
Typically, moxibustion uses Chinese mugwort, but other herbs may be used.
However, research is lacking on the benefits of moxibustion for tonification. According to a 2010 review, the therapeutic value of moxibustion isn’t well-documented, and considerable uncertainty remains about the benefits of this practice.
Tonifying by sexual activity
According to some, sexual activity can regulate and maintain qi. It’s recommended to lead a healthy, balanced sexual life to reap this benefit.
Tonifying by breathing exercises
Tonification can also be achieved through mindful breathing exercises. These therapies use meditative movements and breathing techniques to restore qi.
Examples of exercises used for tonification include:
According to TCM, every organ has its own qi. If your qi is imbalanced, your symptoms depend on the organ involved.
Tonification is said to help the following:
Allegedly, tonifying the kidney qi can treat:
- low back pain
- urinary disorders
In TCM, the digestive system refers to the spleen and stomach.
Tonifying qi in the spleen and stomach is said to treat:
Practitioners say tonification treats symptoms of an imbalanced lung qi. This includes:
Tonification is believed to help symptoms of liver qi problems:
If tonifying focuses on the heart qi, it can purportedly benefit:
There’s some research on the practice of tonification. However, the evidence behind its effectiveness is weak. Many studies lack hard scientific explanations.
Additionally, the efficacy of TCM in general hasn’t been proven. According to a 2020 review that analyzed the 100 most-cited TCM studies, high-quality research is lacking. The herbs often used in TCM have not been extensively studied as well.
There’s also no evidence that qi exists. Without hard proof of its existence, it’s impossible to determine how tonifying methods affect it.
In traditional Chinese medicine, tonification is a form of therapy that aims to balance qi. It can be done in many ways, including massage, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary changes. Other methods include leading a healthy sexual life and practicing breathing exercises.
Balancing qi throughout your body is said to promote good health. Yet, there’s no hard proof that qi exists or that tonification is effective.
If you’re interested in tonification and TCM, talk to a doctor first. It’s generally recommended to use TCM as a complementary treatment, rather than primary treatment.