Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Korean Eastern Medicine Experience

This post originally appeared on Have Your Health, a past blog of mine active from 2013-14.

I currently live in South Korea, so last weekend I had a taste of Eastern medicine through the Jin Hanbang Experience in Seoul (Korean Traditional Medical Tourism Experience). There were four main parts to my appointment: hot/cold health survey, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and cupping therapy.

Hot and cold bodies

My Korean guide did tell me that traditional Korean medicine classifies people into four body types, but since foreigners often get confused they simplified it to two: hot and cold. The full four types are greater yang (Tae-Yang, 태양, 太陽), lesser yang (So-Yang, 소양, 小陽), greater yin (Tae-Eum, 태음, 太陰), and lesser yin (So-Eum, 소음, 小陰).

By reading some descriptions online, I clearly fall into the "lesser yin" category. But at my appointment, they showed me a list of statements that fell under either "Hot" or "Cold." By glancing at the list there was no doubt that I identified most with the "Cold" body tendency. Note that these hot/cold labels don't refer solely to body temperature, but include personality, body tendencies, digestion, and a variety of other indicators.

My recommended herbs and foods to "warm" my body are ginger, cinnamon, ginseng, mugwort, honey, dried orange peel, jujube, milk vetch root, spring onion, garlic, and pepper.


Now that I knew what type I was, we went into a side room to first make an aroma pouch. I was instructed to put three herbs inside: cinnamon, wall gardenia, and fennel.

  Korean Eastern Medicine Aromatherapy Herbal Pouch

I've been keeping the pouch by my pillow, so I inhale the aromas as I sleep. Then I made a bar of soap with the same scents. Since there are no preservatives and no chemicals in the soap that I made, I have been using it when I shower (I don't use shampoo and I previously didn't use any soap in showers). I'm enjoying the "warm" scents, whether or not they're having an effect on my body.


After sitting and talking with the kind Korean doctor for a while about my health and hearing various recommendations for my digestive woes, he asked if I was comfortable with acupuncture. Of course! He then got out a huge model ear and explained that if you turn the ear upside down, it closely resembles a baby's fetus. So traditional Korean medicine uses the idea that each part of the ear corresponds with a body part.

He then put in a short, tiny acupuncture needle into each ear on the spot that corresponded to the digestive tract. The tiny needles were actually on a small sticky patch, a sort of tiny square band-aid that adhered to my ear. I was to leave them in for three days, and could apply pressure with my fingers when I wanted. I got to take ten more home with me, but they're beads instead of the tiny needle.

Cupping therapy

Finally, after discussing the spinal fusion I had at age 16, he suggested we do some cupping therapy. I had never heard of this before, but learned that it's very common in Korea. Cupping involves placing plastic or glass cups on the skin and creating suction by removing some air from inside. It's thought to promote healing and increase blood flow. It felt just like what a bit of suction feels like on the skin. I was lying on my stomach, and could feel as various cups would lose their suction and pop back up.

One woman stayed in the room during the ten minutes, and would come over and re-suction as necessary. They had warned me that it would leave marks that could last up to five days, which I didn't care about. When I got home that night I was surprised to see the dark purple circles on my back. Some were just outlines, but one was a solid purple circle. I excitedly took some pictures to remember, as the marks have since faded.

Korean traditional medicine

It was great to experience a bit of the Eastern Korean traditional medicine that day. Without knowing much about oriental medicine, I like how it looks at the whole body's interconnectedness (rather than just the part that's causing trouble). I like how it takes into account personality and bodily tendencies, and I'm also a fan of the natural suggestions first.

Koreans don't stick to strictly natural, though. When talking about my spinal fusion, he said that his nephew was actually going to have one done the following week. He added that traditional Korean medicine practicers do use Western surgeries when necessary, but always follow up with Eastern care. I've had no follow-up since my spinal fusion nine years ago, which is why he had suggested the cupping therapy.

Have you had any exposure to Eastern medicine?
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