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Sauna and Herbal Steam Methods to Promote Health

Saunas or steam baths are the oldest form of relaxation therapies; they promote blood circulation, open the airways, enhance sweating and mucosal secretions, and regulate the immune-modulating effect. In TCM understanding, the heat and moisture not only promotes bodily functioning, but also lubricates the body and regulates internal water metabolism. Having saunas or steam baths regularly helps to harmonize the inner and outer aspects of the body and calms the spirit as well.

Recommended procedures are:

Wash and clean the body properly, and wipe with a towel. Enter the hot room for the first round; lay down or sit and change posture constantly so that the body can receive heat evenly. You can use a whisk to stimulate the blood flow on the body surface and promote ventilation around the body. This round usually takes 7 to 15 minutes. Leave the hot room when you feel hot enough and cool off by taking a shower or dipping in water or just by sitting in room temperature or outdoors. After a 10-minute break, dry the body and enter the hot room again. Repeat the hot-cold cycle 2 to 5 times, as long as you feel comfortable.

When taking a sauna or steam bath, the temperature, humidity and time spent in the sauna or steam bath should be calculated according to one's individual's condition. A healthy person can stay in a dry hot room (20-40% humidity, 80 -90óJ) for about 17 minutes on average, while in wet hot room (80-100% humidity, 40 -50óJ) for about 19 minutes. During the cooling off period, watch out not to get cold as the body is in a more "sensitive" state than normal; TCM suggests ending the procedure by washing the feet with warm water. After the bath, rest for at least half an hour, have a refreshing drink and a salty snack. Saunas or steam baths can be taken weekly; allocate at least 1.5 and 2.5 hours for saunas or steam baths.

         
Chinese taxillus herb
    
Acorus
    
Gambir vine stem

The tradition of steam bathing has existed over thousand years in China; people like to add various herbs for health promotion or for certain therapeutic effects. The selected herbs are mostly used for opening the skin pores to expel pathogens on the exterior level of the body, promoting meridian flow to arrest pain or itchiness.

For health promotion or general medical conditions, herbal steaming is operated in a properly equipped room, so that the ventilation, temperature and humidity can be properly controlled. Each time, four to eight ingredients are selected to decoct as a prepared solution, for example:

  • Insomnia: Chinese taxillus herb (sang ji sheng), acorus (shi chang pu), fresh tangerine peel and lavender.
  • Stress or depression: white peony, selfheal fruit spike, Chinese senega (yuan zhi), lily buds, gambir vine stem (gou teng) and Mimosa tree bark (he huan pi).
  • Obesity: rose, mulberry leaf, Sichuan lovage, lotus leaf, giant knotweed rhizome (hu zhang), rice paper plant pith (tong cao), myrrh and finger citron fruit.
  • Common cold or flu with chills and a runny nose: ephedra, cassia twig, fresh ginger, perilla leaf and liquorice root.
  • Summer heat: honeysuckle flower, forsythia capsule, baical skullcap root, isatis root, bamboo leaf, peppermint and sandalwood.  
         
Mulberry leaf
    
Giant knotweed rhizome
    
Ricepaper plant pith

On the other hand, partial steaming is mostly applied as a rehabilitation therapy for bone and traumatic injuries. It is an easy application that can be done at home, and usually employed in conjunction with washing or soaking. Specific herbs are selected according to lesions, e.g.

1. Neck pain or stiffness:

qiang huo Notopterygium Root Rhizoma seu Radix Notopterygii
du huo Double-teeth pubescent angelica root Radix Angelicae Pubescentis
fang feng Ledebouriella root Radix Ledebouriellae
chuan xiong Sichuan lovage Rhizoma Ligustici Chuanxiong
hong hua Safflower Flos Carthami
yan hu suo Corydalis Rhizome Rhizoma Corydalis
su mu Sappan wood Lignum Sappan

         
Notopterygium Root
    
Double-teeth pubescent
angelica root
    
Erythrina bark

2. Shoulder region that involves soft tissue, tendons and joints problems:

hai tong pi Erythrina bark Cortex Erythrinae
tou gu cao Tuberculate speranskia Herba Speranskia tuberculatae
ru xiang Frankincense Olibanum
mo yao Myrrh Resina Commiphorae Myrrhae
dang gui Angelica root Radix Angelicae Sinensis
hong hua Safflower Flos Carthami
fang feng Ledebouriella root Radix Ledebouriellae
bai zhi Dahurian angelica root Radix Angelicae Dauhuicae

3. Lumbar region that involves muscular strain, sprain, vertebra or disc problems:

du huo Double-teeth pubescent angelica root Radix Angelicae Pubescentis
qin jiao Large-leafed gentian Radix Gentianae Macrophyllae
niu xi Achyranthes root Radix Achyranthis Bidentatae
xi xin Manchurian wildginger Herba Asari
yan hu suo Corydalis Rhizome Rhizoma Corydalis
chuan xiong Sichuan lovage Rhizoma Ligustici Chuanxiong

4. Upper limbs that involves sprains, fractures or dislocations:

shen jin cao Common clubmoss herb Herba Lycopodti
tou gu cao Tuberculate speranskia Herba Speranskia tuberculatae
jing jie Schizonepeta herb Spica Schizonepetae
hong hua Safflower Flos Carthami
su mu Sappan wood Lignum Sappan
liu ji nu Diverse wormwood herb Herba artemisiae anomalae
gui zhi Cassia twig Ramulus Cinnamomi

5. Lower limbs that involves fractures, sprain and dislocations:

shen jin cao Common clubmoss herb Herba Lycopodti
hai tong pi Erythrina bark Cortex Erythrinae
wu jia pi Acanthopanax root bark Cortex Radicis Acanthopanacis
niu xi Achyranthes root Radix Achyranthis Bidentatae
mu gua Quince fruit Fructus Chaenomelis
san leng Common Burreed tuber Rhizoma Spargani
e shu Zedoray rhizome Rhizoma curcumae

6. Joint problems such as osteoarthritis, rheumatic or rheumatoid arthritis:

tou gu cao tuberculate speranskia Herba Speranskia tuberculatae
hong hua Safflower Flos Carthami
chuan xiong Sichuan lovage Rhizoma Ligustici Chuanxiong
su mu Sappan wood Lignum Sappan
yan hu suo Corydalis Rhizome Rhizoma Corydalis
chuan wu Common Monkshood mother root Radix Aconiti
cao wu Kusnnezoff Monkshood root Radix Aconiti Kusnezoffii
lu lu tong Sweetgum fruit Fructus Liquidambaris

Contraindications for saunas or steam baths include malignancy, epilepsy, acute infections, respiratory diseases, infectious diseases, cardiovascular problems and a tendency to bleed. Sports players are recommended to have a sauna or steam bath after training or competition rather than before.

         
Common clubmoss herb
    
Diverse wormwood herb
    
Sweetgum fruit