Traditional Chinese Medicine may not seem child-friendly what with acupuncture, acupressure and lots of strange-looking herbs. But it is also the oldest and second largest medical system in the world, and the one that has the longest history in paediatrics (dating back almost a thousand years!) So what happens when my toddler goes for paediatric tui na?
The result was flabbergastingly unexpected: On the way home from his pediatric massage at Thomson Chinese Medicine, the TCM arm of Thomson Medical Centre, before noon and with only breakfast in his belly, my toddler fell asleep. It’s past one o’clock as I am typing this and the boy is still fast asleep in his bed. This is unheard of in our family. In the household game of sleep vs toddler, Julius usually wins.
But the reason for our visit to Thomson Chinese Medicine had nothing to do with sleep, or any illness. I had noticed how much my 2-year-old enjoyed a vigorous rub-down. I thought that he might have sore muscles, as his favourite activities currently are running, climbing, planking, and doing press- and pull-ups. I mentioned it to a well-informed fellow mummy and she recommended Thomson Chinese Medicine.
Paediatric massage is not the type of soothing massage you get at a spa (generally spas don’t take children this young, preferring to start at four or six years old). It’s called tui na, and it’s a combination of massage, acupressure and other forms of body manipulation, meant to stimulate organ function and improve circulation. With the blockages gone, blood and qi (or ‘vital energy’) flow freely through the body, enhancing the immune system and general well-being. It might even calm the mind (though it won’t cure toddler tantrums – I asked). And, apparently, it can induce sleep.
As this was our first visit, physician Huan Chew Ting took some time to get to know Julius, both by observation and by asking lots of questions. In TCM it is not the illness that is treated, but the patient as a whole in body and mind. Physician Huan explained that any system that is in harmony will lead to better health and well-being. In particular, TCM practitioners aim to balance the body in “cold” (associated with “Yin”) and “heatiness” (associated with “Yang”). As Julius has a slightly higher temperature than average and tends to sweat quite a bit, she advised me to keep an eye on his food (go easy on the chocolates, which are “heaty”) and to make sure he drinks enough water.
There are also specifically cooling herbal drinks, but physician Huan didn’t think that was necessary now. Then, Julius got to pick a movie to watch. And to sit on the bed and play with all the toys. And he was allowed to tap ru yee oil and Chinese herbal powder on his legs. In short, Julius had a wonderful time. He graciously sat as still as any two year old boy is capable of doing for almost 45 minutes while the physician gently massaged all the important points on his body. Afterwards, he was pronounced very healthy. Where Western medicine is reactive (you see the doctor when there’s something to fix), TCM also focuses on prevention. It is not unusual for healthy children to have regular paediatric massages to make sure the qi keeps flowing and the immune system is up to scratch. “We cannot always see all the obstructions”, physician Huan explained.
Sometimes, TCM removes blockages that the patients didn’t know were there. On the way home I experienced what she meant. I had accepted that Julius does not fall asleep easily as a fact of life. But today, he went out like a light, without any protest or tears. Somehow, the physician had re-balanced his boyish activeness with his need for rest, allowing him to slide into a gentle snooze. It lasted three hours, exactly enough for me to write this story. So next time when he kicks up a fuss at bedtime, we’ll be straight back to unblock that flow of sleepy qi again.