A broader perspective on health and wellbeing

Our feet are one of the hardest working parts of our bodies, yet we often don’t give them the attention they deserve. Fortunately, it’s easy to upgrade your daily foot care routine by incorporating a simple and relaxing foot soak.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has recognised the importance of hot foot soaks for thousands of years, and it is a practice that many people still enjoy today. In fact, talk to most Chinese women and they will inevitably tell you the many benefits of bathing your feet.

Why TCM recommends foot soaks

In TCM, the feet are considered one of the most important parts of the body and they are essential in health maintenance. In ancient China, doctors often likened the human body to a tree.

Imagine the torso as the trunk, the arms outstretched like branches, and the feet rooted firmly to the ground. As a tree with unhealthy roots will soon wither and die, aging people may feel their health declining from the feet first.

Fortunately, soaking the feet can be a surprisingly effective way to stave off disease. The feet are traversed by six different energy channels, known as meridians. They are also home to over 60 acupuncture points, corresponding to various organs. These points can influence not only our feet but our health and wellbeing, overall.

The three yang meridians, the stomach, gallbladder, and bladder, carry qi from our bodies down to the earth, allowing us to become grounded and stable. Meanwhile, the yin meridians, the spleen, liver, and kidney, draw energy from the earth and transport it to every organ, tissue, and cell.

However, the feet are also a vulnerable area, and it is easy for harmful influences, such as pathogenic cold to enter here. This is why it is vital to take good care of our feet by performing daily foot baths and massage.

The feet are a vulnerable area, and it is easy for harmful influences, such as pathogenic cold to enter here. This is why it is vital to take good care of our feet by performing daily foot baths and massage.

How foot soaks help the body

When we soak our feet in hot water, the gentle warmth encourages our blood vessels to expand, promoting healthy circulation.

In TCM, soaking the feet is said to activate blood and qi, allowing us to flourish and keep disease at bay. Foot soaks also unblock the meridians, allowing these vital substances to flow freely throughout the body.

Foot baths help to warm the body, preventing excess cold from penetrating through our soles. They also activate yang qi, our body’s natural, warming energy. This is why it is especially beneficial to soak the feet during the cold winter months.

Furthermore, foot soaks pull yang qi down from the head into the feet. Doing this helps to calm the mind and promotes restful sleep. Therefore, the best time to do foot soaks is in the evening, just before going to bed.

Finally, when you add essential oils or herbs to your foot bath, the warm water helps their beneficial compounds to absorb through the skin. They can then travel through the body to wherever they are needed most.

Herbal foot baths may benefit people with chronic stomach inflammation, high blood pressure, and those recovering from strokes.

How to get the most out of your foot bath

For the optimal foot bath experience, you need to find a suitable basin. It should be deep enough to fully submerge the feet and ankles in water, and preferably made from a natural material like wood.

Fill the basin with hot water and allow it to cool to a comfortable temperature before slipping your clean feet inside.

Sit back, relax, and allow your feet to soak for 20–40 minutes. The aim is to start sweating lightly, indicating that your qi and blood have been activated. However, you don’t want to sweat excessively, as this consumes too much energy. Once you start to break a sweat, remove your feet from the basin.

In healthy people, it usually takes approximately 20 minutes to start sweating. People with blocked energy channels may take up to 40 minutes. If there is no sweating after 40 minutes, remove your feet and try again the next day.

It is best to soak the feet in the evening, but you should not do so when you are either too hungry or too full. Therefore, waiting at least an hour after your evening meal is ideal. Also avoid soaking the feet if you are extremely tired or have consumed alcohol that day.

If you feel dizzy during your foot bath, the water may be too warm. Remove your feet for a few moments, add some cold water, and try again.

Our favourite foot bath blends to try at home

The best foot bath ingredients for you will depend upon your unique physical constitution. Therefore, we recommend visiting a TCM practitioner and asking for a personalised prescription that will fulfill your needs. However, there are a couple of recipes that we love and you are welcome to try at home. You can also bathe your feet using everyday ingredients such as Epsom salts or your favourite essential oil.

Ginger and white wine foot soak

This foot soak uses warming ginger and Chinese white wine, known as bai jiu, to promote circulation, warm the body, and support yang qi. These ingredients are readily available at Asian supermarkets, making this one of the simplest foot soak recipes around.

Ingredients

  • Sliced, fresh ginger – 50g
  • Bai jiu – 50ml

Method

  • Cover the ginger with water and simmer for a few minutes
  • Fill a foot bath with warm water, and add the ginger soup and baijiu
  • Soak the feet for 15–30 minutes, or until lightly sweating

Herbal foot soak for women’s health

This foot soak is a little more complex and requires a few different Chinese herbs. However, it is an excellent blend for women’s health, as it promotes circulation, warms the uterus, and could help to relieve menstrual cramps. You will find the ingredients in your local TCM pharmacy or online.

Ingredients

  • Motherwort (yi mu cao) – 30g
  • Chrysanthemum flowers (ju hua) – 15g
  • Baikal skullcap root (huang qin) – 15g
  • Flowery knotweed vine (ye jiao teng) – 15g

Method

  • Cover the herbs with water and simmer for 40 minutes, then strain off the liquid
  • Fill a foot bath with warm water and add the herbal infusion
  • Soak the feet until sweating lightly, for a maximum of 30 minutes

Would you like to try incorporating hot foot baths in your evening routine, or is this something you’re already doing? We’d love to hear what benefits you have experienced from doing a hot foot bath.


TCM calls for feet soaks – Shanghai Daily
Herbal foot baths to promote health – Shen Hong