Dubai: One of my 90-year-old Chinese grandpa’s favourite things to do is to soak his feet in warm water before going to bed. He would often make a relaxation sound and doze off shortly after that. He’s been doing this ever since he was young.
My grandpa is not the only one in my family who likes to take a footbath before bed. For many Chinese, footbath is a habit.
‘Growing a tree begins with taking care of its root’
There is a saying in Chinese medicine, ‘Growing a tree begins with taking care of its root. Maintaining good health starts with one’s feet.’ Xin Liu, a Chinese medicine doctor living in Dubai, spoke to Gulf News regarding the importance of feet in Chinese medicine.
“Traditional Chinese medicine believes that the soles of our feet have reflex areas corresponding to various organs and tissues of the body. Massaging and stimulating the reflex zones of the feet can help in regulating and improving the function of related organs.
“Meanwhile, the meridians and acupoints of the human body meet at the feet to form a complete system. Stimulations on specific points on the feet can unblock the meridians, regulate the flow of Qi and blood, and enhance the health and balance of the body.
“In addition, there are sweat glands on the soles of our feet. A warm footbath facilitates sweating through these glands, which contributes to detoxification to some degree.”
In Chinese philosophy, qi, is the life force that every person and thing has – it stands for the energy in everything. Chinese medicine and acupuncture both address the concept.
Source: Oxford Languages and vocabulary.com
“Footbath was recorded in China’s earliest medical classic ‘Huangdi Neijing’,” Yi Zhao, associate professor for School of Humanities of Jiangnan University, said in an interview to a Chinese journalist, Hong Xing, in an article on a Chinese community website - sohu.com. ‘Huangdi Neijing’ was drafted throughout the Warring States period, the Qin dynasty and the Han dynasty, which lasted from 475 BC to 220 AD, marking a history of footbath for at least over two millennia.
What footbath lovers have to say
‘It’s a little treat to myself’
Dubai-based makeup artist, Meimei Lin, often has cold feet in an environment with strong air conditioning, she described how a warm footbath comes to the rescue. “The air conditioning in my office can be strong sometimes, and because of it, my feet and lower legs are often cold. The coldness even brings about stomach discomfort – it’s a chain effect. A warm footbath, in this case, usually saves my day. It’s a time of relaxation - I feel a warm sensation extending from my feet to my whole body. All my nerves are loosened up. I would even sweat a bit, which feels like a detoxification process.”
A footbath makes exfoliation on my heels easier – this has been my secret for having smooth heels.
Lin also likes to treat herself during this time of unwinding. “I like to infuse the water with tea leaves, saffron, or essential oils. The scent of these ingredients puts me in a good mood. Generally, I sleep better after my little treat. Besides, a footbath makes exfoliation on my heels easier – this has been my secret for having smooth heels.”
Lin is not the only one in her family, who keeps this habit. Her mother, 60 years of age, adores footbaths, too. “My mother takes her footbath in the morning, before she starts her day. She says it activates her body and mind.”
‘Footbath drives away tiredness at the end of a work day’
For Ming Qi, a Dubai-based photographer, a warm footbath drives away tiredness at the end of a work day. “I’m a photographer, so I stand and walk a lot. Consequently, I usually have sore legs and feet in the evening. Footbath becomes the perfect remedy in this situation - it almost instantly lifts the heaviness in my legs.
The sensation of warm water, combined with a massage, prepares me for a sound sleep at night. The next morning, I feel well-rested for a busy day.
“In China, there are various kinds of footbath buckets in the market, some of which even have a built-in massage function. The sensation of warm water, combined with a massage, prepares me for a sound sleep at night. The next morning, I feel well-rested for a busy day.”
A mini meditative experience
Personally, footbath is a happy memory of childhood. Picture a crisp winter night. Wind howling outside. In contrast, on the inside, cozy yellow light filled the living room. There was some warm tea in hand and the TV was on. My grandparents, in their 70s, and the then little me would all soak our feet in warm water in separate buckets. I would be preoccupied by some cartoon series on TV. My grandma would be sewing something. And my grandpa, like I mentioned previously, would slowly doze off. Sometimes, because of the relaxation nature of a footbath, I would find myself zoning out during the process, which makes it a meditative experience.
“Footbath can relieve tense feet, help to relax muscles, even relieve pain, and provide a sense of comfort. It also encourages blood circulation by increasing blood supply to the feet, thus improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to that area, while helping to remove toxins,” said Chinese medicine doctor Liu.
Another benefit is to potentially help in releasing stress and anxiety in everyday life. This is because our feet are linked to the rest of the body. By stimulating acupoints on our feet, it provides overall relaxation and psychological relief.
“Another benefit is to potentially help in releasing stress and anxiety in everyday life. This is because our feet are linked to the rest of the body. By stimulating acupoints on our feet, it provides overall relaxation and psychological relief.”
Several research studies online revealed that a warm footbath improves sleep quality and shortens sleep latency. Liu echoed this finding, “Relaxing the feet and improving blood circulation may help in improving sleep quality. A footbath can be done before bed to prepare you for a better night's sleep.
“Overall in Chinese medicine, foot soaking is considered a therapy that promotes general health.”
How to do a footbath at home
You can use a bucket, deep and wide enough to soak your feet fully in water. Liu suggests that the water temperature should be slightly higher than your body temperature – it cannot be too hot. You should soak your feet for 15 to 30 minutes, during which time, if the water cools down, you can add more warm water in, to increase the temperature.
Who should not do a footbath
“If you have any skin conditions on your feet or your feet have open wounds, ulcers, burns or infections, you should avoid soaking your feet in warm water,” Liu suggested.
People with severe heart disease or abnormally high blood pressure should avoid a warm footbath. “High water temperature when soaking feet may cause blood vessels to dilate and increase the burden on your heart.”
People with severe blood circulation problems, vasospasm or blood coagulation disorders should not do it either. “Soaking feet in warm water may affect your blood circulation conditions.
“In the early stages of pregnancy, you should also avoid using overheated water to soak your feet,” Liu added on the list. “In the state of fever, cold or inflammation, soaking feet in warm water may aggravate the loss of body heat, which is not conducive to recovery. So it should be avoided.
“In general, if you have a medical condition, it’s best to consult your doctor or professional healthcare provider to ensure safe and appropriate foot soaking.”