Chinese Fire Therapy

There are so many ancient methods on how to improve the health condition and I can confess I have tried many of them as destiny blessed me with rheumatoid arthritis. Blessed – I meant literally as it has pushed me to better understand my body and try out different methods that, unlike the conventional medicine, don’t have side effects and deal with the root of the problem.

It’s a constant journey which helps me to improve not only my condition but also my overall health and makes me better and fuller of energy with every year that passes. So treatment-wise, there is very little that can surprise me; however, last time I visited, China offered me an experience I had never imagined before – the Fire Therapy. Read on and I will tell you how it came about

It started with acupuncture

I had already lived in China during my first exchange period and while enjoying my time learning Chinese and discovering the variety of Chinese food, I also developed some pain and changes in my toes.  When I told about this discovery to my Chinese classmates, they advised me to try acupuncture.

Through some international friends who studied traditional Chinese medicine in Nanjing University, me and my roommates ended up in a small acupuncture clinic, where 4 patients were treated at the same time in approximately 15 square meters. However, the size of the clinic was not important, because the knowledge, dedication and the promising results were the things that mattered and, even though to a lesser degree, at approximately 5 dollars per treatment of 2 hours, you can hardly say no.

 The treatment consisted of electric vibration, acupuncture and massage – everything done with amazing precision. As a result after around 1 month of intensive treatments almost every day (you can afford it daily, when it costs just 5 dollars) and then other more substantive ones a few times a month, my feet problems were solved. Therefore, acupuncture will always be my preferred treatment.

Chinese acupuncture with electrical stimulation

 However, arthritis has to do with the immune system and gut health, not exterior factors. Probably the experienced Chinese acupuncture doctor of the small clinic already told me that back then while sticking needles into my feet. Perhaps he also recommended a special diet and some herbs to use internally to sustain my results with acupuncture, considering that he used to ramble a lot while treating me, but I didn’t understand that as my Chinese was at the 1,2,3 level. So, some years later I started to feel the same symptoms again, but as I was working diligently on my architect degree, there wasn’t time to travel to China for my fix.

Acupuncture and fire

Finally, after graduation, I had the possibility to return to China and this time it was Guangzhou. Guess what was the first thing I was looking for? You are correct – an acupuncture place, a preferably very tiny one for the locals, as that was my standard. And I found it through a pharmacy. Can you imagine, walking into one of those chain pharmacies in Europe asking for some ancient treatment place and getting a positive answer immediately? Then get grabbed by the hand out of the pharmacy and walked to a nearby traditional treatment place? I know, sounds impossible, but I experienced that in China and it made me very happy cause it meant that both modern and traditional medicine complemented each other as it should be.

In the clinic

Like the first time in Nanjing, nobody spoke English in this clinic in Guangzhou either, and my Chinese had improved just enough so that I could somewhat talk about myself and order food, not a medical treatment. But with decent drawing and acting skills, you can tell or order anything in China. So, soon I was on a massage table with a significant number of needles stuck in all over my body – the whole body is connected in Chinese medicine.


I wanted to sleep a bit, as the other patients who came and lied in the beds next to me were staring too much, but soon I was more than awake after what I saw being done on the back of a woman next to me – it was on fire. Big yellow flames had embraced her back, but she didn’t seem to notice anything, having her head under a towel. What was happening?

As I don’t like to stare at the people too much, I had turned my head to the other side when she laid down, so I didn’t see how the situation escalated to the fire, but I saw that even the doctor didn’t panic, just stood next to her bed. Then he asked her something and when she answered, he peacefully put a towel on her back extinguishing the fire instantaneously, but then again after a little moment he lighted up the towel on a woman’s back with a lighter and looked at it as if it was the most normal procedure in the world. Even more surprised I noticed that the towel never burnt, so the fire exalted from something else every time he placed the lighter on it. This fire game repeated several times. After that, the patient slept a bit, but soon she was on her feet happy and giggling. Apparently, the fire on her back didn’t hurt and made her happy.

After the patient had left, I asked the doctor in my childish Chinese what it was. I didn’t understand much of the answer, but he showed me bottle of a solution smelling like spirit that he supposedly had poured on her towel before the “fire-show”. Probably that was the magic ingredient to make the flame without burning the towel? My curiosity was stronger than the fear.  I told my acupuncture doctor that I wanted the same. “Mei wenti” (No problem), he said. And after the needles were taken out of my body, the fire-show could start on my own back.

Fire on the back, energy in the body

I was on the bed again with the heart beating like crazy. Fire is not my best friends, so I was ready for the worst, but the curiosity was still stronger. I lied there naked, just having my tongas on, so fire had the full access to my body.

Chinese Fire therapy

First the acupuncture doctor covered my back and the head with various warm and wet towels, then poured isopropyl alcohol diluted with water (as I found out later) spreading it over the back abundantly and then ignited it. Surprisingly in the beginning I didn’t feel any change, just slightly warmth, but then the warmth increased gradually still feeling manageable. After some minutes it started to feel extremely hot and then the doctor asked me: “Hěn rè” – very hot? I answered “no” until I felt it was about to get unbearable, which I expressed with “Xiànzài hěn hěn rè” – “Now very, very hot”! which led him throwing a big, thick and wet towel on me which extinguished the flames.

Chinese Fire Therapy

After short while the process was repeated few times more and with each time I felt as if I was drinking an energy drink through my back. When the procedure was over, I didn’t know what to do with all the energy I had received from the fire. I was lucky it was the beginning of the day – l could manage tasks that otherwise would take me few days. Conclusion – fire therapy is a perfect alternative for a strong coffee.

What is Chinese Fire therapy?

Being back in Europe I researched more about the fire therapy, huǒ liáo, in Chinese and learned that it’s ancient Chinese and Tibetan folk medicine practice that regulates the balance of cold-hot temperatures in the body, which is used to heat large areas of the body rather than individual points by utilizing the heat from burning alcohol. It relieves areas affected by joint and muscular pain, reduces stress and helps in weight loss. The Fire Therapy also serves to treat all kind of cold-related diseases such as rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis, cervical spondylosis, frozen shoulder, lumbar disc hernia, joint sprains, tumors, digestive problems, gynaecology, andrology and more.


Well, one session of fire therapy didn’t cure me, but it did give me a big boost of wellbeing, energy and reduced the pain greatly, so I recommend you all to let your back enjoy the flames and receive all the burning energy to keep enjoying your trip in China to the maximum.

And remember, this year – 2019 is a year of pig by the Chinese calender and I heard it is going to be a year of personal growth and development. According to Confucious: “A scholar who loves comfort is not fit to be called a scholar!”. Therefore I want to wish you to become the most diligent scholar of life and get out of your comfort zone no matter where you are in the world right now. And if you happen to be in China – maybe Fire Therapy is your first step!

Pigs year in China

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