Acupressure is just one of a number of Asian bodywork therapies (ABT) with roots in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Examples of other Asian bodywork therapies are medical qigong and Tuina. Shiatsu is a Japanese form of acupressure.
Traditional Chinese medical theory describes special acupoints, or acupressure points, that lie along meridians, or channels, in your body. These are the same energy meridians and acupoints as those targeted with acupuncture. It is believed that through these invisible channels flows vital energy — or a life force called qi (ch’i). It is also believed that these 12 major meridians connect specific organs or networks of organs, organizing a system of communication throughout your body. The meridians begin at your fingertips, connect to your brain, and then connect to an organ associated with a certain meridian.
According to this theory, when one of these meridians is blocked or out of balance, illness can occur. Acupressure and acupuncture are among the types of TCM that are thought to help restore balance.
Acupressure practitioners use their fingers, palms, elbows or feet, or special devices to apply pressure to acupoints on the body’s meridians. Sometimes, acupressure also involves stretching or acupressure massage, as well as other methods.
During an acupressure session, you lie fully clothed on a soft massage table. The practitioner gently presses on acupressure points on your body. A session typically lasts about one hour. You may need several sessions for the best results.
The goal of acupressure or other types of Asian bodywork is to restore health and balance to the body’s channels of energy and to regulate opposing forces of yin (negative energy) and yang (positive energy). Some proponents claim acupressure not only treats the energy fields and body but also the mind, emotions, and spirit. Some even believe that therapists can transmit the vital energy (external qi) to another person.
Not all Western practitioners believe that this is possible or even that these meridians exist. Instead, they attribute any results to other factors, such as reduced muscle tension, improved circulation, or stimulation of endorphins, which are natural pain relievers.
All Acupressure Massage techniques, methods and styles use the same ancient acupressure trigger points. They vary in using different rhythms and pressures for stimulating the acupressure points, using not only the fingers, but also the hands, arms, legs and even feet. Some styles also incorporate other healing techniques. Shiatsu Therapy, the traditional Japanese form of acupressure, can be quite vigorous, with deep pressure applied to each point for three to five seconds. In Jin Shin Acupressure, at least two points are gently held for a minute or more. This style also uses the Extra Meridians or Extraordinary Vessels, which balance the meridians. Tuina Chinese Massage and Thai Massage stimulate the Qi (“key”) healing energy using acupressure hand movements, full body stretches, and Chinese massage techniques.
Healing Energy Work
Acupressure Points have a high electrical conductivity at the surface of the skin, and thus conduct and channel healing energy most effectively. This is why the most potent healing energy work uses acupressure points. The Chinese call healing energy Qi or Chi. In Japan, the life force is termed Ki, and channeling healing energy is called Reiki. Yoga practices refer to the body’s life force as prana or pranic energy. These terms all relate to the same universal healing energy, which exists in our environment, and links us to all forms of life.
The 12 Meridians of Traditional Chinese Medicine are the body’s healing energy pathways. Meridian massage therapy moves this life energy through the meridians to improve flow and balance. Acupressure charts and Acupuncture charts show where the meridian lines are on the body. The points are where vital energy gets blocked on the meridians, and where you can most effectively release the resulting tension, numbness, or pain. As healing energy flows through the meridians, it governs blood circulation and harmonizes all functions of the body. Studying the meridian pathways and Acupressure points for transmitting Qi healing energy is key to transformational energy work, including therapeutic touch and massage therapy.
Research into the health benefits of acupressure is in its infancy. Many patient reports support its use for a number of health concerns. More well-designed research is needed, though. Here are a few health problems that appear to improve with acupressure:
Nausea. Several studies support the use of wrist acupressure to prevent and treat nausea and vomiting:
- After surgery
- During spinal anesthesia
- After chemotherapy
- From motion sickness
- Related to pregnancy
The PC 6 acupressure point is located in the groove between the two large tendons on the inside of the wrist that start at the base of the palm. There are special wristbands that are sold over the counter. These press on similar pressure points and work for some people.
In addition to relieving nausea right after chemotherapy, there are individual reports that acupressure also helps reduce stress, improve energy levels, relieve pain, and lessen other symptoms of cancer or its treatments. More research is needed to confirm these reports.
Some preliminary evidence suggests that acupressure may help with low back pain, postoperative pain, or a headache. Pain from other conditions may benefit, as well. To relieve headache, the L14 pressure point is sometimes tried.
Some studies suggest that acupressure releases endorphins and promotes anti-inflammatory effects, helping with arthritis.
Depression and anxiety.
More than one study suggests that fatigue and mood may improve from the use of acupressure. Better-designed trials are needed to be sure.
Energy blockages whether from stress, trauma, or an injury, can be traced to the root of all health problems. Your energy flow affects how you feel, how you think, and how you breathe. Just as negative thoughts can block your energy flow, positive thoughts can increase your healing energy. When the body’s life-force energy becomes blocked, various emotional imbalances and physical symptoms also result. These energy blockages occur at the acupressure points. Through a variety of acupressure methods ranging from light touch, tapping, to simply holding the points, the body’s life energy is able to flow and rebalance.
A skilled Acupressurist can integrate many complementary health care methods and therapies into a complete treatment. Examples include therapeutic touch, somatic work, healing imagery, acupressure meridian therapy, five element assessments, pulse reading, Asian bodywork therapy, energy psychology (which involves tapping acupressure points), and acupressure massage therapy techniques.