When I began my training as a health-care provider, I already knew that supplements and medications were wonderful allies. But my deepest desire was to learn how to relieve pain and address illness with nothing more than my hands. Since then, acupressure has become a powerful tool to help me fulfill that dream, allowing me to relieve people’s pain through this 5,000-year-old Chinese therapy. Acupressure relies on the same system of channels and points as acupuncture. The difference is the method used to stimulate the points: applying gentle pressure on specific areas of the body instead of inserting needles. Acupressure is safe, effective and easy to learn, making it a wonderful ally for addressing acute pain and common illnesses. Let’s step right into the basics of acupressure. Note: If you have a chronic or significant problem, be sure to discuss acupressure with your health-care provider.
Getting Started: Channels and Meridians
According to Chinese medicine, not only blood but also energy flows through our bodies, following pathways like river beds. Although these streams, or channels, of vitality flow near nerve pathways and blood vessels in the body, they’re considered separate entities in Chinese medicine. Qi, the life force or vitality that flows through these rivers, ultimately connects with our internal organs.
The basic philosophy of acupressure is that, for our organs to be nourished and pain-free, these qi channels must be running smoothly. If a dam develops in any of these channels, pressure will build behind the blockage, and we can experience acute pain. And if these channels run dry, we can experience deficient pain, which is usually a dull and achy discomfort.
The purpose of acupressure is to maintain a smooth, steady flow in the qi meridians, which in turn relieves pain and nourishes the internal organs. Think of each point as an entryway into that qi channel. Some of the points are small access points; others are major harbors. A group of important points bridge multiple channels. These connecting points have deep, broad-reaching effects in the body, extending to much more than pain relief in that immediate area.
Use this basic information to start experimenting with pain relief using this ancient therapy.
How big is an acupressure point?
Most acupressure points are about the size of a dime or nickel, whereas the major connecting points are the size of a quarter. If you touch any part of that area, you will stimulate the point.
How much pressure should I use?
Most people learning acupressure apply too much pressure at first, but hard pressure will actually close off the point. Too much pressure can also leave a bruise. Imagine you are pressing on a garden hose filled with running water. If you press too hard, you will shut off the hose and block the flow of water. And if you press too lightly, you will have no effect on the flow of water. Press just enough to feel a slight resistance in the tissue. When you reach the correct depth, you will feel the muscle or surrounding tissue gently “push back.” I call this “meeting the point.” When you “meet the point,” you may feel a sensation of warmth, coolness or tingling. This is not necessary for a treatment to be effective. Observe over time, though, and you may discover certain sensations in your fingers and hands (it’s different for each person) when you effectively stimulate an acupressure point.
Be sure to apply pressure perpendicular to the point rather than sliding the skin and pushing from above or below the point. The more relaxed your hands and fingers are, the more deeply you can press without causing discomfort, and the more likely you are to feel other sensations. Relaxing your hands will make the treatment much more comfortable. With practice, your hands and fingers will develop a mind of their own, and you will be able to sense the correct amount of pressure needed to stimulate the flow of qi through the channels.
How long do I put pressure on the point?
The amount of time you spend on each point likely will vary from one to 10 minutes. Start with one to two minutes, then gradually increase that over the next few months. Generally, acute illnesses such as a cold or a fever will require less stimulation. Chronic illnesses or more deficient conditions such as chronic sinusitis or chronic digestive issues may require longer periods of stimulation.
Too much stimulation, however, will drain the qi. Thanks to Western philosophy, we tend to think, “A little is good; a whole lot must be a whole lot better!” But this is not true with acupressure. We are aiming for the “just-right” amount.
Children and elderly people need much less stimulation. Hold the acupressure points gently and for shorter periods of time (about a minute or two at most).
How often should I practice acupressure?
For chronic conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure or irritable bowel syndrome, stimulate the appropriate acupressure points daily for 10 to 30 minutes (this is the total time for all points). Even practicing acupressure two to three times a week can be helpful, although daily treatment will produce better results. You can stimulate the appropriate points all at once or stimulate different points as you have time throughout the day.
For acute conditions such as a cold or headache, stimulate the appropriate points for a few minutes, then wait until symptoms worsen before you repeat. You might stimulate a point for two to three minutes, three to four times throughout the day.
Avoid using acupressure on:
• Open sores
• Broken bones
• Bruised or bloody areas
You often can assist injured areas by treating acupressure points on the other side of the body. For example, you could support a broken leg—following proper treatment and setting by a medical professional—by stimulating the Gallbladder 34 and Stomach 36 points on the opposite leg. The channels run on both sides of the body. Stimulating both sides is ideal, but—when necessary—treating one side will still affect the other side.
6 Powerful & Effective Points
Drawing from my experience as a practitioner, I chose the following powerful, effective points to help you begin your exploration of acupressure. Many of these points have multiple uses. Although they are quite safe overall, pay special attention to the contraindications, particularly for pregnant women.
GALLBLADDER 20, “GATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS”
• The beginning of a cold with chills and/or fever
• Neck pain
• High blood pressure
• Eye pain
Location: In the hollow about three fingerbreadths lateral to the spine, below the occipital ridge, between the trapezius and sternocleidomastoid muscles
GALLBLADDER 21“SHOULDER WELL”
• Shoulder tension
• High blood pressure
• Stress and tension
• Cold hands and feet
• “Downbears qi,” meaning it helps move congested circulation away from the head
Location: On the top of the mound of the shoulder, about a third of the way between the base of the cervical spine and the acromion process of the shoulder.
Contraindications: Not recommended for pregnant women because the “down bearing” action may potentially cause miscarriage; avoid using the point, especially during the first trimester.
TRIPLE WARMER 5,“OUTER GATE”
• Shoulder pain
• Ear pain
• Headaches in the temples
• Head cold and influenza
• Wrist and finger weakness
Location:Two fingerbreadths above the transverse crease of the wrist on the posterior aspect of the forearm.
GALLBLADDER 34, “THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN”
• Helps relax muscles, hence for muscle pain, spasms and cramps
• Difficulty making decisions
• Knee pain
Location: Outside of the leg, just anterior to (or in front of) the head of the fibula
STOMACH 36 “THREE MILE”
• Acute or chronic digestive issues
• Heartburn, gas and bloating
• Depressed immune function
Location: Three fingerbreadths below the knee, one fingerbreadth on the lateral side of the tibia bone.
Contraindications: Not recommended for pregnant women, particularly in the first and second trimester
SPLEEN 9 “SHADY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN”
• Digestive issues such as gas and bloating
• Knee problems
• Varicose veins
• Edema (water retention)
• Menstrual cramping
Location: On the inside of the leg just below the head of the tibia