The ancient healing modality of acupressure was developed in Asia over 5,000 years ago and has been filtered and refined ever since. It has a broad scope of use, from healing emotional pain to improving sexual performance. It’s a simple yet effective therapy that is often used as a means of self-treatment to reduce pain and tension, decrease stress, fire up the immune system, and boost circulation.
Acupressure uses the same pressure point locations as acupuncture, however, it uses different strengths of finger pressure to stimulate them, as opposed to the needles used in acupuncture. The mechanism of action is based on the theory that, by applying pressure to these points, we can manipulate Qi (energy) that flows through energy pathways inside of our bodies, which are known in traditional Chinese medicine as meridians. The Traditional Chinese Medicine Foundation describes these meridians in the following manner:
“Picture a road map: a profusion of points woven into a web by lines of travel. Now imagine this system 3-D in your body: a vast network of invisible energy pathways connecting to each other and to every atom, cell, tendon, bone, organ, each centimeter of skin — everything in your body! They link the upper portion with the lower and the surface with the interior, so that nothing is truly separate.
“Now add other dimensions to this 3-D interconnected body “map”: your mind, your emotions, and spirit — everything conscious and unconscious within you. These amazing pathways are the meridians, and they form your body and all invisible aspects of your being into an intercommunicating whole.”
Modern living offers many incredible benefits, however the positives come with a negative price in terms of financial strain, long work hours, relationship pressure, among many other things, which all ultimately contribute to levels of stress and anxiety that humans simply did not evolve to counter and cope with. Exposing our bodies to such frequent and intense stress and anxiety can manifest in all manner of problematic and health-impacting symptoms, including insomnia, headaches, diminished sexual desire, and low energy — all of which prevent us from effectively pursuing our passions and dreams.
However, acupressure can be used to combat the effects caused by the pressure of modern life. The Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies has collected a wealth of evidence that demonstrates meridian stimulation’s effectiveness at decreasing pain, reducing inflammation, and improving quality of life.
Though contemporary Western science has not been able to explain exactly how meridian therapy works, it has been able to empirically measure the fact that it does. Scientific literature is abundant with evidence of its successful application. One such catalog of research can be found at PubMed.com, which houses the results of studies on the effects of acupressure on ailments from nausea to pain and stiffness to anxiety.
Reset contacted Richard Brook, who specializes in the classical disciplines of 5 Element Acupuncture and holistic medicine, to find out more. He gave us some basic acupressure pointers, plus tips on five key acupressure points that will allow you to self-administer therapy to alleviate two of modern society’s most common ills: stress and anxiety.
“As the body, mind and emotions are all connected together it’s important to remember when you palpate any of these points it can illicit a response on each of these levels,” Brook cautions. “This is the beauty of Chinese medicine, that you can equally as effectively treat the less tangible, interior aspects of a person — the mind — just as you can treat the body itself.”
“It’s also important to keep what you are trying to achieve by pressing a point in its correct context. It’s fundamental to understand that whenever you energetically treat a point on yourself, or anyone else, your intention is to move energy towards what I call ‘universal balance.’ By this I mean moving towards balance with the environment and forces of nature around you, such as the seasons, and also connection with one’s own highest potential and individual destiny. This is essential to keep in mind when you palpate a point, as otherwise our ‘smaller mind’ or ego can get in the way.
“For example, it’s no good pressing a point five times a day to try to lose weight if that desire in itself is pathogenic, or not in your best interest, as the power of the points are that they bring you back to balance, and that balance is not always what we would like it to be! Or to press a point to alleviate the effects of tiredness in order to facilitate working a debilitating 70 hour week, or fit into a toxic relationship, if these things are not actually in your best interest to do so.
“So be prepared, when you start working with energy, it can also have the effect of waking you up and shaking you out of toxic habits and thought patterns, whether your small mind likes it or not. It can actually help to re-align you back to that greater universal attunement, but it’s certainly more helpful if one has thought through this notion first, and understands the intention and broad reaching implications of moving towards universal balance.”
Brook explains that a single acupressure point can work in two different ways. When a point is stimulated in the same area that pain and tension is occurring, this is referred to as a local point. Other points may be stimulated on a specific part of the body with the intent of relieving a symptom or ailment elsewhere in the body; this is called a trigger point, and works through the electrical pathways of the meridian system at a distance.
Before self-administering acupressure, it is advisable to do some deep breathing and light stretching, in order to maximize relaxation and muster a peaceful mental state. To apply pressure and stimulate the pressure points, a firm pressure is the most fundamental and effective technique. Using either the thumbs, fingers, knuckles, palms or the side of the hands, apply firm and stationary pressure to the chosen point. You should slowly increase the amount of pressure applied to the point over a period of 3 minutes to experience optimal results from the treatment. Each point will feel slightly different when pressure is applied and you should be firm enough that it begins to hurt somewhat. If the point is particularly sensitive, you should gradually decrease the pressure until a balance between pain and pleasure is struck.
Brooks offers further advice on how to stimulate a meridian point, highlighting that the approach will vary depending on the individual concerned:
“Although we’ve given you a general guideline on how to apply pressure, learn to trust what feels right for you, not just through the amount of pressure you apply to the point, but also in how you feel while you are applying the pressure. So as well as sensing whether the point itself feels like it’s being stimulated, and finding that balance between pleasure and pain, listen closely to how the rest of your body starts to feel while you are applying the pressure. The point might be the gateway in, but it’s the change in the physiology related to the point you are also seeking of course. And, as well as looking for the changes which are associated with the individual points function, also check in to the responses you feel on other levels: Does you body feel like it’s softening? Is your breathing deepening? Do you feel emotionally lighter? Does your mind feel clearer? All these other aspects are equally as important to whether you are effectively palpating the point. Trust yourself.”
The following five acupressure points, which can be self-administered with ease, have been utilized for centuries by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to alleviate stress and anxiety.
Point 1: Nei Guan/PC6
Starting from the wrist, measure the length of three fingers down the forearm. Where the third finger meets the middle of the arms width is where the point is located. Clenching the fist will reveal the tendons that run down the middle of the arm, the point lies between these so called “tram lines.” Apply firm pressure using the thumb, then start to gently rotate thumb in a circular motion to massage the point for 2-3 minutes. Doing this to both arms will help to melt anxiety and will also help reduce nausea.
“This point also helps to harmonize the function of the heart in our relationships,” says Brooks. “It facilitates communication to keep to an appropriate level for the person whom we are engaging with, so helps towards ensuring that we are neither too open or too closed.”
Point 2: Union Valley/LI4
This point is located between the webbing of the index finger and thumb. Apply the index finger and thumb from the opposing hand to either side of the webbing to form a pinch. Apply firm pressure for three minutes whilst taking breaths that are deep enough to fully inflate the abdomen. Applying pressure to this point will help to relive stress and tension in the body.
“As this point helps to stimulate the large intestine, it’s also a wonderful point to stimulate ‘letting go’ and clearing across all levels of the body, mind and emotions,” says Brooks. “Similarly, as we internally begin to de-clutter, you may also find yourself tidying your space around you and clearing away what you no longer need.”
Point 3: Shoulder Well/GB21
This stimulation point is located half way between the point of the shoulder and the base of the neck. Applying pressure with your index finger to this point aids in relieving stress and decreasing tension in the body. According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, this point also helps to free up the flow of Qi throughout the meridian system.
“[This is] particularly good for those who may feel they spend an excessive amount of time in thought,” says Brooks. “Everyone ‘thinks’, it’s part of being human, but the thinking process is also naturally designed to be integrated into what you ‘feel’ within the body. If you perceive you are prone to over-thinking, this point can help to redistribute the balance of also perceiving life through the body.”
Point 4: Central Treasury/LU1
This meridian point is located on the tender tissue two finger widths above where the underneath of the arm meets the chest. Using the tip of the index finger and applying moderate pressure to this point, on either one or both sides simultaneously, will aid with deep breathing and increased blood circulation, and help with the balancing of unstable emotions.
“The lungs are related to inspiration, physically, and also therefore what we feel mentally and emotionally,” says Brooks. “This point is tremendous if you feel your passions have become somewhat dulled and uninspired. Just as the right amount of air helps fan the flames of a fire, so stimulating the lungs with this point to work more efficiently can similarly help you to feel more inspired about the things that provoke the fire of your own passions.”
Point 5: Heavenly Pillar/BL10
This point lies one fingers width below the base of the skull, upon the rope-like muscles roughly one half-inch either side of the spine. Web the fingers across the back of the skull and use both thumbs to apply firm pressure to both points. Close the eyes and take long and deep breathes whilst stimulating the point for around 3 minutes to relieve stress. These points also assist in insomnia, a stiff neck, over exhaustion and swollen eyes.
“The bladder is intimately linked to our experience of fear in life, and our ability to flow with what life brings our way,” says Brooks. “This point can help to turn excessive fear about the future into the more balanced perspective of appropriate caution with what life is bringing, having had chance to reflect on the past and integrate what has happened previously to create wisdom and trust which helps us to flow in life.”