What is Acupressure?

Acupressure is an ancient oriental art which involves the body healing itself through increasing its energy flow and boosting its self-curing ability. This is done my means of applying gentle but firm finger and other limb pressure to stimulate energy points (or meridians – of which there are believed to be 12).

Acupressure is not only used to cure certain ailments and pain, but is also highly regarded as a preventative medicine due to its ability to boost the immune system, release tension, increase circulation, balance the body’s energy and result in vibrant and ruddy health.

Although it uses similar means as acupuncture, it differs from the therapy in that no needles are used. The two therapies still use the same 12 meridian points but in acupressure only the fingers and limbs rather than needles and heated cups are used to stimulate pressure points.

In acupressure the body’s life energy flows through the meridians (or healing energy pathways). The therapy, which is now seen as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, ensures this energy continues to flow.

The therapy can be used to complement other alternative therapies and is so gentle it can be used on children as a remedy for various conditions such as nose bleeding and bed wetting.

It is not just in the sphere of physical pain and trauma that acupressure helps according to its proponents. They also tout the therapy as beneficial when it comes to emotional and spiritual illness.Therapists believe that pressure and stress causes the body to shut down, blocking negative feelings and resulting in muscular tension and a stagnant flow of energy. By relaxing the muscles, therapists believe acupressure can release trapped emotions.

Acupressure therapists use not just their fingers, but also their hands, arms, legs and, in some cases, feet.

There are also different forms of Acupressure. The Japanese for instance, add shiatsu to their practice. This makes it more vigorous where deep pressure is applied to points for up to five seconds with the fingers along the middle line of the body, back and abdomen. The points correspond to various parts of the body’s nervous system.

Reiki is another Japanese acupressure technique. This time the therapy uses the whole body rather than just the mid-line. Reiki may also involve other alternative therapy practices such as aromatherapy, homeopathy and crystals.

Atmena also incorporates the whole body but focuses more on the soles of the feet. Points here represent various parts of the body such as the shoulders and head (toes), chest (ball of the foot) and kidneys (the arch).

With Jin Shin two points are held gently for more than a minute. The therapist tends to use the palm of their hand to stimulate the energy points. Jin Shin also includes breathing and visualisation.

Su Jok involves the hand and foot and believes there are corresponding points for the body on both. As well as the fingertips, therapist may also use balls, seeds and even elastic rings in an effort to stimulate the energy points.

In Thai Massage full body stretches are incorporated into pressing and rolling techniques.

The acupressure points in general tend to be located on the chest and abdomen; scalp, head and shoulders; arm and hands; and the legs and feet.

The massage itself can use several differing techniques such as rubbing, kneading (from the upper back and shoulders to lower back using the palms of the hands and also known as the butterfly technique), pressing and rolling (the therapist places their palms together and rolls along the back muscles).

Other techniques are lifting, walking (the therapist ‘walks’ along the spine with their thumbs), drumming (covering the client’s ears tightly with their palms and using the index fingers to snap the back of the head), wiping, grasping, scrubbing, patting, and gentle stretching. Pressure can be direct or angled to the meridian line.

What to expect

Be prepared for your first acupressure session to last up to 90 minutes. This is because your therapist will be keen to take a case history (be prepared to talk about your symptoms, diet, lifestyle, sleeping and even bowel movements) and explain to you what form your treatment will take. A normal course of treatment is between four to six weeks.

Don’t drink alcohol beforehand and do sip plenty of water. If you’re eating before try not to have spicy or fatty food a couple of hours beforehand as this could cause discomfort when pressure is applied to your stomach.

Wear loose, baggy clothing (women should wear trousers or shorts rather than a skirt) and don’t apply cream or oil to your skin beforehand as this makes it too slippery for the therapist to work on.

Take off jewellery, especially earrings and remove your watch as these cover pressure points your therapist will want to use.

It is common for an acupuncturist to check your tongue beforehand as, in Chinese medicine, this gives a good indicator of a client’s health. He or she may then check your wrists for pulses which give an indicator of the state of your internal organs.

You will be asked to lie down on a couch and the therapist will apply pressure to certain points of your body. This should not prove painful but rather relaxing and invigorating.

Some acupressure treatments are carried out while the client is seated. You will be asked to sit on a specially adapted chair and lean your head against a cushioned pad which has a hole for your face ensuring your breathing and vision are not restricted. This takes around 30 minutes and incorporates around 60 pressure points in the back and neck area. Because it does not involve removing any clothing, this type of acupressure can be completed at the client’s workspace or in public settings such as book shops and cafes.

Effects and benefits

The effects and benefits of acupressure are believed to be wide-ranging. For instance cancer payments receiving chemotherapy undergo acupressure because it relieves nausea. It is also said to be effective in emotional pain and helps with mental conditions such as depression and anxiety. It is also believed to be particularly beneficial for sinus problems and has been used to treat infertility.

The main goal of the therapy is to bring the body back into balance and allow it to repair itself. A list of other conditions which benefit from a visit (or several) to an accupressurist include:

  • chronic fatigue
  • stress and insomnia
  • high blood pressure
  • fibromyalgia
  • chronic muscular pain and arthritis
  • headaches and migraines
  • mental stress, addiction recovery
  • trauma
  • addictions
  • emotional imbalances
  • cosmetic ie improves facial skin condition and tautness
  • back pain
  • women’s health problems
  • weight loss
  • labour pains
  • tinnitus
  • carpal tunnel syndrome

Acupressure and fascinating facts

  • Acupressure was discovered by the Chinese more than 5000 years ago
  • Ancient Chinese physicians developed ways of curing certain illnesses by striking or piercing specific points on the surface of the body
  • Acupressure is referred to as ‘the mother of Acupuncture’ as it came before the use of needles to stimulate the energy flow of the body
  • Stimulation of the body’s 12 point meridian system is one of the oldest healing systems known to man
  • The Chinese call healing energy Qi or Chi. In Japan it is known as Ki
  • There are around 365 acupoints along the meridians at which qi is concentrated and can enter and leave the body
  • Acupressure can be used for self-treating minor ailments such as indigestion, nausea, and headaches.
  • The Chinese Shang dynasty used the therapy between the 11th to16th centuries BC.
  • Acupressure was introduced to Europe in the 17th century by doctors and missionaries returning from the Far East. Yet the first medical studies of acupressure didn’t begin in Britain until well into the 1950s.
  • Acupressure has been used to induce labour in women whose waters have broken
  • Precise acupressure points can be located using the cun measurement technique
  • The therapy has also been used to treat small animals, especially dogs
  • Acupressure mats are available where the user is encouraged to use it for several minutes or longer a day. It is said to be particularly effective for insomnia
  • In ancient India mothers used to cuddle the hands and feet of their babies to keep them resistant from disease and stress
  • An ancient Hindu worship method involved stimulating the ear lobes
  • Another form of Hindu worship was where the fists were knocked against the two temporal lobes in an effort to release bile humour
  • Around 20 per cent of chiropractors recommend acupressure as part of a treatment plan

Professional Organisations

Shiatsu Society UK

A non-profit organisation representing different styles of shiatsu and acupressure throughout the British Isles. Promotes the discipline and works to promote awareness. Sets standards as benchmarks for the practice throughout Europe.

European Shiatsu School

Founded in 1985 the training school offers resources and study facilities within Britain and Europe. It also undertakes research into the benefits of acupressure and shiatsu.

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