A month ago, I made the decision to give acupuncture a break, put the needles away and return to my first TCM love: acupressure.
My colleague was shocked: “But I thought you loved acupuncture!”
I love CHINESE MEDICINE, as one of the healing and metaphysical arts and branches of the Tao, and meridian manipulation is but one of the therapies used by the Chinese medicine.
The acupuncture needles are but mere instruments, and, while we find far more scientific studies on acupuncture and its benefits, acupressure can be just as effective and has its own range of benefits and tools of the trade that should be explored and researched.
What is acupressure?
Long before inventing the modern needles, the ancient art of traditional Chinese medicine recognised that applying pressure on certain points of the body could have a positive result on health. So the first tools ever used were the fingers, hands, arms and elbows. By using various pressure techniques on certain points along the meridians, they noticed that the Qi can be increased, decreased or released, thus reducing or eliminating physical and mental pain. And that’s how acupressure and massage were born as part of Chinese medicine.
There are many ways in which the Qi can be manipulated along the meridians and acupoints. The modern acupuncture needle is just one of them. Anybody can be trained on how to pin needles in safely. However, a good Chinese medicine practitioner will feel, gather and guide the Qi into the acupoints, through their own fingers, palms or by means of other tools. Depending on the nature of these tools and the aim of the treatment, the instruments act as relays for the Qi, as amplifiers or modifiers.
Tools of the trade
In addition to the practitioner’s fingers, there’s an array of tools and mediums that can be used when working on the acupoints.
The oldest one is a meteorite stone that fell 65 million years ago in Shandong, China. Also known as the needle stone, the Bian stone is an excellent heat conductor, containing traces of more than 40 minerals and having anti-oxidant properties. In TCM, the stone is used to stimulate the flow of Qi, Blood and Bodily Fluids, thus relaxing the muscles and the joints and helping with lymph drainage, nurturing the skin at the same time, due to its high content in minerals. No wonder the Bian Stone is still in use today to make acupressure, massage and gua sha tools.
The Chinese metaphysical arts were fully aware of the healing properties various crystals and semi-precious stones possessed and they used them accordingly. There is an entire materia medica in Chinese medicine that describes the healing properties of stones and crystals. For acupressure and massage, the most popular ones are rose quartz, aventurine, agate, jade or obsidian.
The mugwort herb used in moxibustion can be rolled into very fine threads that are placed on the acupoints and lit up. This technique combines the benefits of moxibustion with manipulating the Qi at various acupoints.
Just like crystals and stones, essential oils have properties that can influence the nature of the Qi. Special oil formulas, designed for various medical conditions can be applied on the acupoints, thus manipulating the Qi in a certain way.
Electricity is another means to enhance the point stimulation by means of special manufactured devices or the T.E.N.S machines. This is a more modern tool, very effective and useful nonetheless.
Press pellets are yet another way to stimulate the acupoints, especially in between the regular sessions. The pellets can be made from plant seeds, stone or from magnets, and their size vary according to their purpose.
Benefits and advantages of acupressure
There are multiple advantages to acupressure.
First of all, it takes away the stress of needles for people who are needle phobic. Also, it can be used in a safer manner in people suffering from type 1 diabetes, people who take anticoagulant medication or suffer from other blood disorders where acupuncture is contraindicated or can only be performed with caution.
Acupressure can be performed in areas of the body where the use of needles might be forbidden or it requires special cautions, such as the ribcage area and the torso, where there is a higher risk of pneumothorax.
Acupressure can be done through the clothes, which means it can also be done mobile, in the case of people with low or no mobility, or in less strict environments, outside a conventional treatment room.
The practitioner can train the client to perform safe self-acupressure in between the treatment sessions, thus maximising the results of the treatment and also empowering the client to become their own healers.
In terms of the benefits, acupressure has pretty much the same indications as acupuncture: physical pain, mental disorders and illnesses, sleep disorders, digestive issues and syndromes, infertility, male and female dysfunctions, hypertension, etc.
Personally, I think acupuncture can be a bit cold and impersonal. Some practitioners just place the needles and leave the client alone in the room to either tend to another client in another room or to do something else. Acupressure, just like massage, creates a more personal energy exchange and relationship with the client, I get to spend more time palpating the acupoints and I get to collect far more information based on the client’s reactions and responses during the actual treatment than I get during an acupuncture session. This helps me to adjust the treatment accordingly.
Cautions and contraindications of acupressure
The cautions and contraindications are pretty much the same in the case of acupressure as in the case of acupuncture. While it is safer to practice acupressure on certain acupoints, unless one is properly trained in locating the acupoints and is familiarised with their actions, cautions and contraindications, acupressure can do a lot of damage. So, please, do not trust every bit of information you find online about such and such a point being a miracle cure for everything.
Also, if the practitioner recommends you to perform acupressure or massage over certain areas, those recommendations have been made exclusively for your medical complaints and should by no means be transmitted to other people, just because “I learned this from my therapist, so it must be ok”.