The Basics: Feeling a bit squeamish about acupuncture, which involves inserting ultra-thin needles into the skin to alleviate tension and pain? Check out its close cousin, acupressure, which swaps needles for an acupressurist’s fingers.
The gentle pressure stimulates the same key points and pathways, called meridians, that run along the body as acupuncture, providing relief from tension and pain (as well as helping to mitigate these problems before they develop into illnesses) caused by a blockage of qi, or vital life energy, which circulates around the body in healthy individuals, according to Chinese medicine.
“Qi and blood are an essential pair, an essential yin and yang,” says Joseph Carter, director of the Acupressure Institute in Berkley, California. “You need qi to build blood, and blood nourishes your qi; they have a circular relationship.”
An acupressure session shares techniques with both acupuncture and massage therapy and offers similar benefits, including muscular relaxation, improved circulation and clearing blocked waste to help bring the body back into balance. “An acupressure session should feel good,” says Carter. “If it hurts at all, it will be a release of tension, like tightness in shoulders.”
Unlike massage, acupressure places sustained pressure and focused energy on a specific point rather than rubbing over a large area. According to Carter, acupressure is effective at teaching or encouraging the body to make a change, to work in a new way and to bring forward natural self-healing energies, while acupuncture is an ideal therapy for breaking up an old blockage or relieving a chronic problem.
You can also perform acupressure on yourself. Carter encourages his students and clients to practice a self-acupressure routine customized to their needs two to three times each day for about three minutes. Acupressure’s benefits are cumulative so it’s important to maintain a sustained practice. The only rare negative effect of acupressure is bruising if too much pressure is applied, says Carter.
Scientific Support: While not as widely studied as acupuncture, acupressure has been shown to help a number of health issues, especially those dealing with pain. A 2011 study showed that acupressure on the SP6 acupoint, found at the junction of the liver, spleen and kidney meridians located above the ankle, effectively reduced menstrual pain in the study group of 30 young women. And a 1997 study found acupressure to be effective in preventing postsurgical nausea and vomiting.
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