What Is Acupressure?


Acupressure balances the body’s energy by applying pressure to specific points along energy channels. The term “pressure” is misleading, since acupressure actually uses a very light touch. A practitioner uses her fingertips to make contact with the body. It’s the location of the contact that’s important, not the amount of pressure.

Some people like firm, strong pressure, especially in areas where muscles are tight. A practitioner can adjust the amount of pressure to suit a client’s personal preference, but the effectiveness of the work does not depend on the pressure.

How is it that lightly touching the surface of the body can affect the balance of energy? Our soft internal organ systems (the viscera) are connected with the exterior of our bodies (the bones, muscles, flesh) by a series of major energy channels, as well as by networks of small connecting vessels. Thousands of years ago, Asian cultures identified locations on the body where these energy pathways are close to the surface. In fact, these points can now be located with electronic “point finders” that measure electrical skin resistance. Acupressure points have a lower electrical resistance than the surrounding skin.

In Chinese medicine, energy and blood are closely related. The energy channels are pathways for both chi and blood. When a finger touches an acupressure point, the energy flowing in the channel is attracted to the surface. An acupressure practitioner will hold a point until she feels a pulsation under her finger. When energy is attracted to the surface, the flow of blood increases at that location and the pulse is felt. The pulse is a confirmation that the energy is now flowing.

A practitioner may use a variety of tools (pulse and tongue diagnosis, questioning, looking, listening) to assess the relative strength of the twelve major energy channels. She may find that one channel has an excess of energy and another is deficient in energy. There are different methods for holding points, depending on the relative strength of the energy.

By holding points in a specific sequence, energy can be increased where it is lacking or dispersed where it is overabundant. An acupressurist will move one hand along a series of points, waiting for the pulse to arrive. She holds the other hand on a “home-base” point, selected for its ability to assist the other points in releasing.

Acupressure and acupuncture use the same theory and assessment tools to select the points used in a session. An acupressure practitioner has some advantages. Because her hands are in contact with the points, she can detect changes in the energy during the session. She can then modify the selection of points to accommodate the body’s response. Also, some points are not easy to needle, since they are located too close to bone or nerves, whereas all points are available to the acupressurist’s touch.

While some acupuncturists include hands-on massage and hands-on assessment as part of their treatment, most do not. In my opinion, the best acupressure sessions typically begin with Tui Na. This initial massage prepares the body to receive the work with specific points, increasing the effectiveness of the work. For this reason, acupressure produces a deeper level of relaxation than a typical acupuncture treatment. Ultimately it is this deeply relaxed state that allows us to reduce stress and strengthen the body’s natural healing ability.