How Does Acupressure Work?

Acupressure follows the 5,000 years old concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The vital energy

vital energy, ki, ch'i, qi

Eastern tradition describes the world in terms of energy. Energy is the elementary substance and vital life force. It is also a synonym of “breath“. The Qi evokes breath, movement and vital energy. It encompasses two complimentary aspects: the Yin and the Yang. Without energy, there is no life. All living beings have this energy. It goes way beyond simple muscular energy. It encompasses all the energies a body can pull: physical, mental, physiological and psychological.

This flow is called Qi or Ch’i in Chinese (as in Qi Gong and Tai Chi Chuan), Ki in Japanese (as in Aikido) and Prana in India. In the West it is referred to by scientists as bio-electricity and as orgone by Dr W. Reich.

Ancient Chinese doctors observed that the health of every person depends on the good circulation of the vital energy in the body, and on its two polarities, the Yin and the Yang.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the Qi is always moving, and is constantly fed by external sources (food and fluid intake, air, sun, relationships). The Qi is formed from the “original Qi”, given to us by our parents during our conception, and of the nurturing energy, or Ying Qi, which comes from food and breathing. Two other types of Qi are involved: the Shen Qi or psychic energy, since body and mind are not separate, and the Wei Qi or defense energy, which notably rules the immune system.

The meridians

Acupressure meridians

In the same way that blood is transported by veins, vital energy circulates around the body along a network of subtle paths: the Meridians.

The Meridians were identified 5,000 years ago in China. There are 12 main Meridians. Eleven of these cross a vital organ and are named after it: Lungs, Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small Intestine, Bladder, Kidneys, Pericardium, Gall Bladder, Liver. The 12th Meridian, Triple Warmer, does not relate to any organ.
The 12 Meridians partner in 6 pairs of 1 Yin Meridian and 1 Yang Meridian.

Each Meridian continues to operate if the associated organ is removed. This is also true in cases where a limb has been removed. The Chi of the meridians extends to where the limb would naturally end.

At some specific points along the Meridian paths, the Qi is near the skin and thus physically accessible. These points are the famous acupuncture points, or acupoints (called tsubos in Japanese). They are the gateways to the Qi, and to the whole energy system. To work on the acupoints, acupuncture uses needles while acupressure uses gentle to firm finger pressure (as well as the fist, elbow or feet, depending on the technique). Acupoints are particularly sensitive to bio-electricity, and convey it very quickly. That is how modern science proved their existence.

When the Ki does not flow well, some tsubos become too full or too empty, which generates physical and psychological dysfunction.

The 12 main Meridians are linked together by another layer of 8 Extraordinary Channels. This network regulates the Ki between the Meridians, and hence the harmonious interaction between the organs. The Extraordinary Channels do not have their own acupoints, but flow through the points of more than one main Meridian. Some of those “borrowed” points are Master Points: by simply applying enough to pressure to these Master Points, one can regulate the whole Extraordinary Channel to which it belongs.

The Yin and the Yang

Yin Yang

Yin and Yang are the two sides of everything in the universe. Outsight and insight, hot and cold, day and night, action and rest, hardness and softness, hallow and deep… one cannot exist without the other.

The Chinese symbol of Yin and Yang perfectly shows this opposition/link: the Yin (in black) and the Yang (in white) are distinct, but create one another (circle) and each one carries the germ of the other (small dot of the opposite color).

The Ki, like electricity, can move thanks to 2 opposing poles. Electricity moves between the positive (+) and negative (-) poles. The Ki moves between the Yin and the Yang.
If the Yin and Yang are out of harmony and balance, the Ki does not flow properly (too strong or too weak, for instance).

Within the body some organs are yin (e.g. kidneys) while others are yang (e.g. stomach). The body’s front and right sides, the limbs’ internal sides, bones and feet are yin. The body’s back and left sides, the external sides of the limbs, the skin, muscles and head are yang.
The Yin reflects our internal resources, the Yang our interaction with the outside world.

An acupressure practitioner uses many ways to evaluate the Yin and Yang balance (strength, comparison) in a patient:

  • They measure the energy levels in the 12 Meridians (6 yin and 6 yang) with Chinese pulse readings or by touching specific areas on the back and abdomen,
  • They evaluate the difference in sensitivity between the front and back, left and right sides of the body,
  • They have a series of questions based on the 5 Elements theory.

The 5 Elements

5 elements

The Ancient Chinese conceived life and the Universe as a constant interaction between the Yin and Yang. They observed these relationships in nature and applied them to the dynamics of the body.

The 5 elements are the 5 major characteristics that describe this phenomenon: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.Each element is associated with a yin organ, a yang organ, a body tissue, a sense organ, a body fluid, a flavor, an odor, a moment of the day, an activity, a mental ability, an emotion and a voice type.
Example: Wood = liver, gall bladder, ligaments and tendons, eyes, tears, sour, rancid, morning, beginning, planning, control, anger, loud.

Wood: Wood is creative and innovative. It represents the energy to visualize, give birth to, explore, develop goals and go forward. It can be as flexible as the willow tree or as hard as the oak. Wood is associated with springtime, green, birth, the morning, the East, willpower and anger. The wood organs/Meridians are the Liver and Gall Bladder.

Fire: Fire brings energy, heat and enthusiasm. It makes things bloom after the Wood energy has planted the seeds. Fire can be pleasant when it warms, or destructive when it burns and destroys. It corresponds with summer, joy, laughter, vitality, growth, the bitter flavour, the colour red and the south. Its associated organs/Meridians are the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and Triple Warmer.

Earth: Earth brings stability. It is the energy of fecundity, nurturing and safety. Earth is patient, just and honest, but it can be demanding. It is balanced, round, and corresponds with Indian summer, yellow, sympathy, the sweet flavour, nourishment, introspection, the centre and the home. The Earth organs/Meridians are the Stomach and Spleen.

Metal: Metal evokes values, principles and business. It comes in when nature renews the soil, like in autumn. It represents the ability to let go of what has become useless, what we cannot keep. It can also be a sharp sword or knife, violent and destructive. It is associated with structure, communication, the white color, the afternoon, the west, autumn harvest, grief, bringing in and letting go. The metal organs/Meridians are the Lungs and Large Intestine.

Water: Water is the source of life. It can flow and yield. Water is the latent energy, like in winter, when nature hibernates and prepares for the springtime explosion. Water is as soft as the drizzle, but as violent as the flood. Water corresponds with emotions, body fluids, fear, cold, winter, night, and conserving resources, the blue color and the north. Its associated organs/Meridians are the Bladder and Kidneys.

Every human being is made up of the five elements, but one predominates. This theory is an additional tool for evaluation, helping the therapist to identify each person’s unique structure. A Chinese medicine practitioner needs years of experience to fully understand and apply the 5 elements theory.

An indivisible trio: body, mind and emotions

body & mind

In Chinese medicine, the body and mind constantly influence each other. Emotions are ingrained in the body, and physical pain is a condition of the mind. Our health and harmony depend on the free and regular flowing of vital energy within our body, mind and emotions.
When every stress disrupts this flow, all the spheres of our being are affected. Not only do we yield to fear, anger and sadness, but we are more prone to illnesses. Depression and anxiety may set in.

On the contrary, when body and mind are balanced and in harmony with each other, the energy flows freely, we adjust more easily to a range of emotions, and we feel more joy.

Fatigue, stress, physiological dysfunction, an unbalanced diet, lack of exercise and/or a poor bloodstream contribute to the buildup of excess lactic acid which tenses the muscle fibers. This can lead to chronic muscular tension and even spasms. Such tension tends to concentrate on the acupoints. Pressure on these points enables the muscle to stretch and relax, freeing the way to the bloodstream. Toxins are released and flushed away. The bloodstream increase enables more oxygen and nutrients to be conveyed to the body and organs. The body becomes more resistant to disease.

Tension and pain find their source in the accumulation and/or the suppression of negative emotions, and in psychological shocks. That is why acupressure is a valuable ally to restore and strengthen our emotional and psychic balance.

To summarize

Acupressure treatment

Acupressure helps to:

  • Relieve physical pain
  • Soothe muscular tension
  • Boost the immune system
  • Regulate the mood and emotions
  • Strengthen the vital energy