Both acupressure and acupuncture are an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine. Today in the west they are frequently practiced separately from each other and from the other techniques of Chinese medicine.
Believed to be one of the oldest healing traditions in the world, acupressure has been practiced for at least 4000 years. Along with acupuncture it is based on the concept of the manipulation of energy pathways, or meridians.
Chinese medicine has a radically different understanding of how the human body works than western science does. The Chinese believe that the functioning of the body is integrated with the functioning of the universe and that the same fundamental, life giving energy, known as qi or chi, flows through both. However, the qi consists of two opposing energies, yin and yang, and these must be balanced within the body if good health is to be maintained.
Yin, which represents the female life force, is traditionally believed to be passive and peaceful. Yang, the male force, is thought to be aggressive and confrontational.
According to Chinese medicine, qi flows through the body along 14 main channels, or meridians. The yin and yang energies are in a state of constant flux, ebbing and flowing in order to maintain balance and harmony. If these energies become imbalanced or if their blow is blocked in any way, the result can be ill health and pain.
The meridians do not follow anatomical pathways as recognized by western medical science but, according to Chinese medicine, each meridian has an effect on a specific organ or body system. Spreads along the 14 meridians are more than 350 points at which it is possible to affect the flow of qi. In both acupressure and acupuncture these points are manipulated, either by pressure with the hands or by needles, to improve the balance and flow of qi.
The practice of applying pressure to acupuncture points to treat ill health and pain has existed for thousands of years. Chinese doctors use acupressure as part of their professional practice, and many people use it as a self help technique as an alternative to acupuncture, which one cannot practice on oneself.
Acupressure practitioners locate the points that relate to the condition they are treating and apply gentle pressure using the tips of the fingers or thumb, the edge of a nail or sometimes small, round ended wooden sticks. Occasionally special rollers, which can cover several points at the same time, are used. Pressure sometimes in the form of small rotations, is usually applied in the same direction as the qi flows along the meridian.
Acupressure can treat a wide variety of problems, including back pain, respiratory problems, headaches and constipation. Unlike acupuncture, basic acupressure is relatively easy to learn and can be used as an effective self help technique.