How Acupressure Works and Tips For Self-Massage
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, vital energy or qi (pronounced “chee”) circulates through meridians or channels in our bodies. Both acupressure and acupuncture stimulate specific points on these meridians to remove blockages, balance and direct the flow of energy, and relieve pain in the corresponding parts of the body. While acupuncture uses fine needles, in acupressure we simply massage the points with our fingers – which has the big bonus that you can learn to do it yourself, in the comfort of your own home!
Before you attempt this, it's essential that you know the correct technique.
How to apply acupressure?
Self-acupressure massage can be done seated, lying down or standing, depending on which points you need to reach.
Try to relax in a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe deeply while stimulating the points.
Wearing loose, comfortable clothes makes it easier to access the points and allows the energy to flow more freely.
Finding the points
Refer to the pictures and instructions provided. When you press firmly on the point, you may feel a kind of dull ache or tingling sensation, indicating that you’ve found the right spot. But don’t worry too much if you’re not sure – since the pads of our fingers and thumbs are much larger than acupuncture needles, and since the massage technique stimulates the surrounding area, acupressure allows more leeway in ensuring the points are covered.
To stimulate the acupoints, go into them slowly but firmly with a finger or thumb, and massage them with a circular or up-and-down motion.
Remember the words “gentle but firm”. The pressure should be delicate enough not to leave a mark, but sufficiently firm for you to feel what I call “comfortable pain” (as opposed to “painful pain”!) – similar to what you might feel during a massage when sore spots and tight muscles start to release their tension.
Massage each point for at least 30 seconds to activate it, but don’t overdo it – generally 3 minutes should be the maximum for each point in a single session.
If you’d rather not be glancing at the clock, you can also count around 10-20 deep breaths per point – besides helping to time the massage, this will also help you relax and stay focused! Another alternative method is to count the number of circular or up-and-down motions as you massage, around 20-50 per point depending on your speed. Experiment and see which method suits you best.
Make sure you press from the middle of the thumb or finger pad, rather than the tip, to avoid digging your nail in and leaving a mark (see pictures).
Some people prefer to use a tool called an “acupressure pen”, which may range from a simple round-tipped metal implement to a high tech electronic gadget. Another very practical alternative, which you can probably find right there on your desk, is a pencil with a rubber (eraser) – simply use the rubber end to stimulate the points!
We provide descriptions of a number of points that can be used for each condition, but you may find that some work better than others for you. Experiment in the few sessions and see what effect you get from massaging each point – once you’ve identified the ones which are most helpful to you, it’s fine to focus just on these.
Most of the points are actually pairs of points, since most of the meridians run symmetrically on both sides of the body. Some pairs of points can be massaged simultaneously, for example those on either side of the neck or back which can easily be reached using both thumbs. Others can be massaged in alternation – first left then right or vice versa.
Repeat the massage as often as you like. For maximum benefit, it’s good to do it at least twice daily if you’re treating a chronic condition, but there is no upper or lower limit.
Be patient and consistent when practicing acupressure self-massage. Especially if you are dealing with stubborn symptoms, it may take time to clear energy blocks and achieve long-lasting healing results.
Besides formal sessions, you can also work on the more easily accessible acupoints at odd moments in the day: when you are sitting on the bus, watching TV, or taking 5 out from your computer screen.. any time your hands are free basically!
Besides self-acupressure, you can also ask a friend or partner to help massage the points for you. If you’re both in need of treatment, try a massage exchange!
When locating the acupoints on another person’s body, remember that the measurements – such as x finger widths, a hand’s width etc. – refer to their finger/hand width, not yours (unless you are the same size!)
Don’t apply pressure to an open wound, broken skin, or swollen/inflamed areas.
Avoid areas with scar tissue, bruising, varicose veins, or any kind of skin lesions such as boils, blisters and rashes.
If your condition worsens, consult a medical professional ASAP.
If you are pregnant, DO NOT USE before 37 weeks+ of Pregnancy. Seek medical advice before trying acupressure and ensure to have a one-on-one session with us.
You may be puzzled when, for example, you are seeking to relieve neck pain and are advised to massage a pressure point on the “gallbladder meridian” – what does neck ache have to do with my gallbladder, you may well wonder.
In fact, all our body parts and functions are intricately interrelated, according to the holistic system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and the roles of the meridians and their points go far beyond the organs which they are named after.
Imbalances in one area may give rise to symptoms in another; these can manifest on a physical or emotional level, or both. As part of TCM, acupressure seeks to treat the energy blocks and imbalances that underlie the symptoms, regarding the body and mind as one interconnected whole.
Each meridian is associated with certain types of vital energy or qi, qualities (such as cooling or warming), sense organs, emotions, and elements. They are also classified as yin or yang, depending on the direction of energy flow and their location on the inner or outer regions of the limbs and torso.
From the point of view of modern western medicine, which tends to focus more on identifying pathogens and treating diseases and their symptoms in isolation, it may all sound very complex and mystical – but with 2500 years of history as well as numerous modern studies confirming the benefits of acupuncture and acupressure, it’s not surprising that more and more people are turning to this amazing risk-free system of healing.
Briefly, there are twelve major meridians that run on both sides of the body, each side mirroring the other. These channels are named after the organs that they relate to, as we will see below, with the exception of the Triple Burner Meridian which primarily regulates temperature in the body.
In addition, two other important meridians, belonging to a category called extraordinary vessels, are commonly used in acupressure and acupuncture: the Conception Vessel and Governing Vessel.
These primary meridians are interwoven by a network of minor meridians. Think of it as an energy superhighway, a web of subtle pathways that penetrate and interconnect each cell of your body while also influencing your mental and emotional states.
An Overview Of The Meridians
The 12 Major Meridians
Lung Meridian (LU)
Starts in front of the shoulder and runs down the top edge of the inner arm, ending at the thumb
Large Intestine Meridian (LI)
Runs from the index fingertip up the top edge of the back of the arm, across the shoulder and up the throat, ending just below the nose
Spleen Meridian (SP)
Runs from the big toe up the inside of the leg, across the abdomen and up the side of the chest, ending underneath the front of the shoulder
Stomach Meridian (ST)
Begins under the eye and descends to the jaw, before looping back up to the forehead, then drops back down and runs through the throat, chest and abdomen, and on down the front of the legs to the second toe
Heart Meridian (HT)
Starts near the armpit and runs down the lower edge of the inner arm, ending at the tip of the little finger
Small Intestine Meridian (SI)
Runs from the tip of the little finger up the lower back of the arm, behind the shoulder then up the side of the neck and cheek, finishing in front of the ear
Kidney Meridian (KI)
Begins on the sole of the foot and runs up the inner leg and central torso, ending under the collarbone
Bladder Meridian (BL or UB)
Starts near the inside corner of the eye and runs up the skull where it works outwards before running down the back (with several branches) and on down the back of the leg, ending outside the little toe
Pericardium Meridian (PC)
Starting in the middle of the chest, one branch descends to the diaphragm, while another runs along the centre of the inner arm, ending at the middle fingertip
Triple Burner Meridian (TB)
Runs from the tip of the ring finger up the centre of the back of the arm, ending at the collarbone (also known as Triple Warmer TW / Triple Energiser TE or San Jiao)
Liver Meridian (LV or Li)
Runs from the big toe up the inner leg and across the torso, ending at the nipple
Gall Bladder Meridian (GB)
Begins at the outer corner of the eye then zig-zags over the ear, skull and forehead, before running down the back of the skull and on down the side of the body and leg, ending at the fourth toe
Two Extra Meridians
Governing Vessel (GV) or Du Mai (DU)
Begins at the perineum (between the anus and genitals) and runs up the spine and over the top of the head, ending in the groove above the upper lip
Conception Vessel (CV) or Ren Mai (REN)
Begins at the perineum (as above) and runs up the midline of the front of the body, ending just below the lower lip
Good To Know
If you search for acupoints online, you will often find rather academic descriptions of their locations, using latin names for bones, tendons and so on, and referring to a mysterious measurement called “cun”. Used by trained acupuncturists to locate points, cun (pronounced “tsoon”) is a measurement relative to the patient’s body: generally one cun is defined as the width of a person's thumb at the knuckle. We prefer to use the more accessible measurements of finger/thumb/hand widths, along with plain English names for body parts, to help you locate the points – but if in doubt, always refer to the pictures, whether you are using our resources or others