By Heath and Nicole Reed
Acupressure (acupuncture without needles) is based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and has demonstrated healing benefits for millennia. Traditional Chinese medicine stimulates points located along energetic pathways to heal physical and psychological challenges. These therapeutic pressure points are called acupoints and most are located along energy channels called organ meridians. Acupoints are given both a traditional name (sometimes identifying the location or function of the point) and a secondary name associated with a specific organ and number, such as Large Intestine 4, abbreviated LI4. Each acupoint has benefits that extend beyond its associated organ meridian and location.
Chinese physicians utilize a variety of therapeutic tools and approaches to heal the body and mind. Some use acupuncture needles, moxibustion (burning healing herbs slightly above the skin over acupoints), cupping (using glass or plastic suction devices over acupoints and/or meridians), or the most natural approach: finger pressure applied directly on an acupoint. This is known as acupressure and may be performed by a massage therapist or bodyworker, or you can apply the technique yourself.
Do-it-yourself acupressure is a safe and effective way to enhance your sense of well-being and stimulate your own self-healing. Here are five acupressure points that relieve muscle tension and aches, calm the nervous system, and promote the circulation of blood and qi (energy) to restore body-mind balance. You may hold these acupoints lightly or massage them with mild-to-firm pressure. Explore and harness your natural ability to improve your health and eliminate discomfort with do-it-yourself acupressure.
1. Large Intestine 4 (LI4) or Joining the Valley
Also referred to as a “Gate of Pain,” LI4 is a general pain reliever for the upper body. Use LI4 to relieve frontal headaches and constipation, balance your gastrointestinal tract, and ease arm, shoulder, hand, and wrist discomfort. Located in the webbing between the thumb and index finger, you can use your opposite finger and thumb to squeeze, massage, or gently contact LI4 to open and let go of discomfort associated with the gates of pain. Do not work this point during pregnancy, as LI4 is said to promote labor. If labor has begun, LI4 is sometimes stimulated by nurses, doulas, or midwives to help encourage delivery.
2. Pericardium 6 (PC6) or Inner Gate
PC6 is also referred to as a “healing point,” as it promotes relaxation,calms the nervous system, and relieves wrist pain, discomfort in the chest, and nausea. Turn your palm up, and measure two-and-a-half finger widths away from your wrist crease toward your elbow to locate PC6. You can press on PC6 with gentle or firm pressure with your opposite hand. Or, in a seated position, stack your forearms (almost like you were to fold your arms on a table or in your lap) so the fingertips of both palms align onto the opposite inner wrist over PC6. You can also purchase a motion sickness wristband at most drugstores that apply similar pressure to this potent acupoint, and are marketed to ease sea and motion sickness and nausea associated with pregnancy or chemotherapy treatment.
3. Gallbladder 21 (GB21) or Shoulder Well
One of the quickest ways to release pent-up tension and soften tight muscles in your neck, scalp, and shoulders is to melt GB21. Approximately halfway between the back of your neck and shoulder is the palpable acupoint GB21; almost everyone has a knot here. If you’re flexible enough, you may be able to reach your opposite hand up to GB21, grab hold of the muscle tissue, and drag your pressure forward several times to soften this area. There are also massage tools like the Thera Cane that are specially designed to access this and other hard-to-reach knots. Sometimes, your best bet is to have a friend or therapist massage away those boulders in the shoulders.
4. Stomach 3 (ST3) or Facial Beauty
This acupoint is particularly effective during allergy season or when recovering from a head cold. ST3 relieves sinus congestion, a stuffy nose, and swelling in the cheeks and face. Locate ST3 just below your cheekbones in line with your pupil. To drain congestion or irritation from the sinuses, press or rub firmly with one or several fingers until you feel relief. It’s not uncommon for an acupoint to be sore, so only rub with comfortable pressure. If the area around your cheekbones area is red, warm, and swollen (indicating inflammation), only use light pressure to avoid further irritation.
5. Liver 3 (LV3) or Bigger Rushing
LV3 is the second pair of points referred to as the “Gates of Pain” (LI4 is the other pair) and acts as a general analgesic (pain reliever), especially in the lower body. LV3 also eases headaches, tired eyes, congestion, and hangover symptoms. In a seated position with your shoes removed, cross one ankle over the opposite thigh and locate LV3 a couple inches away from the webbing between your big toe and second toe on the top of your foot. Use your thumb or fingers to massage this area and repeat on the opposite side. If you’re experiencing arthritis or foot or knee pain predominantly on one side of your body, you may want to spend more time releasing LV3 on the same side as your discomfort.
Do-it-yourself acupressure can be done anywhere, at anytime, and repeated multiple times a day. In fact, the benefits of acupressure become enhanced the more often you practice, and there is no limit to how long you can hold or massage an acupoint.
Acupressure is a natural and simple approach to taking care of yourself. And when you support your own internal harmony, the benefits extend beyond the contours of your body and radiate outward for all those around you. Use these acupoints whenever and wherever you’d like to enhance your sense of ease, flow, and well-being.
Heath and Nicole Reed are co-founders of Living Metta (living “loving kindness”) and want everyone in the world to enjoy the experience of befriending their body. The Reeds lead workshops and retreats across the country and overseas, including Thailand and Mexico, and have been team-teaching touch and movement therapy for 16 years. In addition to live classes, the Reeds offer massage therapy and self-care videos, DVDs, and online trainings, which may be found online at www.livingmetta.com.