Acupressure is a gentle, noninvasive form of the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture. In acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into the body at specific points along lines called meridians. In acupressure, thumb or finger pressure is applied at these same points, but the body is not punctured. In both practices, the aim is to effect beneficial changes and achieve harmony within the body’s systems and structure.

The History of Acupressure

Because acupressure evolved from acupuncture, an ancient Chinese healing practice, the history of this form of treatment begins with traditional Chinese philosophy as it applies to the healing arts. The fundamental principle of Chinese philosophy is the concept of yin and yang. The yin and yang are two opposite, yet complementary, forever-entwined forces that underlie all aspects of life. Yin-yang is depicted as the subtly curved light and dark halves of a circle. Both proceed from the t’ai chi (the Supreme Ultimate). According to this philosophical system, the human body, like all matter, is made up of five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each element corresponds to an aspect of the body, such as the organs, senses, tissues, and emotions, as well as to aspects of nature, such as direction, season, color, and climate. The five-element theory, combined with the principle of yin and yang, forms the basis of the Chinese concept of balance. The intention is to balance yin and yang and to balance the energies of the five elements.

Yin is earthy, female, dark, passive, receptive, and absorbing. It is represented by the moon, the tiger, the color orange, a broken line, and the shady side of a hill. Yin is cool, inward, still, and soft.

Yang is represented by the sun, the dragon, the color blue, an unbroken line, and the sunny side of a hill. Yang is hot, outward, moving, aggressive, and bright.

Because yin and yang are intertwined halves of the same whole, all things, and all people, contain elements of both, although at any one time, one or the other will be predominant. Thus, a baby or young child is more yin; an older child more yang. When your child asserts herself, it is her yang that is coming to the fore.

The sun is yang, the moon is yin. We awaken in the morning and greet the sun. It is natural to be active and moving throughout the daylight. As twilight descends into night, we become more passive and quiet. Nighttime expresses the qualities of yin.

Chinese medical theory teaches that the two branches of the body’s nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympa-thetic, correspond to the two halves of the yin-yang circle. The sympathetic branch is the part of the nervous system that mobilizes our bodies to respond to stress. It initiates the fight-or-flight re-sponse, a more yang part of the cycle. The parasympathetic branch replen-ishes and supports the body during rest, the yin part of the cycle. These two branches oppose and balance each other to create stability and health. When the yin and yang are balanced within the body, all the body’s functions are healthy. Illness is caused by an imbalance between yin and yang.

Conventional Western medicine typically pinpoints and directly treats only the affected part of the body. Chinese medical philosophy encompasses the entire universe. Everything that affects the patient is considered, including emotion, environment, and diet.

Chinese philosophy proposes a way of life based on living in accordance with the laws of nature. This profound connection with nature is reflected in the language used to describe illness. For example, a patient may be diagnosed with a “wind invasion” or “excess
heat.” Acupuncture (or acupressure) points may be chosen to “disperse wind,” “remove summer damp,” or “disperse rising fire.”

In traditional Chinese medicine, every aspect of health is described in terms of a balance between yin and yang. For example, yin illnesses are caused by excessive expansion (overweight as a result of eating too much sugar, for example), while yang illnesses are caused by excessive contraction (sunstroke or fever). An imbalance of yin and yang factors can be demonstrated by showing how red blood cells respond to different substances. When red blood cells are placed in water (yin), they absorb the water, expand, and finally burst. When red blood cells are placed in a concentrated saline (salt) solution (yang), they contract, shrink, and shrivel. In a solution of normal saline (0.9 percent salt), the yin and yang are perfectly balanced and the cells remain virtually unchanged. An example of how the ancient yin-yang theory can be used to describe concepts in conventional medicine can be found in the treatment of breast and prostate cancer: Female hormones (yin) help control prostate cancer (yang); male hormones (yang) help control breast cancer (yin). The interplay of the yin and yang-as one increases, the other decreases-describes the process of the universe and everything in it. In more familiar Western terms, as modern physical science teaches, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

The Five Elements and Their Correspondences
in Nature and the Human Body
In traditional Chinese Philosophy, all matter is considered to be composed of five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water). The elements in turn have correspondences in various aspects of the natural world, including the human body. According to this philosophy, health is achieved when yin and yang, and the energies of the five elements, are all in proper balance. The elements and some of their corresponding characteristics and parts of the body are illustrated in the chart below.
Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
South Middle West North
Taste Sour Bitter Sweet Pungent Salty
Color Green Red Yellow White Black
Growth Cycle Germination Growth Ripening Harvest Storing
Environmental Factor Wind Heat Dampness Dryness Cold
Season Spring Summer Late Summer Autumn Winter
Organs Liver,
small intestine
large intestine
Sense/Organ Eye Tongue Mouth Nose Ear
Tissue Tendon Vessel Muscle Skin and
Emotion Anger Joy Meditation Grief and
Fright and fear

In Chinese philosophy, the energy that pulses through all things, animate and inanimate, is called chit Health exists when there is a harmonious balance under heaven of both internal and external forces. Each bodily organ must have the right amount of chi to function. Too much or too little chi causes an imbalance, resulting in illness or disease. Chi flows through all things, enters and passes through the body, creating harmony or disharmony.

Chinese medicine works directly with the natural, vital energy-or chi-of the body. The goal of acupuncture and acupressure is to normalize the body’s energies. Chi can tee tapped at specific points along channels known as meridians. Activating one key point sets up a predictable reaction in another area. By tonifying (increasing energy in) a specific area, the yin-yang balance is treated. Moving an excess of chi from one area and directing it to another, weaker area, corrects the yin-yang balance.

Acupuncture is an ancient protocol. As a component of Oriental medicine, it has been practiced for centuries. The Huangdi Neijing (Canon of Medicine), written about 500-300 B.C., is the oldest surviving medical text. Among other medical practices, it describes the use of acupuncture.

Acupressure Today

Acupressure is a form of body work in which pressure is applied to specific acupuncture points to balance internal function. Acupressure is practiced around the world.

The Chinese have a very descriptive term for taking advantage of a combination of two or more healing systems-a practice this book advocates. They say the’ patient is “walking on two legs.” A two-year study conducted jointly by the Northwestern University Medical School and Evanston Hospital in Evanston, Illinois employed a combination of acupuncture and acupressure. In this study, patients suffering from chronic head aches of all types, including migraine, cluster, whiplash, and tension, were first treated with acupuncture. The patients were then individually instructed in specific acupressure techniques to use when a headache seemed imminent. The researchers reported that the need for prescription painkillers and other drugs was eliminated entirely in most patients-thus verifying the effectiveness of “walking on two legs.”

Working with an Acupressurist

There are professionally trained and college-educated acupressurists, just as there are acupuncturists. If you wish to consult a trained acupressurist, check the yellow pages of your telephone book. You’ll find this category listed in most large cities.

For the most part, though, the gentle form of acupressure recommended in the Treatment and Care entries in Part Two of this book is something you can do yourself, at home, to ease a hurting or ailing child.

Treating Your Child with Acupressure

In The Chinese Art of Healing (Bantam, 1972), author Stephan Palos identifies the hand as “man’s original medical tool.” We instinctively use our hands to alleviate pain. When we suffer a bump or bruise, have a cramp, or hurt anywhere inside, we rub, knead, or massage the painful spot.

When your child is ill, gently working the acupressure points recommended in the appropriate entry in Part Two will probably be beneficial (the illustrations in Part Three provide guidelines for locating all of the acupressure points recommended). Your child will very likely love receiving an acupressure treatment.

Massaging a particular point will help relieve symptoms as well as strengthen and balance the yin-yang in your child’s body. For example, applying acupressure to the point identified as “Large Intestine 11” helps relax the intestine, thus relieving constipation. Another related

point is Stomach 36; massaging Stomach 36 helps tone an upset digestive tract. When your child is ill, the appropriate acupressure points, as well as other areas of your child’s body, will be tender. Use your intuitive sense. Ask what feels good.

Common Acupressure Points

In acupressure, there are twelve lines c ailed meridians that run along each side of the body. Each pair of meridians corresponds to a specific organ. For example, there is a pair of Lung meridians, Spleen meridians, Stomach meridians, and Liver meridians. Acupressure points are named for the meridian they lie on, and each is given a number according to where along the meridian it falls. Thus, Spleen 6 is the sixth point on the Spleen meridian. The table on page 38 lists some of the acupressure points most often recommended in the entries in Part Two of this book.

Administering Acupressure

When you give your child an acupressure treatment, your tools are your hands, notably your thumbs and fingers, and occasionally your palms. For the most part, you will be using the balls of your thumbs and fingers, never the nails. Before administering acupressure, make sure your fingernails are clipped short, so that you do not inadvertently scratch your child.

Choose a time of day when your child is most relaxed, perhaps after a warm bath and just before bedtime. Have her take a few deep breaths. This aids relaxation and will automatically focus your child’s attention inward on her body.

You might want to start an acupressure session with a loving and comforting back rub, a treat most children welcome, especially when ill. Remain calm and unhurried. Make sure to keep your child warm throughout the treatment. You can apply pressure to the points directly onto the skin, or through a shirt or light sheet.

Work right-side and left-side acupressure points at the same time. Use your fingers or thumbs to apply threshold pressure to the point. Threshold pressure is firm pressure, just on the verge of becoming painful The idea is to stimulate the point without causing the body to tighten up or retract a the pain. The pressure you exert should not hurt your child. Firm but gentle is the rule.

Apply from one to five minutes of continuous pressure. Or apply pressure for ten seconds, release for ten seconds, reapply pressure for ten seconds, release for ten seconds. Repeat this cycle five times.

To learn how to locate specific acupressure points, specific points
which are helpful for different childhood conditions are
included in
Administering an Acupressure Treatment.

When your child is ill, acupressure is a wonderful way to use your hands with a loving, nurturing touch, while also stimulating your child’s body to heal. By using the acupressure points described in this book, you will be working to relieve the underlying cause of illness. At the same time, your gentle healing touch will convey your love and concern to your child.

Common Acupressure Points
Point Effect Indications
Bladder 23 Increases circulation to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Vaginitis, urinary tract infection; lower back pain.
Bladder 28 Master point for the bladder. Urinary tract infection.
Bladder 60 Increases circulation to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Urinary tract infection.
Four Gates Motion sickness; chickenpox; croup; hay fever; herpes; hyperactivity; pain; fever; poison ivy; sleeplessness; weight problems. Urinary tract infection.
Kidney 3 Strengthens the bladder and kidneys; increases circulation to the reproductive organs.Bedwetting; urinary tract infection; vaginitis.
Kidney 7 Strengthens the bladder and kidneys.Bedwetting.
Large Intestine 4 Beneficial to the head and face; relieves congestion and headaches; removes energy blocks in the large intestine; clears heat.Acne; common cold; headache; menstrual cramps; teething; sore throat; fever; toothache.
Large Intestine 11 Relieves itching; reduces allergic reactions.Chickenpox; hay fever; constipation.
Large Intestine 20 Decreases sinus congestion.Hay fever; sinusitis.
Liver 3 Quiets the nervous system; relaxes muscle cramps and spasms. Asthma; menstrual cramps; teething; headache; eye pain.
Liver 7 Clears the lungs; moistens the throat. Asthma; common cold; sore throat.
Neck and Shoulder Release Relaxes the muscles of the neck and shoulders; relaxes the body.Headache; weight problems.
Pericardium 6 Relaxes the chest; relieves nausea; relaxes the ming.Asthma; motion sickness; croup; sleeplessness; stomachache; vomiting.
Points Along Either Side
of the Spine
Improves circulation; relaxes the nervous system; balances the respiratory system; relaxes the spine.Anxiety; colic; common cold; menstrual cramps; nervousness; insomnia.
Spleen 6 Reduces uterine cramping.Menstrual cramps.
Spleen 10 Detoxifies the blood.Acne; herpes; impetigo; poison ivy, boils, vaginitis.
Stomach 36 Tones the digestive system; strengthens overall wellbeing.Colic; diarrhea; chronic runny nose; vomiting, constipation, indigestion; stomachache.

From Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, N.D., L.Ac., Robert Rountree, MD, Rachel Walton, RN, ©1994. Published by Avery Publishing, New York. For personal use only; neither the digital nor printed copy may be copied or sold. Reproduced by permission.

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Written by Janet Zand LAc OMD

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