What is Acupressure? Mats, Massages, & More!
Acu what? Not acupuncture, acuPRESSURE. You may immediately group these words as one and the same, but they are two different terms with different functions. Surprisingly, acupuncture actually stems from acupressure. So what really is this traditional ancient Chinese healing technique?
- Acupressure can help relieve physical and mental stress throughout your body
- With an understanding of pressure points, this technique is accessible to everyone
- Try an acupressure mat to increase flow and energy
What is Acupressure?
Acupuncture is the insertion of very thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body. These specific and strategic points are called acupoints. Acupressure, although revolving around similar ideas, is a complementary therapy believed to stimulate the central nervous system by use of needles in order to relieve pain, reduce stress, or target an inner body issue.
Both acupuncture and acupressure are targeting the meridian lines in your body and energy pathways to stimulate an increased flow of energy and blood throughout the body. They both can be referred to as energetic medicine. The energy is referred to as Qi, which is vital or life energy running through your body. This is based on the theory that inner bodily issues such as digestive issues, migraines, muscle pain, and more, are sourced from a blockage of energy within the body. In order to cure or help that problem, the energy must be released. Acupressure works to find these points in the body to release the energy and get your body healthy and pain free. The greatest thing about acupressure is that it can be done all by yourself in the comfort of your own home.
Reasons for Acupressure
Not everyone seeks an acupressure mat or masseuse for the same reason. Whether it is for something physical or mental, people are using acupressure techniques for all sorts of reasons. Some of the reasons people use acupressure are:
- Menstrual cramps
- Muscle Tension
- Stress or anxiety
Self Administered Acupressure Massage
What makes acupressure so cool is that it is not some new health trend that costs a million dollars to keep up with. Acupressure can be completely free depending on how you want to go about it! A very common way to perform acupressure on yourself is simply with your hands and use of pressure points. The most beneficial and known acupressure point on the hands is on the skin between the thumb and index finger. By pressing down on this skin area and moving your thumb in a circular motion, it can relieve headache pain and other sources of pain.
For more information on this pressure point, click here. If you feel like you would rather see a professional massage therapist for this, they are out there!
When applying pressure through these points on your own, if not massaging this area in a circular motion, it is suggested to first apply light pressure and gradually increase that pressure for 30 seconds. Then, after those 30 seconds, hold that medium-heavy pressure for 2 minutes. After that two minutes, gradually decrease pressure for another 30 seconds until pressure is light again. This is one pressure point session, lasting no more than 3 minutes.
Shiatsu is the specific name of this acupressure massage technique. It is a Chinese massage approach from ancient tradition that focuses on pressure points and rhythm. This word, shiatsu, directly translates to “finger pressure”, which is quite telling of the actual practice. Not only does this Chinese massage approach focus on pressure points in the body, but it also can integrate breath work, meditation, and stretching.
If administering acupressure on yourself, you should first find a comfortable area to sit or lay in. This can be a bed, a comfortable chair, laying on the ground, or sitting cross legged with a pillow behind your back. Then, it is recommended to first get connected with your body by means of breath. Take 3-5 deep inhalations and exhalations and continue to focus on steadying your breath throughout the self applied acupressure.
The acupressure massage therapists, or shiatsu masseuse, will most likely be able to sense the energetic disconnect in your body before even discussing it with the client. They will then attempt to open up the energy flow within that area through the use of pressure point work, speeding up the internal healing process at that pain point.
This point of pressure can be applied locally, called local points, or can stimulate a trigger point in the body. A local point is a place where the client is directly feeling their pain. If the said client was having lower back pain on the right side, the masseuse would apply local pressure to that spot on the lower right back. Or, the masseuse could focus on a different point that the source of pain may be referring too, called a trigger point, such as the tailbone or upper back in this case.
Acupressure massage can treat a large range of health problems such as pain, headaches, insomnia, poor circulation, sinus problems, arthritis, shoulder and neck tension. Massage in general is a great technique to help many physical conditions as well as mental, as it aids in relieving stress and can help anxiety and depression.
For more benefits of massage, read this blog post.
You can search directly for acupressure massage therapists or ask around what doctors integrate and specialize in Chinese medicine. This will typically mean that they practice forms of acupressure within their massages as well as other ancient Chinese medicine traditions.
8 Common Acupressure Points to Try on Yourself
1. Feng Chi
This point is suggested for cerebral pain, headache, eye dizziness or weakness, low energy, and cold/influenza side effects. It is situated by feeling the ear bone and following that spot back to where the neck muscles append to the skull.
2. Jian Jing
This point is normally utilized for pressure, face and neck pain, migraines, and toothaches. It is applied by squeezing the shoulder muscle with your thumb and center finger.
3. He Gu
He Gu is one of the more popular pressure points. You can use He Gu by applying pressure on the skin between your thumb and index finger and massaging that area in a circular motion. This point is useful for stress, migraines, toothaches, and face or neck pain.
4. Tai Chong
This point is applying pressure on your foot and therefore shoe removal is required to work this pressure point. This is an incredible region to relieve tension in the body, pain in the lower back, hypertension, appendage torment, and sleep deprivation.
5. Nei Guan
This point can assist with giving alleviation to queasiness, nervousness, carpal passage disorder, nausea, and can even help with preventing heart palpitations.
6. Zhong Zhu
This point is situated by the ligaments of the fourth and fifth finger, behind the knuckles and is generally utilized for helping migraines, shoulder and neck strain, and pain in the upper back.
7. San Yin Jiao
This point can be useful for some pelvic problems, weariness, and sleep deprivation. The point is located in the medial side of the leg.
8. Zu San Li
This point is valuable for overall weakness, knee pain, and gastrointestinal issues. The point is located on the lateral side of the leg below the knee called the patella.
For more information on these 8 pressure points and how to directly apply them, click here. Suggested advice for administering acupressure to oneself is to repeat these pressure points 2-3 times a day.
Another common and easy way to perform acupressure on your own is with the use of an acupressure mat. Acupressure is most commonly practiced with an acupressure mat. An acupressure mat is a small to large mat that contains small needle pressure points to either sit or lay down on.
The objective of the mat is to stimulate the body’s central nervous system, recognize slight pain and sensation, and then release endorphin chemicals. These endorphins will combine with the opioid receptors in the brain and alter their perception of pain to reduce the major pain in the body.
Although this may sound like it would hurt, it actually does not (I can attest to that, I LOVE my acupressure mat). It feels a little odd at first because of all these little points on the surface of your body, but gradually begins to feel like a deep tissue massage. Whenever I use my mat, most typically standing on it, I close my eyes, meditate, and focus on my breath. Once I am standing there for around 1 minute, I begin to feel super relaxed and almost light-weight. After 5 or so minutes, I will step off, and feel completely energized and connected to my body. This is just a personal experience, but this seems to be the case for many people!
There is a reason for the high popularity of acupressure mats. There are so many benefits for just consuming a small part of your day. Many of the benefits are sourced from the release of endorphin chemicals when using the mat. Other activities that release endorphins are things like working out, eating, sexual activity, meditation, hiking, sunlight, and more! Releasing endorphins has many benefits, so let’s dive into those benefits specific to the acupressure mat.
Benefits of the Acupressure Mat
- Decreased depression
- Decreased anxiety
- Increased sense of well-being
- Decrease in stress levels
- Increased self-esteem
- Better regulated appetite
- Less pain
- Less tension
This release of endorphins when using the acupressure mat is so beneficial to the human body, both mentally and physically. Many people cannot fit long tasks in their day like hiking or going to the gym which is why quickly standing or laying on a mat for no more than 10 minutes would be perfect for someone who is busy.
5 Honest Opinions of the Acupressure Mat
After hearing all of the benefits it can offer people with back pain, neck pain, stress or anxiety related issues, and more, why wouldn’t you want to try acupressure? The acupressure mat has been stealing hearts of many and gaining popularity over the fitness and wellness world as it only ranges in about $20 per mat. Below are 5 honest opinions and reviews of the acupressure mat.
“From a personal perspective, I've found it to be a helpful way to manage my own discomfort, and I definitely recommend it for anyone who's looking to relieve back or neck pain. Though you can use it while wearing a shirt for a less intense experience, I find it most effective with my bare skin against the mat.” -Sally Kaplan
“It might look a little scary at first – you do have to lie on top of 6200 little spikey things. Don’t be put off though as it’s a surprisingly effective way to relax aching back muscles and it’s not as painful as you might imagine.” - Ethan Green
"Okay, I will admit it is intimidating looking, and if used carelessly it can hurt, BUT every single person who has tried this (essentially everyone who has been to my house since I bought it) always loves it. Sure, they say ouch at first, but try taking it away from them. This set is SO relaxing," - Amazon Review
"Initially I was wary of gently lowering my bare skin down onto a thousand pointy, metal spikes, but after doing so slowly, I was surprised to find it actually didn't hurt all that much. At first, the sensation was similar to being sunburnt but after a few minutes (and some deep breaths), I got used to it and started to – dare I say? – enjoy it." -Cosmopolitan UK staff member
“I've had lower back pain off and on for years. I also get tension headaches. The first time I laid on this matter I loved it! I laid on it for about fifteen minutes and my headache was gone. It says to start off laying on something soft. But I dived right in and laid on the floor with it. It wasn't painful or uncomfortable at all.” -Charlotte L
Are acupressure and acupuncture one and the same?
No, but they are not far apart. Acupuncture stems off of acupressure. Acupuncture is always practiced and administered by a trained professional due to the knowledge needed to do this process on someone. Acupuncture uses needles, similar to sewing needles in appearance, to gently poke into the top layer of one’s skin in order to free the vital energy in that area. An acupuncturist not only knows how to use these needles, but also where to place the needles based on the client's physical pain or other spoken issues.
Acupressure, on the other hand, is the general practice of placing pressure on certain points of the body to stimulate the flow of energy to release pain and increase overall well-being. Acupressure can be done by yourself with the use of your hands, can be done with the use of an acupressure mat, or can be done by a professional masseuse who is trained in ancient Chinese traditional medicine techniques.
In short, the biggest difference is that acupuncture is always done by a licensed acupuncturist versus acupressure is most typically done by oneself unless a masseuse who practices it is sought out for. While being different in approach, they both offer almost the same results and outcomes.
Should I do acupuncture or acupressure?
Commonly, acupuncture will be recommended to you by a doctor or healthcare professional who believes it would be beneficial for you to try. Acupuncture is traditionally for people with more serious cases of pain whether it is migraines, chronic pain, female hormonal issues, etc.
Acupressure can pretty much be beneficial for anyone. It is a self-healing modality and can be used for more minor issues like motion sickness or a small headache.
Is acupressure dangerous or have any side effects?
Acupressure should never hurt and is not considered dangerous. Acupressure should be discussed with a healthcare professional if you are experiencing any odd or new symptoms or if you have a current health condition. Acupressure should never be applied to areas that are already bruised, have an open wound, cut, or a swollen area.
The known side effects of acupressure are minimal paint or swelling of the area. If using an acupressure mat, the bruising or swelling could increase. There may also be slight reddening of skin after using an acupressure mat or applying pressure points onto yourself.
If one is seeking a shiatsu masseuse or acupressure massage, the massage therapist will typically first ask you if you have any conditions or issues they should know about before beginning the session.
When do I know if acupressure is the right step?
If you are wanting to try acupressure for no reason other than mental relaxation, stress management, or to help with your anxiety, it is safe to explore acupressure mats or massages. By doing research, you can find the best option of acupressure for you whether this is self administering pressure points, purchasing an acupressure mat, or booking an appointment with a shiatsu masseuse.
But, if you are experiencing any of these conditions below, it is recommended to discuss acupressure treatments with your doctor beforehand.
- Recent injury or breaking of bone
- Easily bruised
- Bleeding disorder
- Heart disease
- Uncontrolled blood pressure
- Prescription anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications
Written by Bella Knuth