Acupuncture and acupressure are two non-drug therapies which are making their presence felt in the complementary medicine scene. And acupressure and reflexology are getting the crowds because of ease of practice. But how do these gentle systems work?
The large airy first floor room of the Arya Samaj center in Santa Cruz, Mumbai, India, is teeming with frantic activity. Clusters of people flank the four walls, talking animatedly. At one end are two high beds holding a reclining form each, upon which therapists are vigorously administering what appears to be a massage. Judging by the people lining up, this seems to be a popular service. In the center of the room, like the still point of a turning world, sits a trim austere looking man whose youthful appearance belies his 75-odd years. This is Devendra Vora, author of the popular book, Health in Your Hands and an untiring apostle of acupressure.
A man is a cancer patient. Vora is unfazed. Taking his left hand, he presses a few points and watches the man wince with pain. Swiftly writing down something, he asks him to collect some medicine from a lady sitting at the other end of the hall and to meet one of the therapists. The patient hesitantly explains that he is on allopathic drugs. “That’s okay,” says Vora with supreme confidence. “You can do so for the first eight days but once you see the results for yourself, you must leave it off.”
Is acupressure then the David that can slay the Goliath Cancer? Vora has no doubt about it at all. Indeed, so sensational are the good healer’s claims that one trembles to mention them. “All types of cancer can be easily cured,” he tells us, claiming to have treated around 10,000 such cases in the last 10 years. He also claims success in treating kidney ailments, muscular dystrophy and even HIV. I was disconcerted to find him diagnosing many cases of HIV by simply pressing a couple of points. Whether these are truly HIV cases or not, I cannot tell. Vora, though, throws an open challenge to all allopaths to prove his diagnosis wrong. Nor are his statements motivated by avarice. His twice-weekly sessions at the Arya Samaj are free of charge and his concern is transparently for the welfare of humanity.
Elsewhere in the city, Samchand Bhavani Dharam, businessman, winces as tiny Sujok acupuncture needles are slipped into the two middle fingers of his left hand. Dr S.L. Shah, an allopath who also practices acupuncture and is deeply interested in the holistic sciences, explains that the patient will travel home to distant Thane with the needles in his finger, removing them only after an hour.
The treatment is for frozen shoulder and already in four sittings he is 30 per cent better, says Dharam. This, after allopathy, homoepathy and other therapies failed to have any effect. Bharati Bagaria, a 48-year-old housewife, was laid low by a crippling back pain that prevented her from sitting or standing. In desperation, she approached Seema Khandwala, a practitioner of Chinese acupuncture. The first session itself yielded results and in five or six sessions the back pain had disappeared.
Acupuncture and acupressure may or may not be the panacea its practitioners often claim them to be. But their growing popularity in India can hardly be doubted. While acupuncture is the senior and more respected of the two, it is acupressure which is climbing the popularity charts. Free training and treatment camps abound, run by people like Devendra Vora, who claims to have treated 20 lakh cases since his involvement in 1976. Chimanbhai Dave is another pioneer, having been deeply inspired by two books on reflexology (a variation of acupressure) written by Eunice Ingam called The Stories the Feet can Tell and The Stories the Feet have Told. His organization, Jay Bhagwan Acupressure Services Bombay (International) runs free training and healing workshops in about 300 centers in India and abroad. Another institution called Veer Savarkar Kendra in Vile Parle, also offers free treatment and training courses.
Anjali Nevrekar, Sujok and hand reflexology practitioner claims to have trained over 10,000 therapists herself. And acupressure gizmos abound, such as acupressure shoes, whose soft spikes are calculated to pressure your acupoints while you walk about your daily routine. There are many types of acupressure rollers, points, even beds! While such over-enthusiasm may be both unwise and unnecessary (practitioners say that all you really need are your fingertips, and that prolonged application of pressure such as that arising from footwear and beds can damage), it speaks volumes for the widespread awareness of what is an alien therapy, coming from China.
Acupuncture and acupressure (which is further divided into other pressure therapies like reflexology, shiatsu, Sujok and G-Jo fingertip technique) come under the umbrella of Chinese medicine. Of ancient lineage, it was first consolidated in book form about 4,000 years ago, when The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine was published.
At the core of these therapies, as indeed, all eastern sciences, is the presence of chi. Chi (prana, in India) is the bio-energy or life force that moves and sustains life. Indeed, it is the very essence of life. The universe is suffused with bio-energy, and its presence or absence within our system is the measure of our well being. Balancing chi is essentially a question of balancing the yin and yang, the twin polarities (+ve and -ve) that are at once in conflict and interdependent. The purpose of these therapies is therefore to ensure the smooth and harmonious flow of chi. Its focus then is more on maintaining health rather than treating ill health.
The flow of chi has a definite predictable route like a well-laid out railway track. The chi runs along 14 parallel lines called meridians that start from the tips of the fingers of each hand, go up to the head and then travel down to the toes. Of these, 12 are connected to each of the major 12 organs. There are numerous interconnections and stops en route. These stops are known as acupoints. When stimulated in a specific way for a specific period of time, these points can kick start energy blockages and stagnations and can increase the flow.
Stimulation of the points through the insertion of needles is known as acupuncture. The use of pressure is known as acupressure in any one of its forms.
Illness, according to the holistic understanding of eastern philosophy, is caused whenever the chi of the external environment, such as one’s home, relationships, weather, and work conditions is disturbed, or if one’s internal chi, the body-mind complex, is not in harmony. Healing is therefore a combination of correcting our outer environment (for instance, by moderating the lifestyle, or diet or mental attitudes) and by stimulating the acupoints. In India, acupressure is usually combined with ayurveda, homoeopathy, nature cure and other holistic practices.
Because of their emphasis on drugless, natural measures, they are considered to be safe and gentle, without the formidable cost or side effects of allopathy. Though Dr C.H. Asrani, an allopath, who also practices acupuncture, Chinese head and ear, does not consider the science to be entirely free of side effects. “Over-stimulation can cause headaches,” he points out. The dos and the don’ts of the therapies must be observed, but within that framework, acupuncture and acupressure can be successfully used to treat many situations that are out of the purvey of other therapies.
Author: Suma Varughese