Acupressure seems to be the most recent craze in the world of acupuncture, reflexology, meditation, and other alternative wellness remedies. However, this practice has actually been around for thousands of years in China and India, and only the recent popularity of the uber-convenient acupressure mat has caused it to gain traction in more western settings. So what exactly is an acupressure mat and how can you use it safely and effectively right from home?
Compared to ancient health practices, pharmaceutical medications have only been around for a relatively short amount of time. While there is little doubt that prescription medications have saved lives, many have been misused, abused, and/or come with a long list of side effects that are sometimes worse than the original problem.
For thousands of years, before those pharmaceuticals were created, all ancient cultures utilized natural healing practices, from 5,000-year-old Ayurvedic practices to herbal tinctures and well beyond. Those early cultures didn’t have access those highly-marketed drugs we have today, relying instead on the knowledge that was passed through generations.
While much of that information has been lost today with the introduction of new technology – or declared ineffective (including by some who don’t have our best interests in mind), some of the ancient practices traditionally used throughout millennia really do work, and come without all of those nasty side effects and/or the potential for addiction.
Acupuncture is one of the world’s oldest healing practices. Part of traditional Chinese medicine, it’s been scientifically found to relieve pain by affecting multiple pathways and healing responses at the same time.
This ancient practice has the ability to:
- Increase endorphin levels by activating the body’s natural opioid system
- Diminish the pain response in the nervous system
- Positively alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones
- Reducing inflammation and swelling
- Relaxing the muscles and stopping muscle spasms
- Boosting blood circulation to an injured area
- Promote tissue healing
A 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine that involved nearly 18,000 patients from four different countries, demonstrated that acupuncture was significantly more effective for decreasing chronic pain, such as back, neck and shoulder pain as well as migraines, as compared to standard pain treatment alone.
Acupuncture is effective for many health problems in addition to easing the pain. It’s also be found to relieve anxiety, and even eliminate phobias or fears.
Acupuncture is also known to help ease anxiety as well as to eliminate or relieve fears and phobias. Research published in 2010 in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, found that just five minutes of acupuncture was able to diminish dental phobia. During previous dental visits, three of the 20 patients who participated as study volunteers had to be knocked out with a general anaesthetic in order to cope with their fears; six who suffered from dental phobia required strong sedatives, and in 14 cases, treatment had to be cancelled because the patient was unable to go through with it. After treating them with needles, placed at specific acupuncture points on the top of the head, all 20 participants were able to conquer their fears.
Reflexology, or at least some form of it, has been used to promote healing for thousands of years. While you might think it’s simply a type of massage, it’s actually closer to acupuncture as both practices rely on the concept of “qi” or “chi.” This refers to the theoretical life force that flows through every living thing. While acupuncturist inserts needles into certain areas of the body to unblock stagnant qi in other parts of the body, reflexology is typically applied to areas like the hands or feet or hands in order to affect another part of the body.
There is evidence that reflexology was practiced in China as far back as 4,000 BC as well as in Egypt, as depicted in Ankmahor’s tomb. North American Indian tribes are known to have practiced a similar form for centuries. Today’s version was developed about 100 years ago but is still based on the ancient practice, with the belief that certain areas of the hands and feet are connected to other areas and organs of the body.
Reflexology is effective for:
- Relieving pain
- Reducing stress and inducing relaxation
- Boosting the immune system
- Improving circulation
- Healing digestive disorders
Hydrotherapy is just what it sounds like, as “hydro” refers to water. Basically, it utilizes water to relieve pain, as well as to treat illnesses. Originally used by ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Japanese, it was referred to as the “water cure.” Many records have been discovered, reporting how soaking in hot or cold water had the ability to cure ailments. In fact, that’s why the Romans built their public bathhouses – eventually giving birth to our modern day spas.
Hydrotherapy is known to:
- Relieve pain and muscle tension by triggering the release of endorphins and easing movement
- Help heal injured muscles faster by increasing body temperature when using hot water, and improving blood flow
- Strengthen the immune system due to increased blood flow that allows the lymph system to eliminate toxins and other unwanted materials
- Encouraging detoxification by inducing sweating that helps to flush out impurities
- Relieve stress and anxiety through the release of endorphins
Hypnotherapy has been used by ancient people in religious ceremonies and rituals throughout history, but the hypnosis we know today, which has become much more mainstream in recent years, was first associated with an 18th-century Austrian physician, Franz Anton Mesmer who used a variety of hypnotic techniques like magnets to treat his patients. Mesmer was initially called a fraud, as the University of Maryland Medical Center reports, but it regained popularity in the mid-20th-century. It’s best known for helping one to cope with fear, anxiety, and phobias.
The term “hypnosis” comes from the Greek word hypnos, which means “sleep.” Hypnotherapists bring deep relaxation to patients, putting them into an altered state of consciousness that can help one learn how to master their own state of awareness. This allows them to affect their own bodily functions and psychological responses.
Using herbs to cure ailments dates back thousands of years as well. In fact, roughly 25 percent of the pharmaceutical medications prescribed today are derived from plants, and 11 percent of the 250 drugs on the World Health Organization’s essential medicine list is exclusively made from plants.
Herbs can be used to treat all sorts of acute and chronic conditions from depression and anxiety, to heart disease, inflammation-related conditions and just about everything in between. For example, peppermint leaves are famous for not only their taste and variety of culinary applications but for their medicinal benefits such as treating digestive disorders and soothing stomach discomforts.
Kava root has been recognized as one of the most effective herbal treatments for moderate to severe anxiety. Research in 2013 from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne in Australia was the first clinical trial supporting the use of the medicinal South Pacific plant. The experts found that kava may be as effective as current drugs aimed to treat anxiety, noting that unlike but with less potential for side effects or dependency.