"Acupressure can help with constipation by promoting movement in the bowel system to encourage elimination," says Dr. So. "Sometimes our bodies simply need a bit of a push to get things moving. From a biomedical point of view, our intestines contract involuntarily to move food and waste through our digestive tract. If there is some element of blockage, the movement can slow or even come to a halt. Acupressure can provide manual stimulation locally as well as distal channel balancing to reinstitute proper flow."
While constipation can be caused by physical issues like lack of hydration and a change in sleep patterns, co-founder of WTHN Shari Auth, DACM, LAc, explains that it can also be caused by emotional and energetic issues.
"Energetically speaking, it’s a blockage," says Dr. Auth. "Increased stress impairs the natural movement of the large intestines via the brain-gut axis, keeping us in our 'fight or flight,' or sympathetic nervous system. Acupressure can decrease stress and shift us from our sympathetic nervous system into our 'rest and digest,' or parasympathetic nervous system. When we shift into our parasympathetic nervous system, the blood goes to our GI tract and increases movement in our bowels and healthy elimination of stool."
Dr. So and Dr. Auth agree that the biggest misconception about acupressure is that you have to be a trained acupuncturist to do it.
"While it’s true that your acupuncturist will know more techniques and channel theory, there are many profoundly simple and effective ways in which anyone, trained or untrained, can use acupressure to relieve a variety of symptoms," says Dr. So. "There are also some people who may believe that acupressure can only be used for pain syndromes like headaches, back pain, or stiffness. However, there are many internal and systemic benefits of acupressure that extend beyond pain conditions."
There are a few acupressure points for constipation that you can stimulate at home. Before you get started, Dr. Auth says to make sure you're comfortable. "We believe that healing is best when it’s a multisensory journey, so whether that means lighting a candle or some aromatherapy, dimming the lights, or turning on some soothing music, that will surely get the acupressure mood going," she says.
The best acupressure points for constipation
For each of the following acupressure points, "use your thumb to gradually apply increasing pressure on a point until you find the sweet spot where it’s just enough pressure to feel some resistance without discomfort or pain," says Dr. Auth. "Then hold constant pressure and make a circular motion with your thumb, gently massaging the point."
1. Large Intestine 4
Dr. Auth says that the tighter and sorer this spot is, the more benefit it can give you. "Gently pinch the web between the index finger and thumb of your left hand with your right thumb and right index finger. Rotate the right thumb in a circular motion applying just enough pressure to feel resistance without pain," says Dr. Auth. "As the resistance releases, gradually apply more pressure. Breathe slow and deep as you do this and then switch sides. Keep rubbing until you feel a release in the area for at least 10 deep breaths.
2. Ren 12
To find this point on the abdomen, Dr. So says to look in the mirror. "Draw an imaginary line from the bottom of your sternum, the part of your chest where your ribs start to curve away from each other in an upside-down V shape, and your belly button," says Dr. So. "Right at the midpoint of the line drawn from between these two landmarks is a point called Ren 12. You can begin your acupressure by pressing firmly into this point with your thumb or middle finger. Often times, it will feel full or tender to the touch. Hold for 30 seconds and then knead in small clockwise circles for another 60 seconds."
3. ST 25
Dr. So says this point is located bilaterally on either side of your belly button, about two or three inches out from the centerline. "The distance from your belly button will be slightly different on people of different sizes," she says. Ideally, it is best to find the highest point of your [abdominal] muscles. If you are at the highest point of this band of muscle and are in line with your belly button, you’re in the right spot! Start with the point on the right side of your abdomen, pressing in firmly for 30 seconds and then kneading in small, clockwise circles for 60 seconds. Repeat the same technique on the left side point."
4. Stomach 36 and 37
"Stomach 36 is a big point, so best to use the first two fingers to dig deep," says Dr. Auth. She says it's located at the top of the shin about a palms length below the knee. "Gradually apply pressure using a circular motion, don’t be afraid to apply deep pressure here. You should not experience any pain but should feel some sensation. As the resistance releases gradually apply more pressure. Breathe slow and deep as you do this and then switch sides. Keep rubbing until you feel a release in the area. Move down the shin another palm width and do the same with Stomach 37."
"Finally, end by placing both hands on your low abdomen just below your belly button," says Dr. So. "Place your right hand so that it is touching your abdomen and your left hand so that it is stacked on top of your right. Take five to 10 deep abdominal breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth."
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