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Recall the last time you caught the seasonal flu, or the common cold or some kind of a bacterial or fungal infection affecting some part of your body. Besides the unpleasantness and the inconvenience you had to endure, think back to how you actually fought against the onset of illness. Did you immediately reach for some over-the-counter medication? Or did you experiment with some herbs, protein shakes or naturopathic remedies? Or did things get so debilitating that you eventually had to be prescribed some antibiotics? How much time were you forced to take off from work? Did you have to go so far as to quarantine yourself for days and not be able to hug or kiss your loved ones during your slow recovery? If you are like most people, you might very well answer “Yes” and “For too long” to at least some of the questions above. But read the rest of this article and learn how you can likely avoid a similar sad scenario in the future, using a traditional and natural Eastern approach to health.
First, common sense says that maintaining a healthy lifestyle consisting of nutritious foods, plenty of exercise and sufficient sleep would serve as good preventive medicine. But if you unfortunately still get stricken with another bout of a particularly strong and persistent infection, don’t automatically think of the words “doctor” and “antibiotics”; think first of the following colorful words (translated from classical Chinese) like “Sea of Vitality,” “Outer Gate” and “Three Mile point”— apt names that metaphorically describe some potent acupoints on your own body that are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), demonstrated over the centuries to deliver a tremendous boost to your immune system.
“Acupoints” are used both in acupuncture and acupressure (using finger pressure rather than needle insertion), and even in other TCM modalities like cupping and moxibustion. In each modality, manipulation (whether stimulation or sedation) of these points promotes restoration of your natural Chi energy flow—the basis of holistic health according to Eastern thought. Acupoints are almost always bilateral (existing on each side of your body, symmetrically), facilitating the rebalancing of the left and right, physically and energetically speaking. Besides their given literary descriptive names, acupoints are also numbered and associated with the underlying meridian energy channel on which they rest, with each meridian often corresponding to an internal organ. Some examples are “ST 36” (point 36 on the Stomach meridian) or “B 23” (on the Bladder meridian). If you follow the simple guidelines laid out in the rest of this article, you’ll soon develop the skills needed to do effective acupressure on yourself to bring about fast relief the next time you get sick.
Let’s start with the acupoints making up the Sea of Vitality, which might just as well be called the “Seat” of Vitality, since these points rest near the center back of your torso core. To locate them, form soft fists with your hands and bend your elbows slightly to comfortably place the knuckles of your fists right below the bottom ribs on both the left and right of your lower back, halfway between your spine and the sides of your body. These are actually B 23 (point 23 on the Bladder meridian) acupoints and are known to increase your “vitality” by promoting proper elimination of toxins through the urine. Let your knuckles gradually dig deeper into the B 23 points for over a minute or so. You could be doing this either standing or seated. If you happen to be lying down face up—even better—you can let the weight of your body naturally sink into the backs of your hands. Thanks to their vicinity to the adrenal glands, these points can also attenuate any “fight or flight” stress reaction you may be experiencing, perhaps as a result of a compromised immune system.
What’s the proper technique for pressing on, or otherwise manipulating, these acupoints? Without getting into all the details, as a quick self-treatment guide for the layperson, suffice it to say that whatever you do, it mustn’t feel awkward or painful. Instead, it should feel intuitive and comfortable, but quite deep. You also need not be pedantic about the exact location of each acupoint. Pay attention to the description of the general location and then let your hands naturally dial into the most sensitive or stiff “sweet spot,” at the most suitable angle. In other words, don’t try to follow a rigid recipe, but most of all, go by feel. For most people, it might help to close their eyes as they rub, press, or simply hold these acupoints for a minute or so at a time. The order in which you work on these points is also not important for most situations. Rather, focus on generating a flowing momentum for the Chi, like a strong and lively clear stream in the forest.
From the Sea of Vitality, let’s now move on to something called the “Sea of Tranquility.” It is technically known as CV 17, the 17th point on a particular meridian called the Conception Vessel. This meridian doesn’t correspond to any particular internal organ but is crucial in its ability to regulate the entire Yin side of your energy (the counterpart being the Yang side of your Chi). This is also one of the few acupoints that do not exist bilaterally. Instead, this single point rests right on the midline of your body. Locate it by placing the index and middle fingers of either hand on the center of your breastbone, about three thumbs-width up from the base of the bone. Then hold gently for a while before allowing your fingers to gradually press in slightly. Besides building up your overall resistance to illness, CV 17 strengthens the functioning of the nearby thymus gland.
Next, direct your attention to your left forearm (then repeat the same following steps on the right forearm). With the index and/or middle finger of your other hand, locate TW 5 (“Outer Gate”)—two fingers-width above the center of the wrist crease on the outside of the forearm, midway between the two bones (ulna and radius). This acupoint rests on a peculiar meridian called the Triple Warmer. As the name suggests, though unassociated with a specific internal organ, this acupoint helps to optimize our body temperature. As its descriptive name also suggests, this is a point to manipulate as if you were keeping watch over an important gateway— letting off steam when your body is overheated or letting in warm energy when your immune system is deficient. More generally, it is a go-to point to work on to treat various kinds of wrist and forearm tendonitis symptoms, as well as rheumatoid arthritis.
Last but not least, move on down to the lower body, and imagine for a moment that you’re a wounded foot soldier in the ancient Warring States of China. In order to ward off further impending attacks from your enemies, you’ve been trained to turbo-charge yourself by working on ST 36 (on the Stomach meridian) on your lower leg. As legend has it, the extra “Three Miles” of reserve capacity you manage to deliver to your own system ends up saving your life. Find this Three Mile point on either leg about four fingers-width below the knee cap and just on the outside of your shin bone.
There are many other acupoints throughout the rest of your body that you can target to restore full functioning of a weakened immune system. The suggested points in this article are but a few examples. Rather than working on them after the fact, get used to finding them and manipulating them on a routine (even daily) basis as a preventive measure. Work on yourself, work on someone else; let others work on you. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at it. You could even incorporate this routine as you do yoga or meditation. Doing so will put you and your loved ones on a course toward proactive illness prevention, the natural way. Even if you do become sick, you’ll know what to work on before you absolutely have to resort to seeing a physician.
Beyond the metaphoric explanations for how the Chi energy within us works (through establishment or restoration of a strong flow), can we point to more concrete mechanisms of how manipulating acupoints and meridians could boost our immune system? Physiologically speaking, the acupoints listed in this article (as well as many others) have been shown to activate and stimulate the various components of what constitute the immune system in the human body. After our first line of physical defense against infectious agents, namely the skin wrapping around our entire body, the thymus gland, the spleen organ and other anatomical structures such as lymph nodes in our throat, armpits and groin, and the bone marrow especially in our femur (thigh) bone work together to maintain our overall immunity against disease. In this framework, CV 17 in particular promotes optimal release of needed hormones from our thymus gland, while all the acupoints on our Spleen meridian as well as those on our Stomach meridian (such as Three Mile point) support our spleen organ, and numerous other acupoints strengthen our lymph nodes and maintain our bone marrow.
The practice of (self-)acupressure encourages us to adopt a mindset that’s altogether different from Western conventional wisdom. The acupoints are the levers of influence, if you will, on our bodies that nature has bestowed on us. We just need to learn to become responsible stewards of these powerful levers. By consciously directing our attention toward these points and working on them as a regular practice, we heighten awareness of our mind-body connection; that is, we become more mindful of our health. By exhausting all Chi-fortifying measures, we can prevent desperate reliance on synthetic drugs and avoid mindless overkill (in the form of unnecessary collateral damage, literally killing off not only the “bad” but also the “good” bacteria in our guts as we resort to antibiotics, for example) after falling ill.
In this sense, boosting our immune system the acupressure way is not so much about just making us im-mune to harmful foreign agents constantly invading our bodies. Rather, it’s a way for us to take on the task of enhancing proper internal com-mun-ication within our bodies—communication between our brain center and our various physiological systems. This will in turn ultimately promote harmonious interactions between acupoints linked together by a strong Chi flow. The acupressure way is thus a powerful holistic approach to preventive health that we can all adopt.
By Injae Choe PhD LMT
Injae Choe, PhD LMT
at Kellman Center of Integrative & Functional Medicine
7 W 45th St, Suite 301
New York, NY 10036
(45th & 5th Ave, NW side on 45th)