Odisha Swastha Seva Sangha

History of Acupressure



             The history of the evolution of mankind, disease and Acupressure therapy are all co-related to each other. The essence of this statement is that when man evolved there were no systematic health science (Allopathy, Homeopathy, Ayurveda etc.) to help him to cope with his illness. All systematic health sciences developed when man became civilised. But man certainly had something with him from the very beginning that used to protect and cure him of his illness. What was that? Was he aware of that ?

             When the nature created the universe it made all substances by combining five elements— Akash, Agni, Prithvi, Vayu and Jala. These elements are to be found in all living and non-living beings of the nature. But one exclusive thing that the nature poured on the living objects is ‘PRANA’. Prana is the sixth essential quality of all living organisms (in addition to the five elements) that makes it animated and distinguishes it from all non-living objects. Presence of prana provides life and health. Deficiency or excess of it causes disease. The absence of prana is death of the organism.

             Disturbance in the flow of prana causes disease. Thus to help man to cope with disease, nature equipped him with self-healing mechanism that protects him from illness. That self-healing mechanism are the points located on the surface of the human body. The points are the openings or gates that allow the entry and exit of prana from of the body. Thus sub-consciously man presses and massages the different parts of the body out of distress in a state of illness. This pressure or massage is used to stimulate the points as a result of which the obstructed Prana flows uninterruptedly and balance of Prana within the body gets corrected.

             With the evolution of mankind it gradually came to be known that there are points in the body that have the potentials of healing. Subsequently, these points got a methodical look and came to be known as Reflex or Acupressure points.

             There are different schools of thought that advocate its geographical origin and the country and civilisation that gave it a methodical look. In this context, some give credit to China and some to India. But, here it is absolutely irrelevant to go into these controversial topics.
Here, I would like to discuss how Acupressure was practised in ancient India and subsequently how it evolved.


Historical Evidence
             Historical evidence, documents, edifices, etc. corroborate that acupressure and acupuncture therapy was known in India 5000 years ago. The people of India also practiced acupuncture at that time. Acupuncture traditionally was termed as ‘Bhedan Karma”(meaning “Piercing Through Therapy”), and was a part of the traditional Indian methods of using pressure points or marma. The methods of application were referred to as Marma-Chikitsa (Treatment of marma or points).

             It has been traced that Charaka, has mentioned about this therapy in Charak Samhita by stating “If the physician comes across a patient suffering from syncope then ……. Needling (acupuncture) and Burning (moxibustion) ……. are helpful in bringing about consciousness ”.

             Charaka, in “Charaka Samhitta”, has further added about the meridianology part of Acupressure by saying,
“Of all these, some varieties of (important) meridians will be described herewith reference to their controlling organs and also the symptoms manifested by their vitiation. This description will be sufficient for an ignorant man to understand the characteristic features of these meridians, while for a wise man this description will provide enough material enabling him to understand the characteristic features of other meridians which are not described here. As long as these meridians perform their normal functions the body is free from disease.”

             Sushruta, another renowned physician of ancient India, has described the pressure points (marma) as being areas of very high concentration of energy or vitality (Prana).

             Thus, these ancient historical references indicate that Acupuncture as “Suchi-Chikitsa” (suchi mean needle) was practised in India.

             In South India, these points were referred to as “Adankals ” and were traditionally used by Adankal therapists. They used to apply pressure on these points and called it Adankal Therapy. Adankal therapy is nothing but just another name of Acupressure or finger pressure.

             Similarly, another therapy was practised in the South of India and was called “Varma Acupressure”. When the kings went to war, they used to have with them bodyguards called “Varmanis ”. These varmanis, job was to treat the kings if they were injured in battle. Varma therapists used to treat patient by unblocking the blocks or obstruction of prana by pressing and twisting the appropriate points.

             The modern martial art, it is said, has its root in Varma and Adankal therapy and was then practised as Kalaripayattu. Like most Indian systems of medicine, Adankal and Varma were passed off from one generation to another through guru-sishya method.


Recession of Acupressure :
             These historical evidence thus portrays that Acupressure and Acupuncture, in different form and name, was very much in practice in India. If it is so, then the question arises, what made it to be pushed to a corner in India for so many years?

             The answer to these questions lies in the rise and fall of Buddhism. The advent of Gautam Buddha in India saw how Buddhism flourished and Hinduism declined. Rise of Buddhism brought with it the principle of non-violence and its monks and devotees were not allowed to use weapon even for self-defence. Thus at Indian Buddhist universities, such as Takshashila, monks were taught martial arts as part of self defence. This teaching also included medicine (marma chikitsa) in it. Monks used to pass on the knowledge to their students. This went on for a long time until Sankara’s arrival. Sankara in a short span of time revived the declining Hinduism and brought it back to the main stream. Revival of Hinduism and other socio-economic compulsions caused the decline of Buddhism in India. Buddhism and its monks with the knowledge of Marma Chikitsa gradually went to Ceylone (present day Sri Lanka) and from Ceylone to China, and East Asia.

             Elsewhere, in China, the history witnessed some remarkable advancements in the field of medicine. Chinese people also used to practise Chinese herbal medicines and Acupuncture among different indigenous methods. The arrival of foreign Buddhist monks in Chinese soil further enhanced and developed the prevalent Chinese forms of medicine. China’s history took a drastic turn. Great revolutions made it a communist country. The policy of communist China propounded hostility towards America and western countries made its foreign policy and relation very conservative. Gradually this approach forced it to adopt the policy of containment, in which it closed its frontier and went into the shell. The whole world did not get the slightest hint of what was going on inside China. In that period, without the help of west in the field of medicine, China promoted its own native methods of medicine. During, this period Acupuncture and others were developed in a more scientific manner. In 1971, after the policy of containment was lifted, America’s president Richard Nixon’s visit to China and his much publicised interest in Acupuncture paved the way for its revival and propagation into the rest of the world. This resulted in World Health Organisation (WHO) adding Acupuncture in its discussion in inter-regional seminar held at Beijing, China in 1979. Such successive events made WHO recognise Acupuncture as an alternative method of treatment.

             Before WHO’s recognition the people of America, particularly Red Indian tribes, used to practise Reflex Zone Therapy (Reflexology) which is a part of Acupressure. Though it cannot be proved, specialists tend to agree that it was Dr. William Fitzgerald who first came across Zone therapy as practised by the Red-Indians, and it is to his observation and studies that we owe our concepts of reflexology. Dr. William Henry Fitzgerald (1872-1942), an ENT specialist, developed the zone therapy and published his findings on this form of healing in 1913, and hence he is called the Father of Modern Reflexology. Reflexology, in its present form, is an important part of Acupressure therapy.