By Joyce Reyes-Aguila
Since the beginning of civilization, there has always been a relentless drive to better our quality of life. Throughout history, man has moved from pinnacle to pinnacle of research and technology in a never-ending quest to enhance our daily experiences and respond to our needs. Our health, for one, benefits from this constant drive. Management of ailments and disease has increased life expectancy as well as quality of life throughout the world.
Outside of standard or mainstream medical procedures, a growing number of patients are turning more to alternative medicine—often as a way to supplement what their family doctor would prescribe. In doing so, they discover new approaches for illness mitigation outside the confines of a medical facility, from specialists other than medical doctors. These myriad of offerings have led some to more natural means of patient care or to cure sickness.
Pain management is a popular area where science has been married to alternative medicine. Constant physical discomfort in certain parts of one’s anatomy has found an ally in the ancient Indian practice of yoga. Acupuncture, or what the Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publication describes as “the insertion of extremely fine needles into the skin at specific ‘acupoints’ along the meridians,” has also become a choice means of therapy for aching lower back and knees. It is suggested that addressing these points with needles help release endorphins, the body’s natural painkilling chemicals. Doing so has an effect on the part of the brain that transmits signals and improves a person’s mood, the publication said.
Persons who prefer a less invasive approach have subscribed to acupuncture’s close friend, acupressure. This practice “does not involve the insertion of needles but substitutes deep pressure, usually with a finger or thumb, at acupressure points.” Both acupuncture and acupressure have their roots in traditional Chinese medicine. And while acupuncture is more popularly known, acupressure is gaining considerable renown. Just this September, The Chicago Tribune reported that it has been found to reduce post-treatment fatigue among breast cancer patients.
Over the years, there have been claims that acupressure has also helped patients with more advanced pain felt during child labor or after trauma. The word combines the Latin word for needles (acus), and pressure.
“There are certain reflex points targeted to be able to drain blockages in certain parts of organs and nerves via stimulation,” acupressure practitioner of 35 years Aida Vista explained to Panorama. “My approach combines acupressure with reflex and massage.” The points lie along the meridians or channels in the body and are believed to be where energy called qi (ch’i) flows.
Twelve meridian points connect our networks of organs, Dr. Eun Jin Lee and Sr. Susan Frazier explained in their 2011 article, The Efficacy of Acupressure for Symptom Management: A Systematic Review. The study investigated control trials where acupressure was used to manage symptoms of different conditions.
Lee and Frazier stated that these points form a system of communication in the body—starting at the fingertips, connecting to the brain, and then to the organs connected to it. The application of pressure to these points through the fingers, hand, elbow, or foot stimulates these pathways and increases the flow of qi.
For more than three decades, Aida has encountered cases ranging from the simplest to gravest in her acupressure practice. Among her clients are stroke patients. They have either combined her service with hospital therapy or have relied on her exclusively.
“Acupressure addresses the balance of our bodies located behind the ears,” she said in Filipino. “If that is fixed, you will be surprised that a stroke patient can walk again. In my experience, stroke patients need 10 treatment sessions scheduled every other day. He or she can be healed after three to five visits. Some can even walk again after only one or two visits.
“I had a patient who traveled to Manila from London to seek therapy at some hospitals here,” she added. “After our first session, she told her husband, ‘Daddy, I will walk going to our car. Give me my cane. You can throw my wheelchair away.’ They return to the country every six months for a therapy session with me. I have also had stroke patients who have recovered better than if they just depended on machines. Sometimes that takes much longer.”
Acupressure is actually Aida’s second calling in life. While studying for her associate degree in Secretarial Science, she took a technical course called Home Arts. The former stenographer in Bacolod qualified for a government scholarship given to indigent students. She says that among the specialties taught in her minor course, massage interested her the most.
An opportunity for a six-month training program in acupuncture came two years after graduation. Along with 12 scholars, Aida learned the ways of the ancient Chinese practice. “Your eyes and your mind need to work together and fast in acupuncture,” the 63-year-old averred. “Or else, you risk bleeding.”
Aida practiced acupuncture until 1988, when the Department of Health stopped any form of oriental medicine that utilized needles because of the spread of HIV/AIDS. “I thought about what I could do and decided to convert the application of acupuncture manually,” she said, recalling how she got into acupressure. “I studied every night, compared and converted nail points. I studied what organ responds when I put a needle in a certain area.”
Then a beginner, Aida made her grandmother a trial patient. “She would throw things at me because what I was doing was really painful at the start,” she said. “But the results came faster compared to any improvement she would have felt had I used needles on her. In just one week, all the endorphins in different nerve points were addressed.”
Aside from stroke patients, Aida also treats people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, poor eyesight, and even couples who have difficulty conceiving. “There are couples who have gone to so many OB-gynecologists and said that it was my unique set of instructions that helped them have a baby. One couple was trying for 16 years. The woman was 43 years old, the man was 45 years old. They were referred by our mayor who told me that he would be able to prove that I’m really good if they conceived. After a month, the woman was pregnant! Now, that child is married and the couple has a grandchild.”
An acupressure session cannot last more than 45 minutes, according to the specialist. And its benefits include rejuvenated nerves, addressing work-related stress, and healing sports-related injury. “It can also make someone beautiful again or even lose weight if they want,” added Aida.
“If you want to relax, acupressure is a very quick way to relieve you of stress. Instantly, even after just one session, you will scream because of how good it feels. Some feel lazy for up to three days after treatment because for the very first time, they do not feel any pain.”
Aida said that her place is sometimes like a hospital, with patients arriving in the middle of the night. From children having convulsions to people with an urgent need to address their discomfort, she opens her doors to people who are rejected by hospitals for reasons that include finances. She considers it a gift to be able to help.
“Sometimes I ask myself why I quickly detect what happened to patients. What’s the explanation? It’s like a guided healing ability. Wisdom is gifted to me quickly when I need it. When I got older, I realized that what I do has guidance from the Lord,” the devout Catholic said. During a visit to Indonesia, Aida was surprised to find 35 patients waiting for her.
“Thirty-five individuals, imagine! Will you be able to help all of them without the help of our Lord? I cried because I realized I was able to help all of them without feeling tired,” she revealed. Every year, the specialist also treats an indigent stroke patient and an indigent child for free as a way of giving back. Aida is also passing on her knowledge to her daughter, who has been administering acupressure for the past eight years.
In their probe to reckon the efficacy of acupressure, Lee and Frazier included 43 studies from trials done between 2000 and 2010 where it was the sole treatment for patients. They found that 35 of the 43 cases can prove the effectiveness of acupressure in mitigating pain, though cautioning that some trials may have been done with bias.
The experts mentioned how certain studies saw acupressure helped ease “nausea and vomiting in patients during pregnancy and during chemotherapy,” dysmenorrhea, and pain “during labor, and after trauma.” They concluded that while the practice may be a “useful strategy for the management of multiple symptoms in a variety of patient populations, rigorous trials are needed.”
Acupressure has also been criticized by some medical practitioners. The website Quackwatch.com published a paper entitled Massage Therapy: Riddled with Quackery by its founder Dr. Stephen Barrett. According to the American doctor, acupressure practitioners “claim to restore health by correcting these alleged imbalances. They may also use irrational diagnostic methods to reach diagnoses that do not correspond to scientific concepts of health and disease.” Barrett further said that there is a likelihood that acupressure patients “benefit from a placebo effect” or the beneficial effect a patient feels after taking a drug or undergoing treatment.
But Aida encourages people to get to know acupressure more, including those whom she describes as financially blessed, but think that their only choice is to depend on medical doctors for their health. “I hope many more can accept the natural healing process, so they may enjoy its benefits,” she says. “The principle behind acupressure is the greater the pain, the greater the trouble. If you have no pain, then there is no trouble.”
Aida Vista’s acupressure practice is located at Block 8, Lot 3 Georgia Spring Village Meadows 2 Molino 4 Bacoor, Cavite. Appointments can be made via telephone number (046) 519 2336.