Before becoming a Shiatsu therapist, I was an 8th grade Humanities teacher. I didn’t know a lot about Chinese medicine, but I knew about the acupuncture point Large Intestine 4. When students would ask me if they could go to the nurse to get an aspirin because they had a headache, I would press this point on their hands. It was usually tender. They might even have responded with a muffled (or not) scream (you know how middle-school students are). But almost every single one of them felt that headache subside, its sharp edges soften. No need to visit the nurse. Even though I showed them how to apply this pressure themselves, whenever they felt a headache coming on, they would find me wherever I was in the school, put their hands out, and say ,”Do that headache thing, please,” students and colleagues alike.
It would take pages to list all the recommendations that Chinese medicine classics make in regard to its use, from treating headaches to promoting menstruation, treating a variety of eye disorders to toothache, used as a general analgesia and to treat constipation, for loss of voice and to calm stress. It is particularly effective in treating issues with the face and mouth. This point is also used to promote labor so is contraindicated if one is pregnant. LI 4 is the Source Point for the Large Intestine meridian which means it stimulates the vital energy of the whole meridian and organ system and supports its healing and general health.
In Chinese Medicine, the Large Intestine Meridian is a Metal element (paired with the Lung) and has to do with “letting go.” Clearly this is literally true in that the Large Intestine is responsible for elimination of waste from the body (after it extracts the last bits of nutrients from that waste). But it is metaphorically true as well. It eliminates what we hold onto that causes stress and tension in the body like sadness and grief, for example. When we are not able to eliminate what we hold onto, it gets stuck in the tissues and organs, in the many “closets” of our body. This can manifest as pain like headaches, fever, sore throat, depression, insomnia, PMS. LI 4 supports the function of the Large Intestine to “let go” of all this (if you’ll excuse the expression) “crap.”
Its name Joining Valley, Hegu in Chinese, is interesting in that literally, the location of this point seems to be the joining together of two valleys, one formed by the index finger and one by the thumb. But functionally, it is the “valley” that joins together the entire body especially in the treatment of any kind of general pain. It also helps to build and support the immune system which is another important kind of “joining” of forces. This point, especially in martial arts, is sometimes known as Tiger’s Mouth which it “looks like” when we open and close the thumb and index finger together. This name also clearly refers to this point’s enormous power.
Following the directions above (Thank you Big Tree School of Natural Healing for these clear instructions!), make a pressured circular movement with your thumb over this area to specifically locate the point. Where you feel some tenderness or even a little “charge” is LI 4. Don’t squeeze in a hard way, which would most likely produce pain ( a little tenderness is OK), but think of a soft “sinking” pressure into the point for 2 or 3 minutes– a kind of gentle, pointed, focused concentration. The pressure should be applied into and toward the flat body of the hand, in the flesh just in front of the metacarpal (the direction the finger is pointing in step #2 above). After the 2 or 3 minutes, slowly and gently release the pressure. Then do the same to your other hand. One side is usually more tender than the other. When I was first applying this pressure to my students and colleagues back in the day, I would cross my hands and do both their hands at the same time. Headaches usually seemed to be on the opposite side of the body from the tenderest LI 4.
Pain and stress in the body is often the result of energy getting stuck. LI 4 gets everything moving. A much needed tonic even when we are not particularly feeling achy. Who knew you could relieve symptoms of stress by putting your fingers into the Tiger’s Mouth!