A brief history of Reflexology
According to the Association of Reflexology website, “Whilst the art of reflexology dates back to Ancient Egypt, India and China, this therapy was not introduced to the West until Dr William Fitzgerald developed ‘Zone therapy’. He believed that reflex areas on the feet and hands were linked to other areas and organs of the body within the same zone.
In the 1930’s, Eunice Ingham further developed this zone theory into what is known as reflexology. Her opinion was that congestion or tension in any part of the foot is mirrored in the corresponding part of the body.”
The Theory of Reflexology
There are different schools of thought as to how manipulating the feet and hands can affect the wellness of the rest of the body. One idea is that the nerve endings in the feet and hands are connected to particular organs and regions of the body. Stimulating these nerves through massage can have a balancing effect on the organs or glands to which they are connected. Meridians are another way in which the feet and hands are connected to other parts of the body. These are lines that run through the body along which Chi (the universal energy force) flows. In Taoist tradition the belief is that free- flowing, unblocked Chi means the body is balanced and healthy physically, mentally and spiritually.
The truth is probably a mixture of these schools of thought. Because nerve endings and meridians terminate in the hands and feet, a reflexologist is stimulating both nerve endings and meridians and affecting and influencing both. Perhaps the school you ascribe to depends on the belief system with which you feel most comfortable? Personally I am happy with both the western, medicine based explanation of nerve endings and the eastern, Taoist theory of meridians.
Either way, Reflexology theory states that applying pressure to certain points on the hands or feet affects the energy flow of the body in some way. The role of the practitioner is not to cure, diagnose or prescribe, but rather to help the body to restore its balance naturally. That is why the practitioner takes a holistic view of the client’s health and tailors each treatment to the client’s individual needs, taking into account both physical and non-physical factors that might be affecting their wellbeing.
My Reflexology practitioner, Natasha Sharpin, works from The Salus Wellness Clinic in Cambridge, UK, a treatment centre for many complementary therapists near the city centre.
My Reflexology Session
The session started with some basic questions about health and personal details. As I answered, Natasha took notes. I began to relax as the soft music playing on the iPod and the calming environment began to take its hold. This seemed to coincide with more probing questions about diet, overall well- being and even dreams that I have. Although Natasha knew that I was in her treatment room to be able to write a piece for our blog, she asked to come to the session with an issue that I would like help in resolving. I have always suffered from tension in the neck, shoulders and stomach areas and wondered if Reflexology could help.
Once Natasha was satisfied that I had painted a picture of my general state, she asked me to go over to the treatment chair. Through a series of slow electrically driven movements, the chair moves you from a vertical position to a near- horizontal pose that is extremely relaxing and makes it easier for the Reflexologist to work with your feet. Natasha offered me a blanket to keep me warm as I was going to be still for about 45 minutes. I was fully clothed save for my shoes and socks. Firstly, Natasha cleaned my feet with an alcohol-free swab and then she began looking and studying my feet! She started telling me things about my body that I had not mentioned in the earlier part of the session, in particular the tension in my neck and shoulders and in my right hip. I was intrigued and surprised that so much information could be gleaned from the feet!
The next part of the treatment was the foot work. It was very relaxing and at times surprisingly painful (in that way that you feel it is really doing you good). For the first few minutes Natasha slowly and precisely manipulated my feet, as she instructed me to breathe in long, slow breaths to aid relaxation. As the session progressed, the thumb pressure went into some really tender places that corresponded to the areas of tension in my body. Above and beyond the wonderful sensation of having my feet massaged and the relaxing feeling it left my body in, I felt more aware of the stresses and strains I put my feet under and how this may have an impact on my body as a whole, as well as the reverse effect. The fact that the effects of stresses that the body is under manifests in the feet should not really be a surprise, as we are fully integrated beings influenced and effected in many subtle and intricate ways.
After the massage session, Natasha and I briefly discussed some of the things I could do to support the benefits of the session in my own time. These included using a hand reflex point in the heel of the hand below the thumb that stimulates the reflex point to the adrenals leading to reduced stress. Using strategies of stress relief and tension release have a holistic effect on the body, the perfect complement to the Reflexology session.
I found the Reflexology session with Natasha very beneficial. During the session and after I felt much of the tension in my body significantly reduced and so better able to manage the stress I feel. Although it would be better to have regular sessions to support the body in reaching balance and harmony, as is the case with most health issues, it is not necessarily practical financially or with respect to our busy schedules. However, being given tips about how to manage my own stress and tension using reflexology means that I am empowered to take control and responsibility for my own health. With that said I did book in for a few weeks later.
Stress and tension are both major contributors to illness. It stands to reason that learning effective ways to manage one’s stress levels is really important for long term health and well- being. Rather than reaching for a cigarette, a pint of beer or a glass of wine or even popping pills when we feel stressed, would it not be better for our overall health to learn simple techniques to relax and calm the mind and body? Accessible tricks like the one’s I learned in my Reflexology session really help me manage stress, as well as meditation, going for a walk in the countryside, playing music or doing exercise. All these things are free or very cheap. Certainly cheaper than cigarettes and some alcohols and better for you in the long- term.
My Family recently had a health scare. We have a history of high cholesterol and my brother was recently fitted with stents to keep open some of the arteries leading to his heart. He had a suspected heart attack and collapsed in his late 50s. He is well now and learning to manage his diet better to reduce his cholesterol and so reduce the likelihood of a repeat event. Naturally this shocked me and I felt motivated to look at my diet and life style and see where changes could be made to reduce my own risk of illness related to high cholesterol.
I was staggered at how poor my health was compared to what I imagined. I was much more over-weight than I imagined, I had high blood pressure and I had high cholesterol levels. These things had risen so slowly I did not realise my health was in danger. My brother’s heart attack was the wake-up call I needed. In six months I had reduced all these symptoms to much healthier levels and I felt so much better for it. Almost two years later I am still following a healthier life-style, based on a good understanding of my diet, the effect certain foods have on me, exercise as well as ways to manage the stresses I face during my life.
I think therapies such as Reflexology are powerful tools to help manage stress and the symptoms of stress.
Reflexology works better for us if we are prepared to make the necessary health changes as well. Perhaps the inevitable consequences of aging are not so inevitable after all, if we take control of our life-style early in life and reduce the stress and tension that can lead to age related ailments later in life. I for one believe in this self- responsibility and I am happy to use Reflexology as a means to help me manage my health and well-being more effectively. I am looking forward to my next session.
My thanks go to Natasha Sharpin, founder of Reflex- aaah, who kindly gave me a Reflexology session and taught me so much about Reflexology. Natasha’s details can be found at www.reflex-aaah.co.uk and www.salus-wellness.com.