Reflexology Explained

15th November 2008

The first in an occasional series by Mary Linehan decoding different complementary therapies

Apparently, there is evidence of foot massage in Ancient Egyptian papyri, but you need to fast-forward a few thousand years to 1930s America for its modern origins. Physiotherapist Eunice Ingham theorised that every part of the body is mirrored in ‘zones’ in the feet. She coined the term ‘reflexology’, believing that she could treat the whole body by applying pressure to those ‘zones’, or reflex areas.

It seems that waste, in the form of crystallised calcium and uric acid, accumulates at the nerve endings in the foot. Treatment consists of the application of firm pressure, using fingers and thumbs to deep massage the feet zone by zone. This breaks down any crystals and stimulates the lymphatic system, thus encouraging elimination.

The break down of the crystals produces a ‘crunchy’ sensation as pressure is applied. Swelling or pain on any area of the foot is said to indicate potential problems with the organs mirrored in that zone. It is important, though, to point out that reflexology is not a recognised medical treatment and can only claim to aid relaxation and treat stress and anxiety and associated conditions such as headaches, PMS and insomnia. Tracey Smith of the British Association of Reflexologists emphasises its holistic benefits. “Reflexology works with the concept of ‘holism’. The body is treated as a whole, rather than a list of symptoms.”

Reflexologist Grant Bernberg uses it for patients with back problems, and says, "It gives instant release of energy to back and neck pain." According to Lesley Byfield, of Soul-2-Soul, reflexology is one of the most popular complementary therapies used during pregnancy because it improves general well-being and vitality. “The deep state of relaxation helps the body adjust to the major changes which are taking place, and it can help to ease or prevent many of the discomforts and ailments which are commonly associated with pregnancy.”

Daphne Jones, a practitioner for 12 years, explains “I have found it to be a wonderful, gentle and non-invasive way to assist the flow of energy in the body systems. Sometimes helping someone with what might seem a mundane condition really makes a difference in their lives.”

My introduction to reflexology was at the skilled hands of Nicola Hall. Beginning with a brief run through of my general health and medical history, Nicola then got started. (I have to admit that, as a reviewer, I played down any recent health glitches.)

Nicola explained to me the various sensations. I was amazed to find that I could, indeed, feel the difference between the crunchy crystals being broken down, and pain or soreness when she kneaded other areas.

Working between my toes was crunchy; massaging along the top of my foot proved tender enough to prompt Nicola to ask, “Have you drunk much water today?” These areas relate to lymphatic drainage and my main problem was dehydration. She was right – I hadn’t been drinking enough water.

Nicola spotted my sinus problems and she even correctly identified which side of my face was most affected. I actually found that, as she worked a little more intensely on my corresponding reflex area, there was a response with the sinus on the right side of my face. Next, my lower back problem. This, she pointed out, was with the sciatic nerve down my right leg. Spot on again.

Nicola was brilliant. Thankfully, this reflexology session was not undertaken to complement something more serious and I can’t say that one session was a cure-all, but then, reflexology doesn’t make this claim. What I experienced was total relaxation that lasted for several days – and I’ve topped up my water levels.

For more information contact The Association of Reflexologists
on www.aor.org.uk or call on 01823 351010.

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