What is Reflexology?
Your feet carry you through life and have quite a story to tell! From areas of tension, soreness and lack of circulation, to solidified urate and calcium “crystals” that can accumulate, your feet can be a map of your body as a whole. Reflexology is the therapeutic practice of applying gentle pressure to key points on the feet, hands, face and/or ears that correspond to the wider body as a whole.
“Reflexology is a non-intrusive complementary health therapy based on the theory that different points on the feet, lower leg, hands, face or ears correspond with different areas of the body.”
[The Association of Reflexologists]
There are examples from antiquity that picture people working on the feet or hands of other people (an example being that of the tomb of Ankamahor in Egypt). It is hard to say whether, as is often claimed, this is an example of early reflexology, rather than massage therapy or some other healthcare practice of the time. However, the importance of caring for one’s hands and feet, plus their use in the treatment of other areas of the body (such as foot soaks to address a head cold) has been recognised for a very long time.
There are a number of basis for the theories that underpin reflexology, including the recognition of the inter-connectedness of the body as a whole and the philosophy of the important of a free flow of energy (or life source) around the body. This flow of energy is considered in the ancient practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the concept of Chi or Qi, or in Ayurveda, where it is called prana.
The manipulation of the reflexes is said to facilitate the better flow of this energy around the wider body - and, indeed, depending on their training, reflexologists may incorporate elements of TCM or Ayurveda to better inform their practice. Such movement could be likened to the activity of the neurological and circulatory systems (blood and lymph).
The inter-connectedness of the nervous system has been demonstrated by, for example, Sir Henry Head, a doctor interested in neurology, who demonstrated the neurological relationship between different parts of the body (ie pain from an affected area manifesting in another area of the body entirely and the demonstration of the relationship of different parts of the body to specific parts of the spine). In addition, Sir Charles Sherrington (1857-1952) was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932 for his work demonstrating the reciprocal nature of the nervous system and the function of neurons.
These studies put a more conventional scientific spin on some of the rationale behind reflexology and there is growing research looking at the potential benefits of reflexology and other complementary therapies for supporting health and wellbeing (I occasionally share links to such articles from my Facebook page).
So what can reflexology do for me?
“Reflexology can help to relieve anxiety and tension, encourage relaxation, improve mood and aid sleep, though some people use it to help them cope with more specific health challenges. [It is..] often used alongside conventional care in hospices, hospitals and other healthcare settings, to help support patients with a variety of conditions.”
[The Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT)]
One of the key aims of reflexology is to support the body to maintain homeostasis (the state of the body in balance), supporting the body’s systems and stimulating its own healing processes. It is a gentle, non-invasive complementary therapy that can be used to "complement" more conventional medicine, potentially addressing any possible imbalance before it fully manifests.
Promoting healthy circulation
Centering on foot-based reflexology (for the purpose of this article), reflexologists will work over the feet, paying attention to any areas that may feel tense or sore, working to balance them, Occasionally accumulations of ‘crystals’ (eg crystallised calcium phosphate), can be found, and these areas are worked to disperse these (to better promote healthy circulation).
The benefits of encouraging the flow of blood (carrying vital oxygen and nutrients) to and from the feet, needs little explanation; as does the encouraging of a better flow of the more passive lymphatic system (that helps to maintain our fluid level, clear away any waste and is key to the healthy functioning of our immune system). Our feet are the most prone to lack of good circulation due to the often prolonged periods of sitting or standing that we experience in modern life.
A reduction in stress, anxiety and tension
Both reflexology and massage encourage the release of endorphins ("feel good hormones") that encourage an overall feeling of wellbeing. This helps to bring relaxation, reducing stress, anxiety and tension and can be particularly useful if you are struggling with your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Managing chronic health conditions
A reduction in stress, anxiety and tension can also be beneficial if you are living with a chronic health condition, or as part of palliative care. In addition, complementary therapies can help to improve quality of life and improve overall experiences of challenging procedures such as chemotherapy.
"Working alongside conventional medicine, complementary healthcare methods are often used to help support the body’s natural self-healing mechanisms, to ease or alter a patient’s perception of pain, and to support patients through periods of anxiety and fear, associated with their illness.
People with chronic or life-limiting conditions such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, mental health problems (i.e. mild depression and anxiety) weight problems, musculoskeletal problems, or a history of substance misuse (including alcohol and drugs), can be greatly supported using complementary therapies alongside conventional care.”
[Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT)]
Regular treatments can be bolstered by the use of self-help techniques at home and these can also be used at times of stress, for example when stuck in a traffic jam, or in the office - as typically they involve the manipulation of points on the hands.
Reflexology for everyone...
Reflexology is also a popular choice through pregnancy and as part of postpartum recovery - not least because it's easily accessible, being able to take place seated and clothed! Its accessibility also makes it a great choice for people who's mobility may be limited and who might struggle to get onto a massage couch.
Suitable from infancy, simple reflexology techniques can be used to soothe baby, building bonds through childhood and modelling the importance of self-care. It's a fantastic pre-bedtime wind-down (as my own children will attest!)
Taking time for you!
What's more, the importance of taking some time for yourself to experience something relaxing that you enjoy, cannot be under-estimated. In an ideal world, we'd all be able to access a safe space to simply relax and "be"!
Would you like to know more?
Doncaster Wellbeing offers a FREE 30-45 minute wellbeing consultation (by phone or video chat) to explore how we may be able to support you. For more information please see the Treatment List or Price List below, or get in touch.
In the meantime, please note:
Complementary therapists, such as reflexologists, cannot make diagnoses (unless also medically qualified to do so). In addition complementary therapy should not be used as a complement, not an alternative, to seeking appropriate medical advice.
Look for a reflexologist who has completed a recognised training programme at atleast Level 3. Checking the Federation of Holistic Therapist's Accredited list can be a good starting point. Doncaster Wellbeing is listed under my personal name, Nikki Wall.