Another informative article, written by one of the Academy’s 2016 Certification grads, Kelli Scharping, a Wisconsin licensed massage therapist. I’m sure you’ll be able to feel Kelli’s passionate, friendly and light-hearted approach to life from reading this. In it, she explains what those “crunchies” are we often feel in the feet. The article first appeared in a wellness and health coach blog entitled Body Wellness.
Reflexology You Say? Well, What Is That?
So glad you asked! Reflexology is defined by the Reflexology Association of America as:
A protocol of manual techniques, such as thumb and finger-walking, hook and backup and rotating-on-a point, applied to specific reflex areas predominantly on the feet and hands. These techniques stimulate the complex neural pathways linking body systems, supporting the body’s efforts to function optimally.
The effectiveness of reflexology is recognized worldwide by various national health institutions and the public at large as a distinct complementary practice within the holistic health field.
Well, you may ask, what does that mean? Oh, did you come to the right place!
Reflexology is a science based natural healing art that has been dated back to the Egyptian age but developed by the Chinese 4,000 years ago. It is based on the principle that there are reflexes in the hands and feet, which correspond to every part, gland, and organ in the body. These reflexes are mapped on the feet and hands in a mirror image of the human body. Please check out these awesome interactive maps from Reflexology-research.com. In a Reflexology session, the act of applying pressure stimulates nervous activity as information. That information is fed to the brain, the brain then forwards
In a Reflexology session, the act of applying pressure stimulates nervous activity as information. That information is fed to the brain, the brain then forwards instructions to the organ associated with the reflex (remember the human body in a mirror image on the hands and feet), and the organ then responds by working towards returning to homeostasis. What a nice organ!
Purely and simply, what reflexology does is improves the circulation of the blood, lymphatics, nervous information, and life energy. If you looked into the body that is what you would see. It also affects our autonomic (automatic) nervous system, which talks to our cardiac muscles, tissues, and glands, as well as controls our “fight or flight” and our “rest and repair” reactions of the nervous system. Reflexology actually very efficiently shifts the autonomic nervous system from the “fight or flight” sympathetic state into the “rest and repair” parasympathetic state. This shift is so important to the human body since we need to be in that “rest and repair” state in order for our bodies to heal. THIS IS THE ONLY STATE IN WHICH HEALING OCCURS.
There are so many people these days that barely get out of that “fight or flight” mode. They all but live there, maybe even for years, taking only minimal time to give their bodies the opportunity to shift while sleeping – if they are even able to do that!
I’m sure we all can relate to this or can think of someone who lives like this. We all know excessive stress is not good for the body. (That’s a whole other discussion!) Our bodies need to experience a relaxed state, and reflexology gets us there.
Let’s dive a little more deeply, though. Reflexology is actually thought to affect the human body on three levels; physical, mental/emotional, and bio- energetically.
The Physical Effect
Physically a primary benefit is circulation. Reflexology improves the circulation of blood and lymphatics. This bump in circulation not only means that these fluids are feeding more oxygen and other nutrients to the organs, but also that waste materials (things that we absorb into our bodies from our environments, what we eat, etc.) are being removed from our cells and lymphatic reservoirs, which help with the proper functioning of our organs and many of our body systems. This waste can clog us up. This clogging, or stagnation, of blood and lymph in the extremities can cause pain and reflexology blocks this pain by encouraging the brain to produce endorphins, which are five to ten times more powerful than morphine! We all know that a body with little or no pain moves much more freely and happily, it moves as it is meant to!
I think even more impressive and important is the way that reflexology can affect the chemicals in our body. I’m talking about the delicate balance of our endocrine system. Our endocrine system consists of the pineal gland, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, thymus gland, the pancreas, adrenal glands, and ovaries or testes.
Every tissue and organ in the body are controlled by a complex interaction of chemicals and hormones, which is controlled by the brain through the endocrine system. The endocrine system and central nervous system govern the body, and reflexology is one of the few forms of bodywork that can directly influence these systems. Let that one sink in.
The Mental/Emotional Effect
Healing occurs through the physical touch extended from the practitioner to the client. It is through this purposeful touch – the care, concern, and awareness, that the body’s response into healing is activated.
For some individuals receiving reflexology, these scheduled sessions might be the only “downtime” that they have in an otherwise non-stop chaotic life. This time of “rest and repair”, this shift that occurs, is often the catalyst for change. Also, the emotion – the believing that you are doing something so greatly beneficial for your well-being can be a catalyst for change.
It’s our attention to the possibility of healing that can manifest these results.
What a gift to give to yourself, right? The opportunity for your body to heal, to rest and repair!
The Energetic Effect
The third way reflexology is thought to affect the body is through our nonphysical or energetic bodies, or our Chi as it is called in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is how I am going to refer to it.
Chi is defined as the electromagnetic field of information with the body that is congruent with the energy running through the Universe. Research indicates that electromagnetic energy within the body can be conducted through the vast network of connective tissue throughout the entire body, and our body’s connective tissue is now recognized as a semiconductor that both absorbs and generates the same organic chic that is created by the Earth.
When Chi is blocked within a zone or part of the body, the organs within that zone or area lack adequate energy and are therefore unable to function properly.
Reflexology is thought to “break-up” or disturb” energy blockages in order to get this energy moving again.
One reflexologist explains, “As gentle to intense pressure is applied and massaged, the body is thought to experience a ‘release’ of congested energy in the tender spots, therefore leading to relief of painful conditions and body ailments. Reflex points stimulate energy or Qi (CHI) through the body energy lines or meridians as known in Chinese Medicine.” These blockages can, for the record, be energetic or physical. For example, caused by an injury, either past or present.
Reflexology is all about getting the body, physical and nonphysical, back to balance!
What Does It Feel Like?
You may also be wondering what receiving a reflexology session might feel like.
There are many types of “sensations” that may be experienced while receiving a reflexology session. The most common ones are a quick, sharp sensation; one that seems to burn or radiate; and one that is found to be tender, feeling similar to a bruise and continues to be when returned to multiple times during a session.
Factors that can contribute to or explain these “sensations” are: the development of excess nervous tissue at reflex points, overall life tension, blockages of energy, and anatomical pathologies or disorders (like bursitis, neuropathy, bone spurs, bunions, etc.) As one reflexologist writes, “A diseased body part will show up as a sore spot in the same segment of the foot or hand.” Simply stated. It could indicate an imbalance, disease, or stress in the organ or corresponding body system being worked. Say the gall bladder reflex is tender, that is part of the digestive system. So, instead of working only the gall bladder reflex, the therapist would work the reflexes for the entire digestive system.
Another example could be if someone receiving reflexology experiences extra sensation in the area of the heart reflex, which could be emotion-based, high blood pressure, etc. It does not automatically mean that there is something wrong with the heart. We would need to consider all of the facets. Think of our hands and feet as body scanners. They don’t lie! They are talking to us, telling us what is going on in the body, and giving us a heads-up.
Lastly, I would like to share what these congested points are that a reflexologist feels during a session. Studies through colored biopsy photos of the feet of live patients have shown us the make-up of both congested and asymptomatic or “normal” reflexes.
The deposits in both groups show a mass of connective, vascular, and nervous tissues in the hypodermis. The asymptomatic samples are made up of 8 percent nervous tissue, while the congested samples are made up of 42 percent nervous tissue. So, according to these studies, what is being felt is an entanglement of the excess nervous tissue created in response to, and as an indicator of, an unhealthy organ. Specific reflexology techniques applied to congested reflexes can “untangle” the nerve fiber adhesions and break the dysfunctional link between them. Hello, homeostasis!
So there you have it, folks!
We know that reflexology deals with the entire person, not a specific part of the body and that it affects the constitution of our being, our essence! We know that it can reach areas of the body and affect us in ways that cannot be reached by standard bodywork.
Through engaged and honest inquiry and communication between client and therapist, and diligent tracking of where the therapist is working in the body in relation to the hand or foot being worked, it is possible to get an overall picture of the stresses and imbalances a client is experiencing in his/her life.
Like I said before, the feet don’t lie!
Reflexology by Walter Last; www.health-science-spirit.com/reflexology
Foot Reflexology for Simple Self-Healing by Stasia Bliss (Liberty Voice)
Reflexology-Taking Charge of Your Health and Well-being www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu
Shared Origins of Reflexology, Acupressure, Acupuncture & Massage www.naturalhealers.com
Linda Deffinbaugh says
What a great informative article. I have just restarted my practice at senior centers in Howard County. I offered half and full hour sessions to make it affordable to try something new. The first day I had ten clients. Only one had used reflexology before. Many have returned. I spend about 15 minutes if the session on teaching about the practice and on health issues. Thanks for this helpful article.
Karen Ball says
You’re very welcome, Linda. Education is a big part of practice. People seem to need to, not just feel the effects and benefits, but understand it as well.