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Especial thanks go to Anna Turns who both treated me very effectively for the side-effects of some extremely aggressive pharmaceutical heart medication and who also let me borrow her books. The description below is a summary of the books she lent me. She also spent a great deal of her valuable time explaining things to me. May she thrive and prosper and may the good of the world come to her doorstep!
Reflexology is a healing and diagnostic technique that uses pressure applied using the hands [thumbs and fingers] to the feet – both feet and the top and bottom of the feet as well as the ankles. The treatment needs to be given by a qualified practitioner - a reflexologist - partly because the areas on the feet need to be precisely identified, but also because, practically speaking, it is almost impossible to apply targeted pressure of this sort to your own feet.
Treatment can in theory be applied to the hands, reflexes of body parts are mapped onto the hands in a similar fashion to the feet and massaging the hands can have a positive effect, but there are a number of reasons why the feet are preferrred to the hands:
- the foot being larger is easier to use as a 'pinpointer' of illness;
- the six main meridians of Chinese acupuncture – stomach, spleen/pancreas, liver, gall bladder, kidney and bladder – all begin or end in the toes. All these actually penetrate organs. The meridians represented in the hands – heart, small intestine, circulation, triple burner, large intestine and lungs do not actually penetrate the organs. In effect one can from the hands identify [and help remove] an imbalance along some meridians, but not identify the specific organ that it relates to or treat the organ
History and background
Reflexology is based on Zone therapy. Dr Fitzgerald's work on this form of therapy was then further developed by a lady called Eunice Ingham in the 1930s and called 'The Ingham method of compression massage'. It was Eunice Ingham who decided to concentrate on the feet as the main centre of attention. She felt that the feet needed to be specific targets for therapy because of their highly sensitive nature. She was also responsible for doing all the charting of the feet and developing the map that is now in common use by reflexologists. Her nephew Dwight Bowers acted as the guineau pig and he received considerable relief from asthma and hay fever as a result.
It was introduced into the UK in 1960 by Doreen Bayley, Ingham's student. Her book Reflexology Today was published in 1978. Eunice Ingham also produced two books – Stories the Feet can Tell, and Stories the Feet have told, but I have used some more up-to-date books used by practitioners themselves to produce this description [see references].
It appears from the description I have given that Reflexology is a modern therapy, in fact a very modern therapy, but Zone therapy is based on a much earlier book on zone therapy written in 1582 by Dr Adamus and Dr A'tatis. It is also fairly clear that zone therapy owes a lot to the Chinese system of meridians.
Although it owes nothing [as far as I know] to Dr Ida Rolf's work, many of the positional points on the base of the foot, mapped out in great detail by both Eunice Ingham and Doreen Bayley, correspond extraordinarily well with the mappings made by Dr Rolf when she looked at fascia and the manipulation of fascia in her technique for Rolfing. So the techniques – even if they weren't developed in synchrony have produced one very cohesive and consistent theory of Meridian and trigger point mappings. The trigger points on the feet are identical in each system and appear to be based physically on a combination of nerve endings and fascia endings both of which are very effective trigger points.
Old maps/new maps
When Eunice Ingham mapped out the reflex points in the feet, she did it by observation. The maps she drew do not in fact bear much relation to zone therapy, the position of many of the mapped organs on the feet are not actually in their right 'zones'.
To understand this we need to realise that zone therapy is a rather crude western discovery – at a time when little was known of Chinese or Hindu medicine in medical circles [it was well known outside these circles]. In reality once we look at Eunice's maps of the feet, her observational findings map extraordinarily well to the meridians and how they would appear when mapped onto the feet. Eunice rediscovered the Chinese meridian system – via experiment and observation and admittedly only on the feet, but it was quite an achievement if you look at it this way.
For someone like you or me this is interesting, but hardly seems that relevant until you realise that - unfortunately - a number of maps produced in modern reflexology books have changed Eunice's observation based mappings and arbitrarily 'moved' the position of organs on the feet so that they align a bit better with the zones.
And they are wrong.
So when you go to see a reflexologist you need to ask them which maps they use, zone based or meridian based. And only use a reflexologist that uses the meridians. The correct maps are still called Ingham maps, so again this is what you should be searching for.
Meridians and reflexology
The concept of Energy channels is shared in both reflexology and acupuncture. The aim of both acupuncture and reflexology is to unblock the energy channels and treat the body as a whole in one unified way, on the basis that all parts of the body are interrelated - a blockage in one area can have a knock in effect over many other parts of the body.
Furthermore, it is increasingly being recognised in the discipline of reflexology that the reflex points are acupuncture points/ trigger points and that they map to Meridians. There are a number of reflexologists who study meridians in order to ascertain which specific 'organs' on the foot should be treated. Meridian lines may connect a number of organs and a blockage in one area may reverberate over a number of areas of the foot and ankle – all of which may need treatment in a sort of progressive line of action.
In Chinese medicine, a disorder in the stomach meridian, for example, may actually cause toothache because the meridian passes through the upper gums. The kidney meridian connects heart, kidneys and sexual organs, so a blockage in this meridian can cause any number of apparently unrelated problems. Thus a reflexologist who studies the meridians may be able to get a better idea of the ultimate cause of symptoms and be better able to provide a series of 'treatments' that work their way along meridian blockages over the course of a number of weeks and a number of sessions.
In some ways reflexology and acupuncture are coming together as disciplines, although there is far greater movement towards acupuncture by the reflexologists. I suspect that the insistence by some reflexologists that the disciplines have nothing in common and theirs is zone therapy based, is less to do with reality than it is to do with trying to 'differentiate their market' [as the americans would say]!
But I think there are reasons to choose a reflexologist and reasons to choose an acupuncturist. Acupuncture requires you to take off your clothes and lie down and have pins stuck in you [though it can work without pins as I have found – a tap often works too]. It feels 'serious'. But this may not be what you want or may not be convenient. Reflexology requires you to relax in a comfy chair fully clothed with your feet being massaged – or at least that is how it feels. It gives the feeling of both a treatment and relaxation therapy.
So it is in some ways a sort of 'horses for courses' – how would you like to be treated, do you like the person who is doing the treatment can you empathise with them, how close are they to you? For example at home I have a reflexologist whose practise is very close and who is a very nice person, but I also have two acupuncture friends who treat me. All are good at what they do and have the right effect. I go to them all.
What happens in a session
This summary was derived from the books referenced below.
Reflexology is a technique that someone does for you, you cannot do this by yourself. So you simply lie back and enjoy the experience.
Each session will probably last just over an hour.
Even if you notice improvements after one session, you need to keep up the improvements and this is best done by having regular sessions. If the same conditions that made you unbalanced in the first place continue [grief, stress etc] and you can do very little about changing them, then you will need to go on a regular basis for as long as the conditions last.
In brief this is what should happen.
Before treatment begins, the reflexologist should take a detailed medical history and record your case history - everything there is to know about you and your health, from physical symptoms, sleeping habits, drugs being taken, lifestyle [stress, grief, shock etc] emotional condition and so on. If you have anything that might result in a thrombosis, treatment will be denied.
A good reflexologist will have a treatment room that is quiet, pleasantly furnished warm and with comfortable seating. You will be in a recliner of some sort so that your legs can rest in comfort at the level of the reflexologist. Your back, neck and legs need to be well supported.
The reflexologist will examine the feet for signs of disease and problems – corns, cracks, bunions, verrucas, nail problems, fungal infections and so on. He/she will then wipe them with a moist wipe to clean them ready for treatment. Talcum powder, for example, or lotions may be used to help the smooth movement of fingers during treatment.
General massage is first used to help you get used to the practitioner's touch and also to help in initial relaxation.
The reflexologist uses their hands and principally the fingers and thumb to apply pressure to the trigger points. The finger nails are not used. Pressure may be held on a point or the point may we 'worked' in a sort of kneeding motion. One hand supports the foot and the other does the kneeing and pressing action.
Treatment can be very very gentle, of medium pressure or a little harder. This is not a painful technique, but any pressure on problem areas will be felt as tender and sore because that is the indicator of a problem. You should always tell the reflexologist of a sore area. Most good reflexologists are able to 'feel' sore areas – they can feel gritty to the touch or their 'energy' often feels unbalanced, but confirmation from you is helpful and also saves time.
The entire foot is worked on methodically starting normally with the right foot and then progressing to the left. Once both feet have been entirely worked on and problem areas identified, the reflexologist will go back to the problem areas to help ‘unblock the energy flows’. In this case both feet may be worked on simultaneously – where reflex points for organs such as the kidneys, adrenals, lungs and so on are to be found in both feet. This may mean a little more pressure is applied, but it should cause no real pain. A number of sessions are used to gradually cure problems, so the opening of energy flows is quite gentle and progressive, more of an increasing trickle rather than a sudden flood!
If the body is very unbalanced with greater degrees of tenderness, treatment may elicit a fleeting twinge - a sudden sharp almost mini electric shock feeling. Anyone who has had acupuncture will recognise this feeling, as exactly the same mechanisms are at work as energy flows unblock themselves.
The session will end with a few foot exercises designed to stretch the different areas and help you wind down a bit from the treatment. The foot may be kneaded and the ankle rotated.
The thumb is placed on the solar plexus reflex, right thumb on left foot, left thumb on right foot, and pressure is applied with the reflexologist's hands supporting the top of each foot. As pressure is applied, the foot may be eased up towards you and you then take a deep breath in. This can induce a sense of total relaxation.
After the session you will be told to relax and drink lots of water. The treatment has the effect of clearing out toxins [again much as acupuncture does] and so water helps to flush them away. If you get diarrhoea, or need to wee a lot, this may mean that you had a lot of toxins in your body. Don't try to fight these effects, they all are signs of your body starting to respond to look after itself [and you!].
As the balance returns any number of other odd things may occur – none of which should be worried about – a runny nose as your sinuses clear; coughing as mucus clears from your lungs; a headache as blood starts to rush back to your brain; increased sweating as energy channels start working again; yawning; tiredness and sleepiness as your body tries to get you to relax whilst it resets itself.
- Reflexology – A Step by Step Guide – Nicola Hall; a very good easy to follow introductory guide
- The Art of Reflexology – Inge Dougans and Suzanne Ellis; a more detailed study that uses the meridian theory as the basis.
- The Complete Illustrated Guide to Reflexology – Inge Dougans
There is also a film from the unfortunately named company ConTime Video Production called the Art of Reflexology.
The UK Association of Reflexogists (AOR) is based in Taunton
The Bayley School of Reflexology
Tel 01886 821207
The Reflexology Association of America
4012 South Rainbow Boulevard
The Reflexology Association of Australia
15 Kedumba Crescent
New South Wales
There are also associations in Canada and South Africa, China, Japan, various countries in Europe plus many other places world-wide.
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