Reflexology - The gentle touch
The gentle touch
Reflexology has long been used to help ease anything from back pain to migraine. And now, says Julia Pascal, you can even treat yourself
Reflexology is based on the theory that the feet and hands are a microcosm of the whole body, and that by applying gentle manual pressure to points on them, the body will be encouraged to heal itself.
Although the practice has been around for 5,000 years and is found in Indian, Chinese and Egyptian drawings, it was introduced to the west in 1913 by American ear, nose and throat specialist Dr William Fitzgerald. He noted that pressure on specific body parts anaesthetised a related area. Fitzgerald developed his observations by dividing the body into 10 equal and vertical zones, ending in the fingers and toes. He realised that pressure on one part of a zone could affect everything within it, therefore reflex areas on feet and hands are linked to corresponding areas and organs within the same zone. In the 30s, Eunice Ingham extended and refined the zone theory into what is now known as foot reflexology. She saw that congestion or tension in any part of the foot mirrors a blockage in a corresponding body part. And now hand reflexology is becoming as popular as the traditional foot version.
Reflexology, which complements orthodox medicine, is used to boost the immune system and to relieve anything from sinusitis to menstrual problems. During a session, there can be some tenderness in the worked points, often followed by an immediate release of tension. There may be tingling, feelings of heat, cold or even momentary discomfort. Sometimes there is what is known as a small healing crisis; perhaps a slight headache or an immediate need to sleep.
Practitioners detect tiny deposits and imbalances in feet and hands, and work to release blockages that impede the body's energy flow. However, reflexology is not recommended immediately after surgery, for people on heavy medication or in the early stages of pregnancy. People with epilepsy or gallstones, or who have a pacemaker, should not practise it on themselves without consulting a reflexologist. Do-it-yourself reflexology is not dangerous, but it is advisable to have at least one session with a qualified practitioner first.
Hand reflexology uses the palms and fingers, rather than the soles of the feet and toes and is perfect for those who don't like their feet being touched by strangers; it can also be learnt quickly and is much easier to self-administer. But, says reflexologist Sara Tauxe, "You must treat the right hand first, as it represents the past; the left hand represents the present."
There are four ways of stimulating the reflexes. The "caterpillar" uses thumb or finger, which mimics the rise and fall of the insect's back. "Rotation" presses the thumb into the reflex and massages for a few seconds with small rotating movements. The "hook back" method presses the thumb into the reflex before hooking it back towards the practitioner's palm. Simplest of all is "press and release", which maintains pressure for about 12 seconds.
If you have a headache or incipient migraine, press the thumb into the top, fleshy part of the fingers and massage each one three times every half an hour until head pain stops. If there is associated sinus pain, also massage the whole finger.
Backache can be treated by working the outside of the thumb from its base to tip and back again. Twice every two hours is recommended during crisis, but recurring back pain should be seen to by a doctor or osteopath.
To alleviate period pain, locate the uterus reflexes, which are at the base of the thumb side of both hands. This is best done pre- or post-period, as it may increase bloodflow during a period. Irritable bowel syndrome can be helped by regular massage on the digestive-tract reflexes. To concentrate on the small intestine, massage the area in the lower half of the palm of each hand. For the large intestine, begin on the right hand, just above the wrist in line with the little finger, and massage halfway up the palm. Continue by working horizontally across the palm. Change to the left hand and repeat this action, before massaging downwards from the base of the little finger to just above the wrist. To complete, work back across both palms from the base of the index finger to the base of the thumb.
"I treated me and my sister to aromatherapy and reflexology massage, I had a lovely time and the staff were nice Thanks Deburah you were brilliant"