Reflexology has been known to man for thousands of years. It is a natural healing science based on the principle that the anatomy of the body is reflected in miniature in the form of reflex zones on the feet and hands. By using specific pressure techniques and massage on these regions, healing is both initiated and accelerated in the corresponding area of the body.
Reflexology seeks to detect and correct imbalances in the body that may be causing ill health and thus assist in restoring equilibrium; it does this by working with the central nervous system. This theory builds on research done in the 1890s by Sir Henry Head and Sir Charles Sherrington, who began to show through their research that a neurological relationship exists between the skin and the internal organs, and that the whole nervous system adjusts to a stimulus.
According to the theory, the reflexologist's application of pressure to feet, hands, or ears sends a calming message from the peripheral nerves in these extremities to the central nervous system, which in turn signals the body to adjust the tension level. This enhances overall relaxation, brings internal organs and their systems into a state of optimum functioning, and increases blood supply (which brings additional oxygen and nutrients to cells and enhances waste removal). It positively affects the circulatory, respiratory, endocrine, immune, and neuropeptide systems in the body.
Another theory that may also explain how reflexology can produce pain relief is the gate control theory, or, more recently, the neuro-matrix theory of pain. This theory suggests that pain is a subjective experience created by your brain. The brain does this in response to the sensory experience of pain, but it can also work independently of sensory input and create pain in response to emotional or cognitive factors, thus things that influence the brain, such as your mood or external factors like stress can also affect your experience of pain. According to this theory, reflexology may reduce pain by reducing stress and improving mood.
Yet another theory holds that there is a "vital energy" (prana, chi, etc.) in the human body. If stress is not addressed, it leads to congestion of energy, which in turn causes bodily inefficiencies, which can lead to illness; in this respect, reflexology helps keep the energy flowing and eliminates stagnancy.
What about zone theory?
The recognition of reflexology as a specific type of treatment began with Zone Theory, in which the body is divided into 10 vertical zones. Each zone corresponds to fingers and toes all the way up to the top of the head. For example, if you are standing up with your hands on your thighs (palms facing down) the thumbs and great toe would be zone 1. On either side of the body, the index finger and second toe would be zone 2, etc.
In reflexology theory, every organ, valve, muscle, etc. that lies within a zone can be accessed via a point or area on the feet or hands. For example, working between toes 2 and 3, or fingers 2 and 3, the eye point is found. These pathways between pressure points and other parts of the body are thought to be connected via the nervous system, as described above. The zones are similar to, but not the same as meridians found in Chinese medicine. However, there are some correlations with some meridians and the location of organs on the feet and ankles.
The underlying principle of Reflexology
Reflexologists do not heal clients; the therapist creates the space and optimal conditions for the body to repair itself. The reflexologist acknowledges that the practise of reflexology is offered to help bring the person back into balance so that the body can nurture itself. A reflexologist knows that the purpose of this work is to help the client's body come into alignment with its own energy and ability to heal.
Humans consist of a physical and emotional body, with a mind and spirit. These are interdependent. The reflexologist takes into account all aspects of the client's being: body, emotion, mind, and spirit. A relaxed body calms down the conscious (ego) mind whose role is one of vigilance and also ‘fight or flight’ our inherent, primal stress response. Relaxation ~ induced by the parasympathetic nervous system and also known as ‘rest and digest’ phase ~ can be invoked by encouraging deep (diaphragmatic) breathing and this in turn will induce calm emotions, a serene mind, and an integrated spirit.
It is possible for practitioners and clients to feel energy move. A reflexologist can sometimes feel the energy move from a point of pressure on feet, hands or ears throughout body. For example, when working on the spleen and gall bladder points, the practitioner can access the points at the same time, and actually feel a flow of energy. Frequently, due to the power of these two points, the client can also feel the flow.
What can Reflexology treat?
As we have seen, reflexology is a simple, non-invasive, balancing therapy that can bring relief to a wide range of acute and chronic conditions, including:
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sleep difficulties, stress related conditions
Thyroid Problems, tiredness, weight problem
The aim of the reflexologist is to balance the reflexes before disease manifests. This, of course, is not always possible as many people do not seek complementary therapy until they have advanced disease. Where disease is too advanced, reflexology is especially suitable for enhancing pain relief by promoting the body's own pain relieving chemicals and providing comfort, support and special tender care for the sufferer. Reflexology can also be beneficial to support the carer during this difficult time.
A regular treatment can help to keep you focused, motivated and energised and as always, prevention and maintenance are highly recommended.
Reflexologists treat the whole person and not just the symptoms of illness. Following illness, stress, injury or disease the body may be in a state of imbalance and vital energy pathways (meridians recognised in the Far East) may be blocked preventing the body from functioning properly. The Therapist’s sensitively skilled hands may detect imbalances in the feet and so may help release blockages restoring the free flow of energy (chi) to the whole body. Reflexology is a paradoxical treatment designed to both stimulate the body’s natural healing mechanisms as well as calming down the mind and the emotions.
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