To attempt to scientifically evaluate an abstract concept such as reflexology is very difficult. To evaluate the effects of that treatment of reflexology is much easier. As in many other forms of natural healing, reflexology works by allowing the body's natural life force energies to flow and balance. Reflexologists believe that a balance of mind- body-spirit is fundamental to well-being. A relationship between specific parts of the feet and organs and systems of the body has been established. Trained, sensitive hands can detect tiny blockages along lines of energy flow in reflex areas in the feet. Reflexology can encourage an energy discharge at areas of stress or imbalance. The effect is that the body is encouraged to return to homeostasis, its innate rhythmic level of function peculiar to each individual. Stress therefore, we believe, may be described as the experience of living and working in conflict with our own generic blueprint. Healing has been concerned with this concept for many years.
Our unique vibration
When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child. They recognise that every soul has its own vibration that expresses its unique flavour and purpose. When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they return to the tribe and teach it to each member. When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child's song to him or her.
Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child's song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song. Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person's bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person to the next life.
If at any time during his or her life the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the centre of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognises that the correction for antisocial behaviour is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognise your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another. Reflexology is a holistic treatment, in that it does not focus on the treatment of specific symptoms but on the restorative effects of improving the overall equilibrium within the patient – a delicate and complex synthesis of spiritual, emotional and physical aspects. It is, to this unique personal identity, that reflexology is applied.
Complementary therapies thrive in simplicity; imagine the concept of stress held on a cellular level within the mind- body relationship. Each cell should normally vibrate at its own unique level but stress can affect this and can cause it to vibrate at a higher level. Years of experience and work with trauma and bereavement care have allowed me to identify that loss and trauma are held and nurtured in significant areas within the body. As we well know, these areas of retention may manifest symptoms of stress, eventually leading to long-term health problems. Consider the posture of a bereaved client. Imagine how they may protect and hold on to those affected areas of their own body. The shoulders may stoop and the arms may fold to protect the heart and solar plexus. These then become significant areas of reference which may subsequently be identified within specific reflex areas within the feet. The language used by that client further identifies the site of the trauma retention. They are 'heart broken', or as the solar plexus constricts, they feel 'sick to the stomach'. They may retain, protect and nurture the memory at these significant points. A bereavement may be ingrained in mind and body.
Simplistically, when the client presents ready to heal, the simplest intervention is to restore the energy balance so that grief can be faced and borne. The task is to allow that trapped energy its natural grieving passage; to symbolically identify its route through to the outside and eventually to facilitate a method to express and make sense of the loss and trauma. Easily said, but any process of grief needs a seed from which to grow. It is essentially a philosophy of trust in our own nature, an understanding that after such major trauma, that it is indeed possible to heal. In this instance, natural therapies could be useful when properly integrated with counselling. Consider the client, stuck in grief, who is prescribed antidepressants. Grief is and should be an entirely natural process. Any unnecessary intervention in this can cause the client distress as the client may desperately wish to grieve normally and appropriately for their loved one; any chemical intervention can cause conflict which may not be recognised by the GP. Complementary therapies can prove to be supportive in high-level stress. Our lifestyles now tend to be more insular; the support once offered by the extended family is no longer available to many. The positive supportive effect of therapeutic touch begins now to be recognised and body therapies such as aromatherapy massage can be very useful in this application.
The general effect of reflexology varies, as it will affect the individual in its own peculiar way. Some people will experience a dramatic reaction to the treatment; for some the effect will be slower to establish; for others there may be no effect at all. Reflexology may be applied as a short course of treatments with regular 'top ups' and it is often possible to 'measure' its potential after one or two treatments. Reflexology can be profoundly relaxing. Many clients will enter a profound state of relaxation and it is at this level that the healing seems to originate. Following a session the client may be allowed to remain in this semiconscious condition for some time as they process the results of the treatment. The client may experience a feeling of well-being and invigoration which may last for some days. Some may experience a healing reaction which may temporarily worsen their symptoms as they begin to deal with presenting issues. Many therapists are now beginning to realise the potential of this non-verbal communication. For the complementary therapist this is an entirely abstract concept but one which many practitioners use and cultivate on a daily basis and, as one would expect, therapists will eventually develop an ability to intuitively link empathically with the client. The personal life experience of the therapist is therefore very important as I believe it can have a positive effect on the client. Experienced therapists will understand how a client is reacting to the treatment and will be able to manage it as it progresses. Much passes between the practitioner and the client on this non-verbal level as the client is encouraged to start their healing process. As levels of perceived stress lessen, so the body begins to function normally, beginning to heal and starting to recover from associated ailments.
So the case for integrated stress management becomes stronger. Each discipline has many positive qualities to form a holistic approach to client care, and all aspects of the client's lifestyle, such their diet, may be challenged as motivation increases. It has been recognised that a great deal of the GP's workload is concerned with stress management. Integrated stress management systems could significantly free the doctor's time to pursue other issues. However, at the moment many doctors are reluctant to allow complementary therapies into their surgeries. Reflexology can be helpful as part of an integrated healthcare system as well as an effective stress management tool in its own right. My own complicated journey to simplicity has proved very challenging but has allowed me a slightly different perspective on stress management; one in which simplicity reflects an atunement with natural, unavoidable laws and, in this simplicity, complementary therapies such as reflexology can help in a wide range of applications.
About the author:
Bob Davies is a Member of the Association of Reflexologists. His Gatwick based reflexology practice has developed from experience within Cruse Bereavement Care and the Compassionate Friends, a charity offering support to bereaved parents. He has an interest in trauma support and has trained with a Local Authority Trauma Support Team. Bob may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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