Introduction to Reflexology

By Christopher Shirley

Welcome to the universe of reflexology. I choose these words carefully because it is my experience that reflexology is capable of taking you to the boundaries of your universe and, if you are willing, beyond those boundaries. (See discussion of boundaries at the end of this article.)

Reflexology is a NATURAL HEALING ART.

NATURAL means that reflexology enhances the normal functioning of the body. It does this without creating any damage. It is essentially benign - harmless.

HEALING means that reflexology's effect is consistently observed to be beneficial to a person's health. Reflexology reduces physical, emotional and psychological stress and tension. This reduction of stress and tension results in a greater degree of relaxation in the body and a consequent revitalization and rejuvenation of the functioning of the body. Reflexology also increases the body's awareness of itself. The combination of therapeutic relaxation and increased awareness facilitate movement toward optimal healthy functioning. In this sense reflexology is healing.

ART means that the application of reflexology is most beneficial when the practitioner is bringing their intuitive senses into play with their practice of reflexology. Everyone who uses the techniques of reflexology will find that the results are beneficial. However, the practitioner that develops awareness of their intuitive senses and applies reflexology in accordance with their intuitive senses will have more effective results.

The basic techniques used in the practice of reflexology are very simple and easy to learn. As in many other activities it takes some practice of the techniques to become familiar with them. In this process of practising the techniques it is inevitable that some of the benefits of reflexology will be discovered. The most common benefit to be discovered is how profoundly relaxing reflexology is for most (not all) people that it is applied to. Even for relatively healthy people in our hectic western society, the feeling of profound relaxation is a blissfully pleasant experience that is deeply appreciated.

Beyond these pleasurable feelings of relaxation, recipients of reflexology often report a wide range of other benefits, such as: feeling more centred, feeling more solidly connected to the ground and paradoxically feeling like walking on air, experiencing deeper sleep, relief from a wide variety of aches and pains, relief from headaches, clearing of sinus congestion, etc..

The range of potential benefits available from reflexology is very wide. It is believed that reflexology moves the body from functioning in the sympathetic nervous system modality (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic nervous system modality (rest and repair), that reflexology improves the assimilation of nutrients to enhance the provision of nourishment for healthy functioning; that reflexology improves the circulation of the blood and lymph with consequent improved nourishment and cleansing of the cells and elimination of accumulated toxins; similarly, that reflexology strengthens the functioning of the immune system. In short, by revitalizing and rejuvenating the intricate functioning of the physical body reflexology assists the body in it's inherent process of healing itself.

As a consequence, reflexology powerfully complements all other healing modalities. In particular it enhances the effectiveness of nutritional therapies including herbology, and, manipulative therapies such as physiotherapy and chiropractic.
When a person is experiencing extremely acute pain, such as a severe whiplash, reflexology, unique in it's ability to relieve stress and tension through stimulation of the distant reflexes, can safely ease the pain until it is conducive to the direct stimulation of massage therapy or physiotherapy. In this way, reflexology is very beneficial for the person who is presently experiencing extreme pain and who is understandably not receptive to any direct stimulation of the injured area.

As reflexology gains wider acceptance as a therapy, it's effectiveness for specific conditions is being researched. Recently, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, a prestigious medical research journal, published an evaluation of the effectiveness of reflexology for women suffering with  pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). This study, which evaluated 38 symptoms experienced by these women, reported that the symptoms were reduced by 46% during treatment, an improvement that was sustained at 41% for two months beyond the cessation of treatment. The journal concluded that reflexology should be considered an effective therapy for PMS.

Many other studies evaluating the effectiveness of reflexology for specific health conditions have been published in Denmark, England and China. In these countries, reflexology has been integrated into the national health care system - which has made it easier to get research studies conducted. The health conditions focussed on in these studies include: headaches, back pain, asthma and constipation - a wide variety of conditions for any one therapy to address. In general, the results of these studies report reflexology to be effective for 75% to 80% of recipients. (See our research pages for more details).

It appears that in reflexology we have an easy to learn, harmless technique that provides the recipient with a blissfully relaxing experience, and, is potentially powerful in it's ability to assist the body to heal itself of a wide range of conditions.

Reflexology is a healing modality that is harmless unless the reflexology practitioner is not respectful of the person that they are working on. In fact, unless the person receiving the reflexology is fragile in some way (suffering from emotional, psychological or physical imbalances, or, is commonly considered very sick), it would be necessary for the reflexology practitioner to be intentionally abusive in order to do harm.

In a social sense, reflexology has alot to contribute in it's ability to provide a safe nurturing environment for people to touch each other. There is considerable research on the power of touch. This environment allows a very natural deepening of the relationship between the person doing reflexology and the receiver. Professional counsellors are exploring the possibilities that this presents for their work with their clients.

For us lay people there are also many possibilities in our relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues. An example would be the relationship between a teenager and his/her parents: typically these relationships can be strained and lacking in communication or any feeling of connectedness. However, many teenagers would love to have their feet massaged. In the process of  45 - 60 minutes of  giving a reflexology session to the teenager the parent simply needs to be willing to listen to whatever surfaces in the teenagers mind. Reflexology provides a setting for nurturing touch that is safe, relaxing and conducive to sharing any concerns that the teenager may be currently wrestling with If the parent is willing to just listen, there is the potential for a wonderful intimacy to develop.

In short, reflexology has many very healing facets.

{BOUNDARIES: Let's talk about boundaries - so that you may understand a little bit better what I mean by this word. Each of us has boundaries that shape our experience - our universe. These boundaries we are constantly choosing and changing on the basis of what is comfortable for us, or, what feels right to us in the present circumstance. Consequently, our boundaries are rarely concretely defined, and, will change from time to time as our circumstance changes. Similarly, as our boundaries change, our interpretation of our circumstance will also change.

Of course, this can be very disconcerting as human beings we all seek consistency in our world - and in ourselves. This consistency is our present level of knowledge and understanding. Such consistency gives us a feeling of security, a feeling that with our knowledge and understanding of our life we are able to cope or even be effective in it. Consequently, we are inclined to try to define our boundaries - we are inclined to come to an understanding of who we are, who we are not; what we like, what we do not like; what we believe is true, what we believe is not true; what we believe is fair and reasonable, what we believe is not fair and reasonable; and so on.

So, on one hand, our circumstances pull at us to change our boundaries, and, on the other hand we seem to have an innate desire to bring consistency to our boundaries. Welcome to one of the paradoxes of life. If you have ever felt that it is an uphill battle to understand yourself, or to understand other people - being aware of this paradoxical dynamic of constant change in each and every one of us might help you to comprehend why.