More balance? The answer lies beneath your feet.
“Your feet are made for walking ‘- especially barefoot. Good for … almost everything! That is the message of the foot reflexologist. However if you prefer wearing your shoes to work, a “foot pressure point therapy” is a good alternative.
By Maud Beucker Andreae
We Dutch people have stiff hips, but still most of the time our feet don’t really touch the ground. ” Literally, we are a shoe-wearing-folk – besides those three summer beach days or yoga classes. “So what”, you might be thinking. But due to those constant sneakers, pumps or ankle boots we hardly stimulate our feet. And that’s not good, claims the complementary (read: Oriental) medicine: the barefoot person massages certain pressure points naturally while walking. And this would be healthy for the whole body. That is exactly what foot reflexology wants to do for you. A visit to a foot reflexologist might even relieve a variety of complaints – from stress to back pain to migraines. Throbbing temples are not unknown to us, so our interest is awakened.
From East to West
Reflexology is over thousands of years old and was mainly used in Eastern cultures like China and India. In the early 20th century, the American specialist William Fitzgerald developed a Western variant, the zone therapy. Both the Eastern and Western currents assume that certain pressure points in the feet correspond to other organs and body parts from head to toe. Put simply: a simple push on the foot, for example, could help against a stomach ache. The biggest difference here between East and West is that the Chinese variant goes beyond just the feet. This also includes pressure points and meridians (energy pathways) in the body, ranging from “top to bottom and back again.” This means that in a Chinese treatment that the calves and knees, and sometimes hands, ears, neck and head are all taken into account. The ‘American way’ of Fitzgerald is less comprehensive – the soles in particular get attention – but more specifically this translates to how the number of pressure points in the ‘Western foot map’ is is more detailed. Like chefs who cook fusion, therapists are increasingly starting to mix the ingredients of both streams.
With regards to the (proven) effects of foot reflexology remarkably little research has been done. Regardless of this, in 2009 a group of Japanese scientists were the first to find evidence that supports the existence of a “footmap”. The researchers stimulated particular points in the feet of subjects while an MRI simultaneously kept track of which parts of the brain showed activity. The results were positive: when pressed on the ‘shoulder area in the foot’, the ‘shoulder part’ in the brains was highlighted. The same occured with the eyes and intestines.
Floor Tuinstra is a reflexology therapist in The Hague who uses a mix of Eastern and Western reflexology in her treatments. According to Floor our traditional medicine often looks at an ailment individually, despite how often complaints are shown to be connected with eachother. Floor: “Compare meridians with highways and accupuncture points with the crossings where they come together. When you are suffering from lower backpain, an ear infection and you are losing your hair, a (Chinese oriented) reflexologist will know which specific highway and junctions to treat, in order to let traffic (energy) flow again”.
In this way Floor is able to treat several complaints at the same time. On the other hand, the best part about the Western approach is the more detailed footmap, “… especially that there is more room for emotion and the story of the client.” (floortuinstra.nl)
Foot reflexologist Carine van der Vaart, who has many clients with burn-out related problems, also gives plenty of space for the sharing of stories: “A peaceful, western approach is particularly important for these clients. In Chinese culture less is spoken, and emotions are seen as ill-makers that must be dealt with through strong massages. The treatment in China is thereby harder, figuratively and literally. “(clarijn.nl)
Maud on the massagetable
Prevention, or the cure of ailments, are the ultimate goal of a treatment in the Eastern current; comfort and relaxation during treatment are less important. Us Westerners, having been used to being pampered, are prone to respond to the slightest application of pressure. We also like the whole spa-like experience – candles, a little running fountain, soft piano music in the background, that kind of thing. At least that’s how I am; with this in mind I take a seat on Floor’s massage table in an attractive yoga center in The Hague.
The first thing that strikes the attention of Floor is the state of my feet; they are extremely far apart. True, I do tend to walk like a ballerina (or if you prefer, like a duck). According to Floor it could mean that I have a very ‘open mind’ for details. That is an easy remark since gathering information goes with my work as a journalist. But when she starts to ‘knead’, I talk about my migraines. Floor treats certain pressure points in my feet and during the massage I start to feel a tingling sensation in my head – a strange but pleasant feeling. Hey, am I now feeling a connection between my feet and head? Okay, first it may be a placebo effect and it does not say anything yet about the possible effect on my migraines, but it is striking.
Floor, also expert in reflexology for babies, tells of a client who was too young to be influenced by such psychosomatic relationships: “A friendly and skeptical pharmacist came to me with his 6 month old son, who had been suffering from constipation since his birth. She treated only one foot and the boy pooped his nappy full within 4 minutes – and later on that same day another three times. The pharmacist was happily surprised and came back a few times after which his son got hold of a normal bowel movement.
That’s not all, athletic women have also benefited from a treatment: from the shoulder injury of a tennis player to the concussion of a martial artist – Floor has had them all ‘under the thumb’.
An advantage of treating pressure points compared to local kneading (e.g. with back pain massaging the ‘back related spot’ on the foot instead of the back itself) is that the problematic area will experience the benefits and won’t suffer from the burden of localized treatment. According to her, “massaging a stiff neck can be quite painful and sometimes even counterproductive.” Such hazards won’t happen with foot reflexology. A treatment can’t really go wrong – at the most it will have no effect. I’m in any case in: my second appointment has already been planned. I wonder if my migraine will soon belong to the past; if I am to believe Floor, it’s a done deal.
Help during pregnancy
“I was pregnant and already a week overdue/late. I had tried all old wives’ tales such as eating spicy food. A friend advised me to visit a foot reflexology therapist. I am quite down to earth but was desperate so the next morning I was lying on the massage table. That afternoon my daughter was born.” “Unfortunately, it’s not a case of ‘pull your little toe’ and the baby is there.” Every woman has a need for something else: from an energy boost to balancing the hormones. Reflexology therapist Carine has helped many pregnant women to induce labor: “The first time I did this treatment I didn’t dare to promise to the future mother that labour would soon start after the treatment, but now I know – it works.”
“I found it very bizarre – the first time I was lying on the massage table in a foot reflexology practice. I was able to relax eventually, but I was also having a severe cold. When the reflexologist pressed the lung area on my feet, I immediately got more air. I was also completely relaxed during and after the treatment. I still go on a regular basis and in the nights following a session I always sleep like a rose.” Floor: “Insomnia is also a complaint often seen and resolved by a reflexology therapist, both in adults and children.”
Simple tricks of the trade for use at home.
Give yourself a nice foot bath regularly, for example with bathsalt for the feet from the Dead Sea. With a few drops of lavender oil over it you can totally relax. Feel a flu coming up? Use tea tree or lemon oil.
Squeeze thumb and forefinger in the membranes between the toes (and/or fingers). Do this every day for a few minutes. “This takes away waste products and is a boost for your immunesystem,” says Carine.
At four fingers under the knee, just a little bit aside from the shin, is the ‘leg three miles point’. With a loose fist beat on this point for half a minute to boost your energy.
Move your index finger in between your big toe and the second toe. Move your finger a few centimetres downwards until you feel a little hole; this point is called ‘liver 3’. Carine: ‘give some firm pressure on this point during 30 seconds and do the same at the other foot. It helps with headaches, belly aches and blocked emotions.’
Choose your reflexology therapist
Check if your reflexology therapist is part of recognised of a professional association (such as the VNRT or NVVT). In this way you will know your therapist fullfills all the requirements (Medical Basic Knowledge and bachelor degree).
Also check with your health insurance for a possible refund on your treatment.
This is how it works in the Netherlands, in another country different rules may apply.