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Reflexology for Better Health

One of the most dramatic testimonials I’ve heard about reflexology comes from former Today Show host Regis Philbin.  Regis had phoned the world-renowned reflexologist and educator Laura Norman, who’d been on The Today Show several times, to come to Lenox Hill Hospital the night before the surgery that had been scheduled to remove the kidney stones his MD’s insisted were too large to pass without surgery.  In this short clip you can hear Regis talk about how reflexology helped him avoid surgery, and helped him again years later.

Blog0415_reflexologyThat said, reflexology is not a substitute for medical treatment.  It is a recognized Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) that helps the body to do what it was designed to do naturally.  Developed in this country by two MD’s and a physiotherapist, reflexology is the application of alternating pressure of thumbs or fingers on reflexes located on the microcosms (maps) of the body found on the feet, hands and outer earsClients have reported, and hundreds of studies have found, that reflexology has helped alleviate many symptoms, and sometimes causes, of a wide variety of ailments. 

Reflexology can also be profoundly relaxing and may help reduce the chronic stress that for decades has been considered a factor in up to as much as 80% of all illnesses.  Some of my clients have said they find reflexology “as relaxing as a full-body massage”.  Some say they are surprised, and some in a bit of awe, at the diversity of sensations they feel in their feet – and sometimes their body -- during a reflexology session.

Most reflexology is performed on the feet, where an abundance of nerve fibers render a “conversation” with the central nervous system and the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system fairly elegant and easy. 

There are also nerve-rich maps of the body on the hands and outer ears as well, and so studying and working with those reflex maps can be useful for enhancing the work done on the feet.

Who can administer reflexology?

Only those who have completed the new, rigorous requirements WA state put in place in 2013 – or who were grandfathered in with certain requirements -- can administer reflexology as a Certified Reflexologist. Many low-cost “foot reflexology” salons were springing up nationwide that were skirting massage license laws with trafficked workers who in some cases were forced into not only slave labor but also prostitution. This was becoming especially problematic in WA and other border states.  So to our legislature’s credit, a new licensure for reflexology was created to ensure the safety of the public and of all practitioners.
 
Licensed massage practitioners (LMPs) who have studied reflexology may still administer it.  Such practitioners cannot, however, present themselves as a “reflexologist” unless they have completed the 200+ hours of specialized reflexology study and passed the two exams now required to be a Certified Reflexologist in WA.
 
Those who are neither a Certified Reflexologist nor LMP may not administer reflexology to the public, and this would include a large number of those being trafficked into some of the low-cost “foot reflexology massage” shops.  If you happen into one of those strip-mall shops, ask to see the WA-state license of the person who will be administering “reflexology” or “massage”.  Not the business license – but the practitioner’s license. Every licensed massage practitioner (LMP) and reflexologist must now display their individual license, and if someone assigned to work on you does not produce one, they and the facility they work at can and should be reported. Reports can be submitted online, or printed up and mailed in anonymously.  They will be followed up on by a state inspector.
 
This is one way the public can keep themselves in trained hands, and help bring an end to human trafficking.  Another way is to sign the “Not in My City” petition posted by WAengage.com .  Those wishing to get more engaged in helping to end all modern day slavery can find the CAT (Coalition Against Trafficking) network groups in their county here.

What is a reflexology session like?

Blog0415_reflexologistReflexology is traditionally performed with a client laying comfortably on their back on a massage table. For those who might experience discomfort laying down for an hour or more, a nice alternative is the zero gravity chair that reclines a client far enough back to make their feet accessible to the reflexologist.

Prior to, or at the start of a session, there will be a usually-short intake and consent form.  The reflexologist will want to know, for example, why you would like to have reflexology.

Some reflexologists will offer soothing music. Feedback is welcomed during a session and can be a good indication of where additional reflexing may be needed, since according to the work of Spanish doctor Jesus Manzanares, MD,  the body lays down additional nerve fibers in places where the body is lacking full health. Sometimes the tissue differences are palpable to the reflexologist’s touch, and sometimes not, so it is helpful for the client to give the reflexologist feedback.

Most sessions are an hour long, although most reflexologists offer 75 and/or 90 minute sessions especially if:

  • Someone has a long-standing health issue they would like help with. The extra time allows for the inclusion of some hand and/or outer ear points to augment the reflexing on the feet
  • The first session for someone experiencing foot pain
  • Someone wanting more time in the deeply-relaxative state reflexology often initiates

For children and seniors in their very advanced years, many reflexologists make half hour sessions available.

Some people feel a delightful tingling along the head or legs during a reflexology session.  Some feel intensely relaxed during the session, and energized afterwards. Many people report sleeping better, better digestion, more clarity, and other positive after-effects.  Sometimes pain minimalizes or dissipates during a session, sometimes after.

Typically the more chronic the pain or other symptoms are, the more additional sessions will be needed to build on the cumulative effect of each session -- which is typically the case with most CAM’s (complementary and alternative medicine modalities).  Of course, we have exceptions to the rule, such as Regis Philbin passing his “impossible to pass” kidney stone the night before his scheduled surgery.  That’s where the factors additional to the modality itself come into play:  the skill of the reflexologist, the state of the client, and other circumstances.  Many factors contribute to our wellbeing, and reflexology is not a cure-all (in fact, not a “cure” at all).  It is a non-invasive way to help the body achieve balance.   I like how the page about reflexology on the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing website phrases it:   “The reflexologist stimulates the nervous system to do the work, it is not the therapist who ‘fixes’ it.”

How to find a certified reflexologist in your area

Those interested to have reflexology by a practitioner extensively trained in it can find Certified Reflexologists in their city on the Washington Reflexology Association (WRA) website.

And since some reflexologists were certified nationally before the state licensure went into effect, and since not all reflexologists are members of WRA, there is a list of reflexologists by state on the website of the American Reflexology Certification Board (ARCB).  To attain an ARCB national certification,  reflexologists have to pass a practical exam along with the two written exams, and they must submit 90 documented reflexology sessions according to the standardized SOAP notes required of healthcare providers.

Some Washington reflexologists may be members of the Reflexology Association of America (RAA) and not the above two organizations, so there is a list of reflexologists by state on the RAA website as well.

Linda Frank is a Washington state and ARCB-Board Certified Reflexologist.  She is a sole practitioner serving the South Sound with Head to Heel Reflexology for Better Health.  Appointments are available in Federal Way, Tacoma, and University Place.