By Jamuna Rangachari
Based on the link of the body organs with the reflex areas, reflexology is a non-invasive, safe therapy for preventive health, healing and complete well-being
When an ambulance landed near my home, I thought there was an emergency in the neighborhood. However, it came to my house with a patient on a stretcher, accompanied by two doctors. The doctors, who had heard of me, wanted me to see if I could help this patient who was suffering from acute sciatica. He was in no condition to even sit on a chair, so I had him lie on the bed and worked on his feet. Much to even my astonishment, he not just got up, but started walking as soon as I finished the treatment. This is one of the many cherished moments I have had due to reflexology,” says Mr I P Bahl, the doyen of reflexology in India and the Founder President of the All Indian Institute of Acupressure Reflexology.
Another case he remembers is the miraculous disappearance of fibroids on a lady who came to him when almost due for surgery.
Namita Unnikrishnan, general secretary of the association and a leading reflexologies in Delhi, shares her experience with a businessman in Delhi who was booked on a business trip to the US. Suffering from slip disc, he booked a ticket for his wife as well so she could support him if required. Healed in just four sessions, not only did he travel without his wife, but was even fit enough to jog in the US.
Holistic diagnosis and healing
“Your feet are the best barometer of your health. Never ignore any discomfort there,” I heard Rafat Jehan say, while she was working on a patient at Prashanti, the centre for alternative therapies for cancer patients at Delhi. It seemed almost as if she was addressing me. I had severe numbness in the feet at the time, along with other symptoms due to a neurological condition, multiple sclerosis. I did not know much about reflexology then, but I decided to explore more and was certainly not disappointed. My numbness became much better, my motor control issues were resolved and other issues too were addressed. For instance, the cervical area which had been mildly painful became much better. Further, the healing was at a much deeper level than I had ever expected. Even a minor personal altercation was projected in my feet, and when I learnt to change my perception, that too was almost immediately ‘reflected’ in my feet. What eventually happened then, was a total holistic diagnosis of my condition and a healing of both physical and emotional issues, some known and many hitherto hidden.
Kalpana Bapna from Delhi had initially gone to get her thyroid healed from Namita, but what happened was the energizing of her whole system. She was so impressed that she went on to learn it herself and now practices it too.
Jyotsna Uppal, an ex professor from the US, who is now in Delhi, has had great relief from her sinusitis. “I had gone to many doctors before but now am definitely healed,” she says, and adds that she feels much more healthy and energetic.
Dr Krishna Dalal, associate professor, department of biophysics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), had her first encounter with the technique when her husband became very sick in 1994 and no apparent cause could be detected by the routine tests. A book on reflexology that she chanced upon triggered her interest and soon, she found Mr Bahl, who diagnosed it as cervical spondylosis and cured him completely.
This led her to pursue it more and learn it herself. Since then, she has been able to diagnose many “mysterious cases” and heal numerous ailments. She is also impressed by its ability to give first aid in emergencies. For instance, she was able to arrest a heart attack through pressure on the reflex area and stop it from being fatal.
Essentially, like most alternative systems, reflexology seeks to find and address the cause and not the symptom of any problem. What therefore happens is a complete, holistic healing.
The body has the ability to rebuild and heal itself,” says Namita, “Reflexology enables the body to regain its lost power by freeing the flow of energy in blood circulation and in the neurological and lymphatic systems.”
The principle on which reflexology is based is that each of the body’s organs and glands are “linked” to corresponding areas of the ears, hands and feet. The application of pressure on these points restores energy within the body, while strengthening the immune system and natural healing capacity of the body.
Foot reflexology, the most commonly used method, is based on the profound and distinct relationship between the body and its two feet, left food representing the left half of the body and the right, representing the right half of the body. Whenever there is a disorder in any part of the body, the corresponding reflex point on the foot becomes very tender. Pressure on this point, which can be quite painful, needs to be given methodically and gradually, to enable the corresponding part of the body to heal.
Dalal defines it as, “the health science of studying the internal organs of the system function through the reflex area represented all over the body”.
She explains that all the organs communicate through biochemical reactions on neurological pathways, and these pathways have reflex areas all over the body, with nerve endings on the hands, feet and ears. Slowing down of the biochemical reactions is the cause of many diseases, and stimulation on the reflex areas speeds up the biochemical reactions, hastening healing and very often, curing the disease, too.
Reflexology fits into the broad umbrella of acupressure, which encompasses any healing that is given through pressure. However, reflexology deals with pressure on the reflex areas, specifically. Currently, there are reflex maps of the foot, hand and ear and many other maps are being worked on.
Beacuse reflexology also empowers greater emotional healing, Dr Dalal ensures that patients are first relieved of stress and tensions before they proceed for other treatments. In many cases, the problem itself disappears when the stress is gone.
A better state of emotional health naturally percolates to changes in one’s perception of life. As Namita says, “It is fascinating to see a remarkable personality change in many patients after the treatment.”
How does it work?
Although the relationship of the feet to the body is profound, the way the channels work are still being researched technically. The possible theories are:
• Blood and supply theory: When the body becomes tense, it presses on the arteries causing sluggishness in circulation. Toxins that should normally be excreted then get deposited in the hands and feet as crystals. This, in turn, blocks nerve impulses. Reflexology breaks down these crystals which go into the blood stream and then gets excreted naturally, thereby relieving pain in the corresponding part of the body.
• Nerve simulation theory: Pressure on reflex areas transmits message to the brain which causes the body to mobilize its repair forces.
• Lymph theory: Pressure on reflex points enhance the lymph vessels thereby restoring chemical balance in the body.
• Counter irritation theory: The human body has the ability to speed up repairs when it receives an insult or irritation to its equilibrium, which is provided by reflex irritation.
Research and Studies
In Denmark, studies have shown how wasted man-hours due to ailments can be saved with reflexology. For instance, a Korean study was conducted on 46 women, 40-64 years of age, suffering from depression and an inefficient immune system. They were taught self-reflexology for two weeks, which they practiced daily for six weeks. Measures were taken before, during and after the treatment, and patients reported a significant difference in perceived stress, depression, systolic blood pressure and natural killer cells.
There are numerous such studies taking place all over the world.
India, Dr Krishna Dalal, passionate about establishing the scientific evidence of its efficacy, is carrying out research under government approved projects on the efficacy of reflexology in epilepsy, neuro muscular skeletal disorders such as lower back pain, knee pain, sciatica, tennis elbow, frozen shoulder, spondylosis and diabetic neuropathy. Other than this, she is also supervising similar research in hypertension, diabetes, post operation nausea, cerebral palsy, supra nuclear palsy (SNP), dementia, Parkinson’s, sports injuries, migraine, lower degree burns, acute stomach problem and bladder incontinence, with the help of research fellows from the naturopathy discipline.
Focus on the foot
There certainly seems to be an increased acceptance of the foot being a barometer and potential healer, whether it is in the form of use of foot mats or treatments using the foot for healing.
This is, in a sense, coming a full circle in our way of life. One of the reasons for better health in ancient times was the rough surfaces on which man walked without protective footwear. So, it makes perfect sense to provide a similar simulation to make our natural systems function better.
Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido built stroll paths at one factory for its employees’ health. Every rock, log and bridge in the stroll path was designed to work a particular part of the foot. The project was proven to be so successful that Shiseido hired a construction company to manufacture and install stroll paths for other companies. Today, stroll paths are becoming increasingly popular in Europe and America, too. The Association in India too has plans of setting up such paths on all public parks and is discussing proposals for the same.
How it Began
The emergence of this ancient science in its modern form was with the Zone Theory.
Observing that the patients who applied pressure on some points seemed to be better at coping with pain than those who did not, Dr. William Fitzgerald, an ENT surgeon based in the US, formulated the Zone Theory in 1913. By putting pressure on various parts of the hands, fingers and feet, he noticed a numbing effect on certain other areas, and therefore used simple instruments like rubber bands, clothes pegs and combs that brought about this numbing effect, performing many simple operations with little or no anesthesia. In this process, Dr. Fitzgerald also discovered that the application of pressure on the zones not only stopped patients from feeling the pain but often relieved the underlying cause as well. Fascinated with this theory, Dr. Shelby Riley started working closely with him and developed the Zone Theory further, adding horizontal zones across the hands and feet, together with the longitudinal zones and thus determining individual reflexes according to the Zone Theory.
Research was continued by Eunice D. Ingham in the early 1930s, a physical therapist. She had the opportunity to treat hundreds of patients where each reflex point of contact was carefully and thoughtfully checked and rechecked until with all confidence she was able to determine that the reflexes on the feet were an exact mirror image of the organs of the body. She authored the book, Stories The Feet Can Tell, which was translated in many languages and still plays an important role in reflexology being accepted and practiced all over the world.
Reflexology in India
Eighty-six-year-old I P Bahl is the father of the movement in India.
When he attended a workshop on this therapy in 1987, he was initially quite skeptical. “It sounded like a fairy tale, but the fact that the therapy had become very visible in a matter of just 50 years made me curious,” he recounts. Not satisfied with peripheral practice, he spent a lot of time reading and researching the subject. He acknowledges that even this would not have led to his mastery, had he not practiced dedicatedly on his wife’s feet. This led to her acute sinusitis disappearing.
Totally convinced about the technique, he began practicing it more and more. The tangible healings resulted in the word spreading and soon, he had more patients than he could handle. Realizing that it would be impossible for him to cater to the tremendous demand for healing, he founded the All Indian Institute of Reflexology and Acupressure, setting up a basic, advanced and teachers’ training course. Fear of quackery was another reason for starting the organization. He says vehemently, “Treatment must be given only by a well-trained reflexologies and this is why I formed the association which teaches the system in a scientific manner and awards certification.
He has also authored the book, Listen to your feet, which teaches the basic concepts of the technique. This is available in Hindi and English and is published by Hind Pocket Books, Delhi. Says he, “Many doctors have come to me for treatment, even for their own ailments.”
He pioneered the writing of reflexology books in Braille, mainly for the students of the Blind Relief Association, a blind school, where he has been conducting courses. Dr Ravindra Partap, the music teacher, who has also learnt the technique and assists him in his course, shares the joy he gets when he sees the students providing healing and relief. “During our Diwali camp, a lady had acute joint pain and was unable to walk. She was absolutely thrilled when she was able to walk unassisted within a few minutes when a student of ours performed reflexology on her,” he says and hopes that more and more students will learn and serve society with this simple and effective technique.
The way ahead …
Reflexology is gaining credence all over the world as a preventive, diagnostic health treatment. However, its reach still has to increase considerably for it to meet the needs of the people.
As it is a person-to-person therapy, one cannot treat people en masse. I really hope there are many more reflexologies in the country and the world,” says Namita.
A day where a reflexologies would be as accessible as a neighborhood doctor? When people walk barefoot on reflexology stroll paths everyday? I, for one, certainly hope this day is not too far away.
Contact: Mr I P Bahl:09810777567
Krishna Dalal: firstname.lastname@example.org
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