Before coming to Sydney, I believed that Reflexology would be a really popular complementary therapy here, on a par even with massage. Then when I visited Australia a few years ago, it was fantastic... I found alternative therapy clinics and holistic health and wellness centres for yoga, meditation and fitness on every street. People were totally into ‘looking after themselves’ They walked, cycled, jogged and meditated, drank copious amounts of fresh green juices and ate an abundance of organic nutritious food.
Now I’m living here, all this is mostly accurate but, as I’ve been discovering over the last 6 months, there is a massive gap in public knowledge and experience of Reflexology as a serious, holistic modality.
Here are some things a Reflexology treatment is not:
1) A simple ‘massage’ or ‘foot rub’
2) A therapy where your feet are stabbed repeatedly with a wooden stick causing pain, soreness and discomfort
3) Something you have done while you are getting a regular pedicure
4) A treatment without medical history or lifestyle dialogue, or a prescriptive plan
5) Where you leave the couch without home advice and tips on enhancing your treatment.
The more people I talk to in Sydney, whether they are an alternative therapist, or a member of the public, it seems everyone’s experience of Reflexology is encapsulated in at least one of these sentences above. I feel that it’s time to break down all the myths, not just because you deserve to know what’s what, but for the benefit of others doing their research into holistic therapies that could be misinformed or misled about what Reflexology actually is.
For those looking to improve their overall wellbeing, Clinical Reflexology (A much better definition) is a valued and respected modality that is seriously worth considering and trying out to see if it works for you.
When I think back to my first Reflexology treatment, it took place on a beach in Malaysia many years ago, while on a very relaxing Summer holiday. Within the confines of the hotel grounds, an elderly man with a low stool came over and with broken English, offered us a foot massage, so my husband and I decided to give it a try. Ten minutes later and after a bit of vigorous poking and prodding of the bottom (or plantar) of my feet, I ask myself ‘what just happened there?’ It was only after the event, that we realised it was a ‘Reflexology’ treatment that we were given. Using the word Reflexology very loosely, is this is the type of treatment you’ve experienced?
It’s not until I had Reflexology back in the UK a few years later, that I realised I had been short changed. My experience of Reflexology in the UK was completely different, for a start I did my research. I was recommended to try it by a girlfriend and pointed in the direction of the Association of Reflexologists register for a fully certified, professional therapist with at least 100 hours of practical training, with representation and the highest standards of cleanliness, professionalism and client care, as demanded by the Association themselves.
Here in Australia, there is an equivalent association, with just the same stringent rules, accreditation and reputation as the AoR. The Reflexology Association of Australia (links at the bottom of this post).
So, back to the task of Dispelling those Reflexology myths….
Clinical Reflexology is not a simple ‘massage’ or ‘foot rub’
As a therapist, providing the right treatment starts before I touch my clients feet. Planning and preparation based around a client’s health and lifestyle determines the type of Reflexology treatment that’s given. A routine treatment incorporates all systems of the body for a holistic experience but there will be organs, tissues or systems of more focus dependent on a client’s health complaints no matter how serious or trivial the issue.
A Reflexology treatment by a certified Reflexologist will include an element of ‘massage’ or ‘effleurage’ to use its proper name, which takes place at the beginning, because it’s important to warm and open up the feet. Effleurage is used to close off a treatment too. What happens in-between is so much more involved than just a bit of general foot rubbing.
A Reflex therapist learns to understand the feet by reading or observing them - I look at the position of the feet, their colour, smell and feel, their temperature, lines, marks and skin. Then when I take the feet in my hands, the feeling of the skin and tissues beneath my fingers and thumbs allow me to make considerations about the areas of the body that are out of kilter, and require some rebalance to take place. That might mean stimulating moves to improve sluggish or lacklustre reflexes and therefore the associated part of the body, or winding down, sedative moves if an area of the body is being overworked and there’s lots of tension for example.
A therapy where your feet are stabbed repeatedly with a wooden stick causing pain, soreness and discomfort
Having a wooden implement pushed into the bottom of your foot is no fun, especially when you have no idea that it’s about to happen. That’s hardly a relaxing experience or one that you’d want to repeat again. I’ve experienced the feeling of being unprepared for a treatment that’s about to take place and it put me on edge through the entire session. I know some people prescribe to the ‘if it doesn’t hurt it doesn’t work’ school of stimulating treatments and love the thought and feeling of being prodded about, but strength doesn’t equal power. Gentle, lighter Reflexology pressures will be just as an effective a treatment and great practitioners adopt a stimulating or relaxing technique, or both depending on the needs of the client on the day. Take also into account; if a therapist doesn’t know the state of a client’s health because they haven’t asked, how do they know that a foot doesn’t have a localised acute or chronic injury? It’s vital to me that a client leaves my therapy room feeling calm and relaxed and in a much better condition both mentally and physically than when they arrived!
A Reflexology massage while having a Pedicure
As seen on Australian high streets, countrywide (and much less so in the UK). Beauty shops with their line of large chairs and built in foot baths may offer a foot massage as part of their pedicure treatment offering. Lasting around 5 minutes, a few cursory glides up and down the sole and top of the foot. They are not bone fide Reflexology treatments and should not be labelled so. I’ve had this massage myself. Yes it feels nice, and it’s a easy way for the business to upsell clients to a higher priced treatment for little gain on the clients part. Let’s be honest, if a full medical history was taken and prescriptive treatment created, they’d be charging at least twice the price.
A Reflexology treatment without medical history or lifestyle dialogue, or a prescriptive plan
At the first Reflexology consultation and before any treatment commences, I take clients through a full health and lifestyle questionnaire and talk about what to expect from a treatment. There are good reasons for this. Firstly, it is important to know if a client has any existing health problems, is taking medication or is currently having tests for undiagnosed complaints. Why? Reflexology is a safe therapy but depending on the state or seriousness of a health complaint and where it exists in the body, I may decide to alter my treatment, or move from working on the feet to the hands, or advise not to treat a client at all, until it is clear and safe to do so. I am respectful of the clients health but also of the advice and medication given to them by their specialist doctor or GP. Reflexology sits alongside and beautifully complements orthodox medicine and can enhance the quality of life, it does not replace the advice and instruction provided by a qualified doctor.
In addition, when I know a client’s health situation, I can begin a treatment that is best suited to their needs. Here’s a simple example, if I know that they are in a job where they are on their feet all day and they have persistent lower back pain, I can tailor the treatment so we focus on healing moves to relieve the pain and possible inflammation in the lumbar spine reflex area of the foot.
Where you leave the couch without home advice and tips on enhancing your treatment.
No professional Reflexology treatment should be without a closing discussion, before the client leaves the room. I want to ensure clients go away with more information and techniques that will further enhance the treatment they’ve just received. Simple self-help techniques they can do for themselves on their hands or their face, in between treatments will continue to help the body to balance and heal itself in the already identified problem areas of the body.
Also, there are other simple but important pieces of advice that every client should be aware of post-treatment. They must drink lots of water to help release toxins from the body, rehydrate their bodies to avoid any unnecessary headaches or fatigue, refrain from drinking alcohol or any substances that will stimulate the body. Plus, if at all possible, I like to encourage my clients to maximise the treatment by taking it easy for the rest of the day. Why take the time and money to put your body into a lovely relaxed, healing state to then rush around like crazy thing, straight after? It’s kind of counterproductive.
So to recap, here is my advice for finding a professional Reflexologist and getting the best treatment you've paid for and deserve:
1) Be clear in your own mind what your end desire is from a therapy treatment. Is it just a short, swift in-and-out-of-the-chair, type of foot massage, or would you like to get something more specific and long lasting health-wise from a therapy session. Once you know, you'll have a much better idea of where to get your treatment and from whom.
2) So presuming you've decided that you want to have some Reflexology, do your homework, and when you’ve found a Reflex therapist, ask lots of questions to make sure you know what you are getting and that you feel comfortable with what they are telling you. Speak to them face to face or on the phone and you'll get a good idea of their professionalism and if they are the right fit.
3) What certifications does the Reflex therapist hold and are they accredited and recognised with national associations? See links below.
4) Check what a so-called Reflexologist is charging. If it’s too cheap, you are probably not getting a fully qualified therapist that's invested in developing their techniques and confident they are giving a top notch treatment and therefore it’s not really doing you any long term favours. The value comes when you feel at ease during and after a great treatment and you are happy that the therapist has understood and is working fully to your needs.
If you are still confused and need some clarity or help and advice on making the right decision, drop me a line and I'll be happy to help.
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