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"There are two kinds of people in the world: those who toe the mark -- and those who mark their toes."
Comedian Bill Frenzer
Everyone seems at a loss as to what to call this change in healthcare America has witnessed since the last part of the 20th Century. People are taking more and more personal responsibility for their own health. Herbal supplements, nutrition, therapies that the conventional medical system had never heard of have become part of what the public wants for getting and staying healthy. What people wonder is what do we call it? Is it "alternative" therapy? Or should we call it "complementary medicine"? Or is it "natural" medicine? Or what?
Certainly one can wonder how meditation, herbs and other ancient practices can be "alternative" when more people on this planet practice those things than have ever seen a conventional, American-type doctor? And people try to label what American doctors do (mostly prescribe drugs, run high-tech tests and perform radical surgeries) as "traditional" medicine. Traditional? How can drugs and radical surgical procedures be termed "traditional" when most of the drugs have only been developed in the last few years? And most the surgical procedures have only existed for the same short time. High-tech tests come and go like new software from Microsoft. American medicine has less to do with tradition than it has to do with computer science.
But whatever it is that the American public is wanting in the way of healing arts, whether we call it the true "traditional medicine" (in the sense that it maintains a tradition passed down through the ages) or whether we call it "alternative" therapies, thereby distinguishing it from American conventional medicine, in any case, it does seem to have a particular shared characteristic.
Everything from aromatherapy and acupuncture to yoga and Zero Balancing™ - all of these therapies people are finding and re-discovering do have a singular connecting thread. They all see the body as a whole, interactive mechanism and health as an integrated event. These therapies, typically called "alternative", all have the common characteristic of being able to be considered as "holistic". The body is interactive unto itself. Even modern medicine in America is starting to get over the specialization obsession that grew out of medical schools in the 1960s. American physicians are trying to see things as a whole. But for sure, the therapies that the public is leaning toward are those that have at their heart the concept of holistic awareness.
Whole in one
Reflexology is a specific form of bodywork that is based on the very fact that the body and wellness is a holistic event. It also takes into consideration the existence of the natural healing energy that flows through the body. Let us consider that energy for a moment.
Traditional Chinese medicine and other healing arts such as ayurveda account for an invisible flow of energy that travels through the body along specific paths. Acupuncture and other therapies call it chi. It doesn't matter what it is called and by what culture - it exists. Many people balk when they hear that an invisible, immeasurable energy is at the core of a form of therapy. A skeptic might say that if something is real, it should be able to be measured or detected in some way. But that isn't always the case.
A few weeks ago I was watching drug-sniffing dogs walking past baggage at LAX. I was struck by the paradox of law enforcement using such a primitive "device". Here we are, in the land of high-tech connectivity and sensing equipment, able to read a license plate from a satellite in orbit. We're able to email from moving jets at 40,000 feet, transmit info with a handshake from a business partner or ring up our stockbroker from the back of a ski boat but to get a conviction on a drug smuggler, our first line of detection is the nose of a dog.
The point is, there is something that is undetectable to our technology and invisible to our eyes but that a dog can pick up with his nose. Believe me, if we could build a machine that could sniff out drugs as well as a dog can, we would! The fact is, something (volatile molecules matching receptors in the dog's nose) is emitted from drugs or contraband or a person's clothing that is invisible and undetectable but must really exist! The lesson? Just because you can't see it, can't measure it and don't understand it, don't presume it isn't real. Just because our technology isn't up to the task, don't presume that a natural detection process would be stumped.
The natural healing energy of the body flows through consistent and identifiable pathways in the body. The connection is like tributaries and rivulets that connect to the main stream of energy in nature. Along these energy paths are the various organs and glands of the body, specialized groups of cells that respond to energy in designated ways. It is this connection that reflexology respects and uses to encourage healing.
Most proponents of traditional healing arts revel in claiming long-standing historical connections proving the antiquity of their specific field. Reflexology likes to point to the ancient Egyptian tombs at Saqqara which supposedly bear a pictoglyph showing a physician pressing on the foot of his patient and hieroglyphs describing it as a healing event. Other occasions throughout history have elevated the care of the feet to a healing art. But it wasn't until a Western physician named William Fitzgerald, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Boston City Hospital, published a work describing his unusual method of pain relief that the modern idea of reflexology began to take form.
Fitzgerald found that placing pressure on certain locations on the body, "zones" he called them, could relieve pain in other parts, distant from the zone. He called his work "Zone Analgesia" and in 1917 he published a book on the subject titled "Pain Relief at Home."
In the forward Fitzgerald writes, "Humanity is awakening to the fact that sickness, in a large percentage of cases, is an error - of body and mind." This, at the turn of the last century, came at a time when new thinkers like Mary Baker Eddy, Francis Scovill Shinn, Phineas Quimby and the Fillmores were making people aware of the mind/body connection.
Fitzgerald went on to chart the connections of the "pressure points" on the body. Later, a contemporary named Shelby Riley, another medical doctor, charted zones on the feet and hands that corresponded to various locations on the body. The effect of pain relief afforded by constant pressure on the zone points was immediate. But Riley found that often the cause of the pain was reversed too. The underlying illness was healed.
Later work was done by a student of Riley's named Eunice Ingham. Ingham was a physical therapist and formally developed charts labeling specific points on the feet and hands that affect the various organs and glands of the body. The term "reflexology" was first used to describe Ingham's work. It is the charts published by Ingham that are the de facto maps for working with reflexology today.
Many massage therapists and other bodyworkers are trained in the use of reflexology. Some merely pick up the notion by reading or studying charts. Some have no formal training at all but may have developed the skill by practice or intuition. Ingham herself died in 1974 at age 85 but her nephew Dwight Byers carries on her work through the International Institute of Reflexology. The institute trains and certifies practitioners in reflexology.
Michael is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.
Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.