What Can I Expect in a First Reflexology Visit?
As stated earlier, reflexology is used safely and effectively with patients for a variety of health concerns including anxiety, asthma, cancer treatment, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, headaches, kidney function, PMS, sinusitis and overall stress relief. It also works well as a complement to other modalities and treatments.
The following section walks you through a typical appointment and answers some common concerns.
What happens in the intake?
A reflexology session begins with the practitioner conducting a brief health history, checking for reasons why reflexology might not be the best choice of therapy for you.
The practitioner explains how reflexology works and what happens during a session. The reflexologist also informs you that reflexology does not treat specific illness and is not a substitute for medical treatment. You may be asked to sign a consent form.
Remember that it is okay, and even expected, for you to ask questions. You should feel comfortable communicating with the reflexologist. If the practitioner is not forthcoming with information, or is dismissive of questions or concerns, this could be a "red flag," and you have every right to terminate the appointment.
How does a typical session start?
The practitioner may choose to work only on the feet, or the hands, or the ears - depending on your specific health issues. Some problems respond better to work on the feet, others to work on the hands; yet others respond better to the reinforcement of work on all three - hands, ear and feet. In some situations, for example a patient in the hospital may have IV's and multiple tubes and wires, so a reflexology sesssion may be limited to the feet by necessity.
If the reflexologist chooses to work on your feet, you will lie or sit down, remaining fully clothed except for your shoes and socks. The practitioner may wash your feet and soak them in warm water, then position them at his or her chest level.
The practitioner will begin by assessing your feet for open wounds, rashes,
sores, plantar warts or bunions and will ask you about any foot or leg pain that
could hinder treatment.
Generally a session lasts between 30-60 minutes. You can rest or talk during the session at your discretion. If you fall asleep during the session, you will still receive the benefits of the treatment. Feedback during the session is encouraged, and of course, you can request that the session stop at any time.
What is the focus of the session?
Regardless of your health condition(s) (for example, migraine, nausea, sciatica, etc.), the reflexologist focuses on the entire pattern of the reflexology therapy, starting at the toes and working down the foot.
Having a specific condition in mind allows the reflexologist to carefully feel and work the area corresponding to the presenting problem. However reflexologist will work all areas of the foot with gentle pressure, because, according to reflexology theories, this allows the nerve pathways and congestion to release and promotes the relaxation response for the entire body.
For example, if you are suffering from migraines, the migraine points on the toes will be carefully, mindfully worked, assessing congestion or tension in the foot. But the reflexologist will still work the entire pattern on your foot in order to address the whole body.
Throughout, the reflexologist will stay present, grounded, and in a calm and centered state of awareness.
What is a reflexology treatment?
A complete reflexology therapy session uses many different techniques and includes all of the points on both feet (and perhaps the hands and ears). The session generally starts at the fingers or toes, and works down to the heel of the hand or foot, then works the areas on the sides and top.
By working all of the points, the reflexologist addresses internal organs and glands as well as muscle groups, bones, nerve ganglions (solar plexus, brachial plexus) and nerves (sciatic) during a session.
If reflexologists find congestion or tightness during the session, they will apply pressure to work on bringing the body back into balance. If the practitioner finds an area of pain, the area is worked until harmony is brought to the area or point. To "release pain" is not the model: the goal is rather to bring the whole body into balance, and then the pain will subside. The reflexologist stimulates the nervous system to do the work, it is not the therapist who "fixes" it.
The reflexologist can return to that area or spot at the end of the session, confirming the pain has released.
What will I experience during the session?
Experiences with reflexology sessions vary from a general sense of relaxation and rest to a conscious awareness internally of the area of the body where the practitioner is working through the foot, hand or ear.
Many people experience a "lightness" or tingling in the body, as well as feelings of warmth, a sense of "opening," or "energy moving" from the practitioner's pressure to the specific body area or organ. There is often a physical perception of energy flowing through every organ, valve, gland, or muscle, as well as a sense of communication between each body system.
Other reactions during the session range from physical to emotional and may include:
- Perspiration of hands or feet
- Sensation of being cold or chilled
- Feeling light-headed
- Sighing deeply
- Overwhelming desire to sleep
- Disappearance of all pain and discomfort
- Loose, relaxed muscles
- Feeling like all organs are hanging freely, not stressed and connected
- Rarely, contraction of muscle groups (pain)
It Bears Repeating: Reflexologists Do Not Diagnose
Reflexologists do not diagnose or tell you about any congestion or tension they observe on the foot, hand, or ear during a session that may suggest abnormalities.
One of the theories of reflexology is that the body will nurture and repair itself once released from stress. If the body is extremely stressed, the reflexologist may refer you to a medical team or another treatment, if appropriate, but at no time will he or she give medical advice or diagnosis.
What happens at the end of the session?
Most reflexologists have some type of calm, peaceful way of closing the session that involves stroking the hand or foot and holding the limb in some manner. The important aspect is for you to feel comforted and nurtured, and to feel that you have had time for yourself during the session.
Now that the session is complete, you should not feel rushed. Gently bring yourself back into the present moment, and orient yourself. As you feel comfortable, gather yourself and your belongings to leave.
The practitioner may recommend that you drink water, rest if necessary, and pay attention to your body in the next few hours. If any questions or concerns arise, you should be able to call the practitioner.
Various reactions may occur following a reflexology session. These, too, are subtle, and are often not recognized by many people as a result of the reflexology therapy. Many of the reactions are positive signs that the session is part of a healing process; other symptoms are indicative of the body's attempts to return to a state of balance and harmony. Symptoms usually last for 24-48 hours. Reactions may include:
- Increased energy
- Enhanced sleep
- Relief from pain
- More mobile joints
- Tiredness (some clients find that they need more sleep in order for the body to rest and repair)
- Skin rashes, pimples, or spots (due to elimination of toxins)
- Kidney stones passed with ease
- Frequent bowel movements, diarrhea (cleansing, elimination of toxins)
- Increased mucus (nasal discharge, vaginal discharge)
- Flu-like symptoms
- Emotional or psychological release (crying)
How many sessions are needed?
The number of sessions varies and is determined by the client's health and reasons for seeking reflexology. But in general, results from reflexology are often subtle and are cumulative. Thus, you are more likely to see greater benefits from regular sessions (for example, once a week for six weeks) than if you had a session once every six months.
If you are dealing with a specific illness or condition, you may need to have more frequent sessions. A general recommendation might be to begin with a session every week for 6-8 weeks, followed by a "tune -up" every four weeks.
Crane, B. (1997). Reflexology: The Definitive Practitioner's Manual. London, Great Britain: Butler & Tanner Ltd.
Dougans, I., & Ellis, S. (1992). The Art of Reflexology: A New Approach Using the Chinese Meridian Theory. Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element.
American Reflexology Certification Board. (1999). Study Guide Outline. Gulfport, FL: American Reflexology Certification Board.