Can Reflexology Help with Fatigue?
You may have heard about how great reflexology feels and how good it is for your health, but do you actually know what it is? And do you know what it does to your body? More importantly, if you're burned out or exhausted all the time will reflexology treatments help alleviate your fatigue? If yes, how?
Before answering that question, let's have a quick look at what reflexology is, where it comes from and how it works.
What is reflexology?
Reflexology is a gentle, non-invasive therapy in which specific points on the hands, feet and ears are stimulated to encourage circulation. These points are called "reflexes" and they mirror, or reflect, the organs and structures of your body.
It's actually quite an amazing therapy when you think about it. There is one specific area that reflects your head, there is a different one for your shoulders, and a different one for your knees. There are even points that reflect your thyroid gland, your uterus, your adrenal glands....you name it....if it's on your body then it's on your hands, your feet and your ears!
What is so beautiful about this therapy is that you can learn to do it on your own hands so that whenever you have a headache you can help to ease your own pain and tension, no matter where you are. At the bottom of this page you'll be able to subscribe to my blog. If you do that as a special thank-you to you I give you access to a subscriber's only page where I'm regularly adding new guides, cheatsheets etcetera for my readers. I've put some downloadable reflexology hand maps on that page for you so you'll be able to work the reflexes on your own hands :-)
Where did reflexology originate?
Massaging the hands and feet to encourage health and prevent disease has been practised by different cultures for thousands of years and has been passed down through both oral traditions and written texts. Here is a brief outline of the history of reflexology and if you want to know more then please have a look at my book The Complete Guide To Reflexology. You can find out more about it here >
Ancient Egyptian Medicine - Medical reliefs showing people receiving hand and foot massages have been found in Egypt in the tomb of Ankhmahor at Saqqara, 2330BC. Historians often refer to it as the “physician’s tomb” because it houses so many medical reliefs and under the reliefs of people receiving hand and foot massages are the words “give strength” and “do not cause pain”.
Traditional Chinese Medicine - Hand and foot massage is also mentioned in the Huang-di Nei-jing, the Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor. This ancient medical text, now often referred to as the Nei-jing, is thought to have been compiled in China between 300 and 100 BC.
Ayurvedic Medicine - Foot massage has also played a significant role in Ayurvedic medicine which dates back over 5000 years and is considered to be one of the oldest recorded systems of healing.
Zone Therapy: Dr William Fitzgerald (1872-1942) - An American surgeon, Dr William Fitzgerald founded zone therapy as we know it today. He discovered that the body can be divided into ten zones and by applying pressure to one area of a zone, you could eliminate pain in another in that same zone. He worked closely with Dr Edwin Bowers and then doctors Joseph and Elizabeth Riley developed his work further.
The Mother of Modern Reflexology: Eunice Ingham (1889-1974) - Eunice Ingham really developed western reflexology as we know it today. She mapped the body onto the feet and established many of our modern techniques.
How does reflexology work?
Have you noticed how when you have a headache you often end up rubbing your head to relieve the pain, or sometimes you just hold your head in your hands and press and squeeze it?
Applying a bit of pressure to an injured area to calm and soothe it is such a natural response that I’m not surprised hand and foot massage has been around for so long!
Reflexology helps improve the circulation of both blood and lymph
Physiologically speaking when we rub or squeeze an area, we’re usually warming it and increasing the circulation of blood and lymph to that area. This supports our body’s natural healing mechanisms.
It’s estimated we have over 37 trillion cells in our body. Each and every one of those cells needs oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to it and waste to be removed from it. Blood and lymph are responsible for these processes: blood carries nutrients and oxygen to our cells and lymph transports waste away from our cells. Both our circulatory and lymphatic systems also play vital roles in our immunity.
Reflexology includes many rubbing, warming techniques that focus specifically on stimulating the circulation of both blood and lymph in our body.
Reflexology is deeply relaxing and reduces the body’s stress response
Our nervous system is such a complex system that it’s often divided into a number of different parts. One of these subdivisions is the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which controls all the processes in our body that are automatic or involuntary. It is on the autonomic nervous system that reflexology has its most powerful effects. In order to understand the importance of these effects, it helps if you know a bit more about this division of the nervous system. So here is a brief overview for you.
An introduction to the autonomic nervous system (ANS)
Our ANS is vital to our ability to adapt to our ever-changing external environment and it is made up of two branches that are constantly opposing, or counterbalancing, one another: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
The Sympathetic Response
The sympathetic nervous system reacts to environmental changes by stimulating activity. For example, increasing the heartbeat. When we’re under stress our body responds with what we call a ‘sympathetic’ response. In this type of response the body prepares itself to either fight an enemy or flee from a situation by stimulating the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream and by increasing certain activities in our body such as our heart rate or the conversion of glycogen into glucose.
These changes prepare our body to react quickly and strongly to a threat. However, some normal daily activities are reduced during this response because they aren’t needed to help us during fight or flight. Examples of these activities are digestion and reproduction (hence we often struggle with digestive or fertility issues when we’re stressed).
The Parasympathetic Response
The parasympathetic nervous system acts in opposition and is sometimes referred to as the ‘rest and digest mode’. For example, it will slow down the heartbeat, but stimulate digestion. What’s really important to note is that the parasympathetic nervous system functions effectively only when our bodies are not responding to stress – in other words, when we’re relaxed.
Reflexology calms and relaxes us and in so doing it stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system and counterbalances our sympathetic response. I’ve been practising and teaching reflexology for over 23 years now and I am still always in awe of how beautifully it can soothe, calm and balance a person!
Reflexology for fatigue, exhaustion and burnout
If you've had fatigue or burnout for quite a while, then I'm sure you're struggling with some of the common symptoms associated with fatigue and burnout. For example: headaches, joint pain, muscle tension, poor immunity, sleeping problems and a busy mind. These are all symptoms that reflexology can help alleviate:
Through improving the circulation of lymph and blood, reflexology can help ease your headaches and pain and boost your immunity.
Through balancing the autonomic nervous system and stimulating the parasympathetic response (in other words by relaxing you!), reflexology can help you relax more, sleep more deeply and quieten your busy mind.
Finally, reflexology doesn’t only work on your body, it also calms and soothes your mind and your soul. It’s a truly holistic therapy.
If you are struggling with fatigue or if you ‘re feeling burned out, I think reflexology is one of the best therapies you can have. It is gentle, non-invasive and should not hurt. Try to find a therapist close to you and go for some regular sessions or read my book and learn how to work the reflexes of your own hands. Don't forget to subscribe below to my blog and you'll get access to that free map of the hand reflexes!