Has the “Mystery” of Reflexology Been Solved?

 

In my reflexology training, we learned a few things that we know for sure about how reflexology works. It is relaxing; in fact, it’s one of the very best ways to engage the part of the nervous system that is responsible for calming things down (the parasympathetic nervous system—the opposite of “fight or flight,” also known as “rest and repair” mode). 

We know that reflexology stimulates the circulatory system, responsible for bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients to all the parts of the body. We know that reflexology also stimulates the lymphatic system, responsible for carrying away all the wastes that the cells are ready to dispose of.

But we also know that there’s more to it than that. Some people refer to a “life energy,” like Qi in acupuncture or prana in Ayurvedic tradition—a somewhat mysterious force that we believe exists (sort of like to the biochemical and electromagnetic energy in our bodies), but that we haven’t quite been able to explain in concrete terms.

This inability to explain makes some people uncomfortable, skeptical. If you can’t demonstrate empirical evidence if you can’t explain something with science, how can it be valid?

Some of us are OK with not knowing exactly “how” reflexology works—the “evidence” is in the positive outcomes enjoyed by millions of people over thousands of years.

But, for those who are unable to embrace the mystery, there’s good news on the horizon. We may be able to explain HOW reflexology works, with science. 

We have been making great strides in studying connective tissue, specifically, a tissue called fascia. You may have heard of fascia only in the context of someone having pain in their feet—the bottom of the foot is the “plantar” surface, “itis” is the suffix for inflammation, so “plantar fasciitis” is inflammation in the fascia in the bottom of the foot.

If you eat meat, specifically if you’ve ever cut up pieces of chicken, you might be able to envision the thin, whitish, almost sticky membrane around some of the meat. This is fascia! It is all around and in between layers of our muscles, organs, etc.

When medical scientists first started dissecting human cadavers, they used to cut this tissue and move it out of the way to get to the “important” stuff beneath it. We figured out it was a matrix that helps give muscles their shape and generally holds us together, but we had no idea how critical this connective tissue really is. 

Once we finally started studying the fascia itself, we realized that it is an important network of dynamic tissue in its own right. We learned that it can have it’s own adhesions, for example—and so sometimes when people think they have “knots” or aches in their muscles, the root cause of the issue could actually be the fascia. We learned that fascia has “planes” that can affect mobility and balance and posture and more.

Then experts wondered, could fascia also help signals travel faster from one part of the body to the others? Think of the reflex arc that orchestrates multiple movements instantaneously. If you step on a tack, for example, or touch a hot stove—you step back, you lift one hand and lower the other for balance, without even thinking about it.

Scientists were pretty sure that fascia facilitates that. But we weren’t really sure how, until recently. And now, what we’re learning about fascia that explains how it expedites the reflex arc described above, might also explain how reflex points in our hands and feet communicate to all the other parts of the body. 

With modern technology, we’ve been able to study living tissue and not just cadavers. We’re learning things we missed before because we couldn’t see it in dead tissue!

Remember that diagram of a cell that we all learned about when we were kids—the one that sort of looks like a fried egg: kinda flat with a slightly irregular membrane and a yolk-like nucleus in the middle? When I was in massage school, we learned that each cell has to “decide” what substances will stay in the cell and what will pass through the membrane, and we didn’t even clearly understand how things travelled through (except in the case of electrolytes, where positively- and negatively-charged molecules dance back and forth across the membrane to offset each other—hey, that’s energy!). 

One of the presenters at the conference of the Reflexology Association of America I just attended in Chicago showed a graphic of a different model of a cell—a 3-D version that is much more lifelike. 

It’s been discovered that each and every cell in our bodies has a cytoskeleton, a structure of microtubules and various filaments that spread out through the cytoplasm. We know now that everything in our body is interconnected—from each cell’s nucleus through the membrane to the connective tissue between cells. It’s very easy for cells to communicate! They can pass information—and energy—to each other through these fluid-filled microtubules and filaments. It’s a highly ordered structure, literally from head to toe. And from the innermost parts of us to the outermost—the skin.

So, by touching a reflex point on the foot or hand, we can connect with any cell in any part of our body. Information—as evidenced by our self-preserving reflex arc—can be spread very efficiently. 

And because the energy in our body vibrates (as all energy in the universe vibrates), as we use alternating pressure in our reflexology technique—using the right pressure at the right pace will produce the right frequency to encourage repair and optimal functioning in our cells/tissues.

Mystery solved?

Category : Blog &Reflexology Posted on May 2, 2018

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