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Some years back, in 1993, we returned to the US from London. I had just finished my advanced course of Zen Shiatsu at the Shiatsu College of London. Then, for a whole year, I flew back and forth from Boston, MA to England to complete my Post Graduate degree at the College.
I worked with people who were referred to me for Shiatsu, Vegan/Macrobiotic cooking classes or Dietary Consultations. In those days, the internet and websites hadn’t become popular yet, so, I used the yellow pages to advertise. On a rainy Sunday, I got a phone call from a lady who had been suffering for years with migraine headaches. She was so desperate and in such discomfort, she opened the phone book hoping to find someone working on Sunday that could relieve her from her excruciating pain and discomfort. I saw her that day, and it was quite a visit. She had a great sense of humor. We enjoyed each other’s company after that initial treatment, and she became a long-term client, plus she referred to me her cousin and many friends.
I don’t usually like working on Sunday, but T.H. knew how to charm me with her Southern accent, and I could feel how desperate she was. She arrived and I gave her a Shiatsu treatment. During the treatment, she started feeling better, and her pain started to dissipate. She was curious about the whole procedure. She had never had or heard about Shiatsu. But, she knew about Acupuncture and the way it worked.
Usually, when I start a Zen Shiatsu treatment, I take an assessment on the receiver’s abdomen where all the organs of the body are located. Though I don’t deal with the organs themselves but rather with the energy lines or meridians, the assessment takes me in the direction of where I need to treat. I palpate gently around the abdomen. I look for the tightest and most depleted areas there. Then, I pick two or three areas that I feel drawn to. I test two meridians at once together, looking for a reaction. I usually test a depleted or yin area, and a yang or tight/stuck area. Often the most depleted one does not react, but the third, less weak location reacts with the yang. By addressing that specific meridian, it works wonders by boosting the weaker one. It makes perfect sense, because it is so depleted, that it doesn’t even have enough chi to react.
I usually work quietly, focusing on the plan I create to treat the client. But, if I feel the person needs to talk, I listen and let them say what they have to say, as long as it is related to their own health symptoms. Sometimes, it is part of the treatment when the receiver needs to discharge what is on their mind, or share something that is bothering them.
As I was working with T.H., I kept seeing this image of chocolate. It was very strange. My assessment was Gall Bladder and Kidney Meridians. She asked me after I was done treating her if I had any advice or recommendation for her. I explained the assessment I had, noting that Liver and Gall Bladder work as a couple. Liver deals with stress, and detoxifies the blood at night, among many other jobs. Excess fat such as sugar, nuts, nut butter, chocolate, excess dairy and alcohol can affect the Liver and Gall Bladder, and create stagnation in the meridians.
Before I finished my sentence, she interrupted me and explained to me that every Sunday, after a long stressful week at Harvard, she would treat herself with a jumbo-sized bag of M&Ms. She had never ever made the connection between the binge or her Sunday treat and her headaches. We talked about sugar and its effect on mood, health, and our organs, especially the Liver and Kidneys, and our bones. I explained how in Macrobiotics, I learned that sugar is a yin ingredient, as well as chocolate. They affect the upper part of our body, mostly the head. My advice was to notice if she eats chocolate again, especially poor quality kinds, to notice if her migraine headaches came back. If she craved chocolate, she should buy better quality one. I eat chocolate once in a while, but I will only eat the organic ones with very few ingredients. It made sense to her and she was relieved to have found part of the cause of her chronic migraine headaches. She was tired of taking pills to get rid of her pain.
She left with a big smile on her face, and pain free. She booked another appointment and I have to say it was such a joy to work with her. We used to laugh a lot, and she came on a regular basis for shiatsu to help her deal with her stress at work, and to learn more about personal self-care. T.H. became more and more aware of her diet; she also started exercising, walking, and binging less on M&Ms.
I suffered from degenerative cervical discs, musculoskeletal injuries, and migraine headaches for years. I had tried everything. The Shiatsu treatments relieved 75% of my pain and enabled me to regain a quality of life I have not had in decades.
T.H. Secretary, Harvard Business School,
Being 55 now, I am very interested in what women my age go through when reaching their pre-menopausal, menopausal, or post-menopausal stage. Around this age, or even earlier for some, a lot of women go through major body changes as well as life changes. It starts affecting their work, relationships and their life in general. Each case differs tremendously from the other, but the treatments basically focus on balancing all systems, especially the endocrine system as it relates mainly to hormones. I find it fascinating. Reflexology helps nature achieve homeostasis. Overactive or underactive glands or organs can be supported with treatments to return to normal or more natural functioning.
Growing up with the many women in my family and all my friends, hot flashes and mood swings were confusing for me. It was hard to understand why these women were so volatile, temperature and mood wise. They would open and close windows, put sweaters on and take them off. The weirdest thing was when they would ask each other, “Is it just me or it is suddenly very hot in this room?” I was still young. I hadn’t started experiencing body temperature changes, or spending long nights awake, and hadn’t gone through the issues grownups were having.
When I started practicing Shiatsu and Reflexology, women would come with different symptoms. Some complained of headaches, others of back pain, hot flashes, insomnia, dryness, or mood swings. These were issues or concerns women of a certain age (usually past 45) had when coming for treatments, and asking for help or solutions. Of course, there were many more symptoms women had, depending on their age, diet, jobs or lifestyle.
In my previous blog about Reflexology, I wrote how Reflexology helps relieve stress and tension. This therapeutic science is known to be very beneficial for all systems such as digestive, urinary, lymphatic, respiratory, reproductive, the circulatory system and others. Importantly, Reflexology improves the nervous system and blood supply. It works wonders in balancing our endocrine system. The endocrine system plays a major role in regulating homeostasis or the state of equilibrium and balance to our bodies. The endocrine system consists of glands and tissues that release hormones. Women tend to be more aware of these hormones during important periods in life when major changes are occurring, such as puberty and their adult age.
There are 8 endocrine glands: the pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pancreas, and reproductive (the ovaries). During a Reflexology treatment, we don’t only address the endocrine system to bring balance on the hormonal level, but we give a general treatment to kind of tune up all the systems in the whole body, and allow it to work harmoniously. Our bodies are like electrical circuits. All our bodily systems work synergistically.
When one area in our body gets affected by building calcification, or blockages, or gets depleted, it starts affecting one area after the other. Addressing or working only the location of the glands or the origin of discomfort in the feet would be quite a painful treatment, and the receiver would not be able to tolerate the pain, relax or enjoy the session. Therefore, the work should be balanced, treating all the systems to bring an overall feeling of balance and harmony. That is the principle of Reflexology. We don’t treat or diagnose, we never tell the client that their heart is weak, or the kidneys are not functioning. We are not doctors. We act like a tool that helps stimulate reflexes in the feet connected to our entire body’s Zone vertical lines that travel from the toes to the top of the head. By pressing on the different reflexes in the feet, we help the body’s energy or Chi, lymphatic and circulatory system, as well as the other systems flow harmoniously and do their tasks the way they were designed to function, through these lines.
It is so rewarding to work with women who are open to trying new therapies, dietary and lifestyle changes to bring change and improvement to their health and well-being. When clients or family members thank me for helping them, I make it clear that I was just a tool guiding them, that they did all the work by following instructions towards improving their health and lives. One hand does not clap on its own. Here is an example of a client who came for reflexology treatments, but went home and diligently adjusted her diet, lifestyle and exercise program in order to gain her health back.
“I am starting to go through menopause. I had been having hot flashes about 5 times per day. I sought out Margo and after two reflexology treatments, the hot flashes stopped all together. I also find that when I am feeling heavy from hormonal imbalance, reflexology helps to lift my mood and make me feel lighter. I am also back to running thanks to Margo. My right knee and back have been stiff and sore for about two years and since beginning my reflexology sessions with her, I am almost pain free in those areas. I feel that my body has “opened up” and is now able to heal old injuries. Thank you so much, Margo.”
Patty Baker, RN, BSN
I am also an avid believer in natural lifestyles, diet and exercise. In my practice, I like to share with clients the importance of listening to our bodies and learning to have a more natural approach to healing and well-being. For instance, I explain the importance of eating at regular hours, sitting and eating while chewing our foods and focusing on the nutritious aspect of it. I explain about the body’s internal organs that need to be respected and not have a chaotic way of eating, living and sleeping. When we live harmoniously, our bodies work the same way.
Reflexology, the Alternative Approach for Years of Better Health
In the mid-nineties, while living in Boston, my back hurt so badly that I had to lie down without moving for weeks. I just couldn’t move because of the pain. I was advised to try Reflexology after other alternatives had failed. The first two Reflexology practitioners could not help. But the third person drove 45 minutes to our house in Cambridge, treated me for 50 minutes, and the next day I was back on my feet working. Two more treatments and my back was feeling much better. I was able to go back to yoga, gardening, working, to my normal life. I was amazed, and decided to sign up for a Reflexology course.
I learned about Reflexology – the art and science of working on people’s feet – in the 1990s. In Japan and Hawaii, therapists work on the abdomen for an entire session. In China and France, alternative doctors work on the ear the whole session. It is likely that Reflexology began in ancient Egypt, where a wall painting from 2330 B.C. shows a physician working on the Pharaoh’s foot. And in ancient India, work on the feet was quite popular. In 1938, Eunice Ingham published her first book “Stories the Feet Can Tell Through Reflexology,” and that was the beginning of this new therapy in the US and in Europe, later in Australia.
What is Zone Therapy? We all know that we have ten toes and of course ten fingers, five on the right and five on the left side of the body. Number the big toes “zone line one.” These zones relate to various parts of the body. For discomfort in the shoulder, for instance, we work the area below the small toe, and the pelvic area, which is the lower parallel side of the shoulders and that part is located below the ankle.
Here’s a concrete example. Recently, I was working on a client’s right foot in the area of the foot that mirrors the large intestine ascendant colon. She was quiet, lying down and breathing deeply. Suddenly, she pointed to her right abdomen, and told me that she was feeling some movement upward in her intestines. I acknowledged that indeed I was working on that area on her foot. I was surprised, because I don’t always get clients who are that sensitive and precise. When I start working on the lung area below the toes, people begin to take deep sighs, and they comment that they start feeling their lungs opening. Often, clients say their head feels clear after a Reflexology session. I find that kind of result fascinating.
What is Foot Reflexology? Dwight Byers – founder of the International Institute of Reflexology where I studied – comments: “Reflexology is a science which deals with the principle that there are reflexes in the feet relative to each and every organ and all parts of the body. Stimulating these reflexes properly can help many health problems in a natural way, a type of preventative maintenance.”
When I started studying and practicing Reflexology in 1998, relieving stress and tension were the first tasks we learned. Apparently, most health issues are caused by stress. I always start my sessions with relaxation movements or techniques on the feet, allowing the body to relax and let go of all the tension that the client brings with them. That allows the person we are working on to begin relaxing and breathing properly. My next step is to start working on the diaphragm, where all the tension and the stress get stuck. When we are under stress and pressure, we tend to forget to breathe. Our breath moves the diaphragm up and down, in and out. When we hold our breath, that specific area in our body gets stuck and tight, thereby slowing the circulation between our upper and lower body. Working on the diaphragm area allows the body to relax, to allow the flow of energy, and the blood and lymphatic circulation to go back to its natural rhythm. When we ease tension and stress, the pressure on the nerves and vessels diminishes. Underactive or overactive glands and organs will return to normal functioning, helping nature to normalize the body’s function.
In Reflexology, we don’t diagnose, prescribe, or treat a specific condition. We just work the map of the feet. The whole body is mapped out on the foot. The toes represent the head, sinuses, brain, etc. Below the toes, we have the chest, breasts, and lungs. Heart location is on the left foot only as it is in the body. So on and so forth. Some people have discharges, or have some slight reactions after the sessions. These are the result of the body trying to detoxify and getting back into balance.
I like to encourage my clients to take total responsibility for their own health by exercising, acting in moderation, doing stress management as much as possible, and not to depend on therapists and doctors to keep their health in harmony.
We abuse our feet so much during our busy lives day in and day out. In Asia, feet are very important. Notice the Feet of the Buddha everywhere on drawings, engraved on stones or other materials. In Tibet, it is the same. When I was in Egypt, vendors at every tourist site would be selling a foot of black granite covered with the ancient hieroglyph drawings (their ancient language that used pictures rather than our modern alphabet). In the New Testament, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in the temple, which must have been a ritual in those days. In Japan, people never go to bed – at least in the old days, my teacher Kiiko Matsumoto (Japanese-born world famous acupuncturist) used to tell me – without scrubbing their feet. You never, she said, take the tension of the whole day with you to bed. Wipe your feet with a hot wet towel, massage them or roll them on a ball or foot roller and you will see how deeply you will sleep.
Take good care of your feet, and your feet will serve you for a long time. That is my mantra. Wipe them before going to bed. It takes only 3 seconds. Roll them on a small golf ball, or foot roller. Lately, I read an article about a pebble walk created especially to use at home – we can have the beach at home, an amazing idea. We can benefit our health so much by massaging our feet ourselves with a natural, good quality cream. Avoid products and creams with mineral oil or petroleum. My favorite product to use is Arbonne International’s Swiss-formulated “Intelligence Foot Cream” or their Holiday Pampermint scrub and foot cream. It is soothing and relaxing, and easily absorbed by the feet. Eat well, drink water, exercise, take walks daily, treat your feet with good natural products and Reflexology, and notice the return and feedback from your feet and body to your body, mind and spirit. Good luck and good health with happy feet.