Reflexology and Mindfulness
As a touch therapy, reflexology and mindfulness go well together as would mindfulness and other massage therapies such as Indian head massage. Such combinations will enhance the experience of the touch therapy. To do so mindfully means simply allowing yourself to be aware of the sensations experienced without evaluating them - just accepting them as they are.
1. What is Reflexology
Reflexology is a complementary therapy. It is based on zone theory that various areas of the foot relate to certain parts of the body.
It is regarded as an alternative therapy. Often called "zone therapy" it is best known as involving the massaging of parts of the feet in order to have a beneficial effect elsewhere in the body. By working on the relevant part of the foot, benefit can be obtained in the related body area.
Reflexology can also involve pressure massage on other areas such as the hands or, less often, the ears. Since it is regarded as a complementary therapy rather than a mainstream medical one, there is debate as to whether it actually works.
Zone theory can also apply to areas of the ear, face and hands.
A reflexology session may be very similar to foot massage in that areas of the feet are manually manipulated. The aim of the massage, however, is to reduce tension and improve circulation in the foot itself whereas the aim of reflexology is to improve wellbeing in the related zone of the body.
2. Reflexology and mindfulness pair up easily
The relationship between reflexology and mindfulness can be immensely rewarding for anyone who enjoys having their feet touched.
In my experience, people fall into two groups - those who love having their feet touched and those who absolutely hate it. There seem to be few people on the middle ground. This page is for those in the first category. If that's not you, no problem. We are each different and must learn to play to our strengths rather than getting hung up on what we can't do.
It is always far easier to allow your mind to be in the moment when you are experiencing something pleasurable. We talk of "abandoning ourselves" to sensations. When we do this we are simply allowing ourselves to be aware of the pleasure. We are not mentally evaluating it or trying to find words for it. We are simply just being, in that moment.
So again, by way of practising being mindful and in the moment with positive experiences, if you are someone inclined to participate in reflexology you can combine the pleasurable sensations (being mindful of touch) along with being mindful of the aromas of any oils being used in the process.
Again I am not suggesting that this alone would be a single effective cure for anxiety but any mindful practice you do and any positive experiences you recognise you are having all contribute to lowering the arousal level and, in the longer term, to reducing a tendency to become anxious.
Regardless of the effectiveness of massaging a particular area of the foot in order to benefit a different part of the anatomy, the experience of reflexology is far better when experienced mindfully. in full awareness of this very moment, but at the same time not commenting on it in our thoughts or out loud. Being mindful is awareness and total acceptance of whatever is.
This isn’t easy for any of us to do to begin with.
3. How our culture makes it hard to just be
In the Western world we are constantly urged these days to evaluate everything.
Evaluation of this kind is a mental activity that requires logical thinking and analysis. Both of these are alien to the practice of being mindfully in the moment.
These days I can't even take my car to be serviced without being asked to complete a, "How was it for you?" questionnaire. It is not surprising then that we also talk to ourselves in our heads constantly.
To allow yourself to simply be aware of any physical sensation without letting the mind put the experience into words is not easy for anyone.
Therefore it is something which we usually need to deliberately practice. The easiest way to start is when we are experiencing pleasurable sensations.
Being mindfully in the moment is to simply be aware of the here and now and of just being. When we are having a positive experience this is easier to do.
It is quite simple, for instance, to let your body slide into a hot bath and just wallow in the pure sensation.
4. Everyday ways to develop a mindfulness habit
There are many instances in everyday life which there are touch experiences similar to participating in massage therapies.
Have you ever wandered barefoot across a sandy beach and allowed yourself to simply be aware of the sensations of the sand against the soles of your feet?
Some types of sand are drier and powdery and feel as if the ground is collapsing beneath your feet as you tread. Other sandy stretches may be firmer, contain more moisture and be composed of a series of ridges caused by the movements of the tide. These give a very different experience from the former.
When developing a mindfulness habit experiences such as these are pure gold.
5. It's much harder to do when less pleasant sensations are involved
Have you ever tried to be mindful and accepting when you have a pain in your leg? Can you simply acknowledge it's there without tensing against it, resisting it, and wishing it would go away?
The mindful approach to pain management would expect you to do just that. And it is possible with practice and once we overcome our belief that 'we should get rid of it'. Actually focusing on pain we can do nothing to alleviate only brings it more into focus and makes it feel worse.
Although it may feel totally wrong initially because we are taught to worry about pain etc, once you get the hang of doing this you will find that it actually works.
By practising not putting words on what we can feel when the experience is pleasurable, we start to develop the ability to do this when the experience would have been regarded as painful or uncomfortable. Logically, when we have sensations that are unpleasant we stop them if we can. When we can't for some reason, there is no point in focusing on them. To do so would simply draw our attention to them and create negative arousal, which in turn creates anxiety feelings.
When we find ourselves with any negative sensations that we are unable to get rid of, we can simply allow it to be and even refocus elsewhere. Doing so won't make the unpleasant sensation worse. It is more likely that it will seem less troublesome because the focus is no longer on it.
This principle is the basis for the use of mindfulness in pain management.
Everyday Feelgood Factors