Reflexology and the Digestive System

March 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Articles by Wendy

digestive_trackBefore I get to the reflexes, I want to talk a little bit about the digestive system as a whole.

The best place to start is with the first step in the digestive process.

Believe it or not, it happens before you even taste your food. Just by smelling the aroma of mom’s homemade cherry pie or thinking about how delicious that salad is going to be, you start salivating – and the digestive process begins, preparing for that first scrumptious bite.

The food we consume is the fuel for our bodies, and its nutrients give our cells the energy and substances they need to operate. But before food can do that, it must be digested into small pieces the body can absorb and use.

About the Digestive System

Our digestive system is a wondrous series of organs and glands that processes food. In order to use the food we eat, our bodies have to break the food down into smaller molecules that it can process; it also has to excrete the waste.

For the most part, our digestive organs (i.e., the stomach and intestines) are tube-like and act as containers for the food as it makes its way through the body. The digestive system is essentially a long, twisting tube that runs from the mouth to the anus, plus a few other organs (i.e., the liver and pancreas).

The Digestive Process (Movement of Food through the System):

I’ll be talking more specifically about each organ of the Digestive system individually in future Reflexology Newsletters, but let me briefly go through the organs involved: The digestive process begins in the mouth.

Food is partly broken down by 2 processes – the mechanical process of chewing and by the chemical action of salivary enzymes (these enzymes are produced by the salivary glands and break down starches into smaller molecules).

On the way to the stomach: the esophagus – After being chewed and swallowed, the food enters the esophagus.

The esophagus is a long tube that runs from the mouth to the stomach. It uses rhythmic, wave-like muscle movements (called peristalsis) to force food from the throat into the stomach.

This muscle movement gives us the ability to eat or drink even when we’re upside-down.

In the stomach – The stomach is a large, sack-like organ that churns the food and bathes it in a very strong acid (gastric acid). Food in the stomach that is partly digested and mixed with stomach acids is called chyme.

In the small intestine – After being in the stomach, food enters the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. It then enters the jejunum and then the ileum (the final part of the small intestine).

In the small intestine, bile (produced in the liver and stored in the gall bladder), pancreatic enzymes, and other digestive enzymes produced by the inner wall of the small intestine help in the breakdown of food.

In the large intestine – After passing through the small intestine, food passes into the large intestine. In the large intestine, some of the water and electrolytes (chemicals like sodium) are removed from the food. Many microbes (bacteria like Bacteroides, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Escherichia coli, and Klebsiella) in the large intestine help in the digestion process.

The first part of the large intestine is called the cecum (the appendix is connected to the cecum and the ileocecal valve – connects the ileum to the cecum). Food then travels upward in the ascending colon.

The food travels across the abdomen in the transverse colon, goes back down the other side of the body in the descending colon, and then through the sigmoid colon.

The end of the process – Solid waste is then stored in the rectum until it is excreted via the anus.

How is the digestive process controlled?

1. Hormone Regulators

The major hormones that control the functions of the digestive system are produced and released by cells in the mucosa of the stomach and small intestine.

These hormones are released into the blood of the digestive tract, travel back to the heart and through the arteries, and return to the digestive system where they stimulate digestive juices and cause organ movement.

2. Nerve Regulators

Two types of nerves help control the action of the digestive system.

Extrinsic, or outside, nerves come to the digestive organs from the brain or the spinal cord. They release two chemicals, acetylcholine and adrenaline.

Acetylcholine causes the muscle layer of the digestive organs to squeeze with more force and increase the “push” of food and juice through the digestive tract.

The intrinsic, or inside, nerves make up a very dense network embedded in the walls of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon.

The intrinsic nerves are triggered to act when the walls of the hollow organs are stretched by food.

Digestive System Problemsfoot_map_digestivesys

Nearly everyone has a digestive problem at one time or another.

Some conditions, such as indigestion or mild diarrhea, are common; they result in mild discomfort and get better on their own or are easy to treat. Others, such as inflammatory bowel disease, can be long lasting or troublesome.

Keeping Digestion on Track

The kinds and amounts of food a person eats and how the digestive system processes that food play key roles in maintaining good health.

Eating a healthy diet is the best way to prevent common digestive problems.

What can reflexology do?

You can see from the information above, the digestive system is a vital and complex system that involves the whole body – digestive organs, nervous and endocrine systems.

Now we know where the digestive system is in the body – let’s review the location of the reflexes on the feet.

Bilaterally, the digestive system reflexes occupy the area on the plantar surface of the feet, between our reflex landmarks of the diaphragm line and the pelvic line (exceptions are the esophagus and sigmoid colon reflexes).

If you follow the bones – the digestive system reflexes are superficial to the shafts and bases of the metatarsals and all of the bones of the mid-foot (the 3 cuneiforms, navicular and cuboid bones).

And, just as these organs are located on the left or right sides of the body, the reflexes will be found on the corresponding left or right foot. As above, so below.

I’m always on the lookout for changes in tissue texture in the soft arch of the foot. I call it the “belly of the foot” because that’s where the “belly” or digestive reflexes are mostly located.

The mere size of the digestive system reflexes on the feet, proportionately give feet a winning edge for addressing the digestive system there.

But even though the feet the space advantage, the other reflexology areas (hand, face and ears) are better for other reasons – like a deeper relaxation response – so don’t count them out.

If I’m not detailing a specific digestive organ reflex, I keep the techniques general.

Thumb-walking the 5 zones from the pelvic line to the diaphragm line, essentially addresses the digestive system reflexes “en mass” (the sigmoid colon and rectum reflexes dip into the heel on the left foot).

Now, as a reflexologist it’s always a relief to me that we don’t treat, diagnose or prescribe.

But, as we know, everything in the body, all our systems and processes are affected by stress and not in a good way.

I know from the vast amount of research that’s out there now – reflexology can profoundly affect the parasympathetic nervous system and has the greatest potential to reduce stress.

It’s useful to “listen” very carefully to what the feet will tell you here. Any changes in tissue texture found on the arch will add the digestive system to my menu of reflex areas to detail in the session.

And, for self-help, the access we have to the “soft belly” or arch of the foot is such that it’s almost made to rest our hand and scoop into it.

Even a few minutes of general work can make a difference. But, when you detail the specific reflexes research proves that our effectiveness can increase threefold!

Key steps for your digestive health

It’s important to keep in mind that we are what we eat. Choosing the right food and eating in a calming environment is ideal.

These tips will help you maintain better digestive system health:

  • Choose high quality, fresh organic foods – raw foods have their own enzymes which are especially important when your body is healing and may be low on enzymes in general.

  • Chew thoroughly – Digestion of carbohydrates (starches, sugars) starts in your mouth with saliva and enzymes. The enzymes not only help break down your food, they also attack bacteria.

  • Don’t rush when you’re eating – take your time and sit down to eat. It sounds obvious, but a lot of people hurry their meals.

  • If you drink a beverage with your meal make sure it’s room temperature – If you drink ice cold liquid with your food, your body has to heat it first and that takes more time and energy away from the digestive process. Drinking enough water is always a good idea and it will aid all your body’s processes. But drinking it (or any beverage) cold with your meal will slow digestion down. Enough said.

There’s so much I’d like to share with you on this topic, so I’ll be adding more future newsletters.

As Charles T. Copeland once said:

“To eat is human, to digest divine.”

Reflexology for the Cold & Flu

March 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Reflexology Tips

Reflexology can help relieve the symptoms of the dreaded cold and flu.  Check out this video to learn more:

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Reflexology and the Adrenals

March 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Reflexology Teaching

If you’ve ever doubted what these two little “Endocrine System Glands” can do, just watch the news sometime.

Anytime you hear of some heroic headline – “Firemen Rush into Burning Building”, or “Mother Lifts Car off Trapped Child”… the adrenal glands are implicated (such as in acts of strength and stamina as well as the downright super-human).

Let’s take a look at these amazing organs of the body, and then we’ll talk about their reflexology reflex points.

The adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands) are the star-shaped endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They are chiefly responsible for regulating the stress response through the synthesis of corticosteroids and catecholamines, including cortisol and adrenaline, respectively.

Anatomy and function

Anatomically, our adrenal glands are located in the abdominal cavity situated atop the kidneys, specifically on their anterosuperior aspect. They are also surrounded by the adipose capsule and the renal fascia. Found at the level of the 12th thoracic vertebra, they receive their blood supply from the adrenal arteries.

The adrenal gland is separated into two distinct structures, both of which receive regulatory input from the nervous system:

Adrenal medulla

The adrenal medulla consists of masses of neurons that are part of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Instead of releasing their neurotransmitters at a synapse, these neurons release them into the blood. Thus, although part of the nervous system, the adrenal medulla functions as an endocrine gland.

The adrenal medulla releases:

• adrenaline (also called epinephrine) and

• noradrenaline (also called norepinephrine)

Release of adrenaline and noradrenaline is triggered by nervous stimulation in response to physical or mental stress.

Some of the effects are:

• increase in the rate and strength of the heartbeat resulting in increased blood pressure;

• blood shunted from the skin and viscera to the skeletal muscles, coronary arteries, liver, and brain;

• rise in blood sugar;

• increased metabolic rate;

• bronchi dilate;

• pupils dilate;

• hair stands on end (“goosebumps”);

• clotting time of the blood is reduced;

• increased ACTH secretion from the anterior lobe of the pituitary.

All of these effects prepare the body to take immediate and vigorous action!

Adrenal cortex

Using cholesterol as the starting material, the cells of the adrenal cortex secrete a variety of steroid hormones.

These fall into three classes:

1. Glucocorticoids (e.g., cortisol)

The glucocorticoids get their name from their effect of raising the level of blood sugar (glucose). One way they do this is by stimulating gluconeogenesis in the liver: the conversion of fat and protein into intermediate metabolites that are ultimately converted into glucose.

The most abundant glucocorticoid is cortisol (also called hydrocortisone).

Cortisol and the other glucocorticoids also have a potent anti-inflammatory effect on the body. They depress the immune response, especially cell-mediated immune responses.

For this reason glucocorticoids are widely used in therapy:

• to reduce the inflammatory destruction of rheumatoid arthritis and other

autoimmune diseases

• to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs

• to control asthma

2. Mineralocorticoids (e.g., aldosterone)

The mineralocorticoids get their name from their effect on mineral metabolism. The most important of them is the steroid aldosterone.

Aldosterone acts on the kidney promoting the reabsorption of sodium ions (Na+) into the blood. Water follows the salt and this helps maintain normal blood pressure.

Aldosterone also

• acts on sweat glands to reduce the loss of sodium in perspiration;

• acts on taste cells to increase the sensitivity of the taste buds to sources of sodium.

3. Androgens (e.g., testosterone)

The adrenal cortex secretes precursors to androgens such as testosterone.

In sexually-mature males, this source is so much lower than that of the testes that it is probably of little physiological significance. However, excessive production of adrenal androgens can cause premature puberty in young boys.

In females, the adrenal cortex is a major source of androgens. Their hypersecretion may produce a masculine pattern of body hair and cessation of menstruation.

Fight-or-flight response

The fight-or-flight response, also called the fright, fight or flight response, hyperarousal or the acute stress response. We react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing. Thisactivation is associated with specific physiological actions in the system, both directly and indirectly through the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and to a lesser extent norepinephrine from the medulla of the adrenal glands.

An “Adrenaline Rush” means an activity of the Adrenal gland in a Fight-or-flight response, when it is releasing Adrenaline (Epinephrine). A chronic hyper adrenaline is a common symptom of an anxiety disorder.

So much packed into such a small package!

And, what does it mean to reflexologists?

If you have a client who’s stressed, anxious, overworked, overtired or who just lives in New York City – you’ll probably notice a “change in tissue texture” around the adrenal gland reflex on the foot (it’ll likely be sensitive on the hand reflex area as well – don’t flex too hard there – rather work into the point gradually).

Well we know that stress is s big factor in our everyday lives, but when there’s added stress due to emotional issues, health issues, daily life issues… Now, who couldn’t use a little support.

Our first task is to find the reflex points:

On the feet the “Adrenal Gland Reflex” is located on the lateral shaft of the 1st metatarsal, close to the base. That puts it (vertically) between metatarsals one and 2 and (horizontally) approximately half way between the waist and the diaphragm reflex line landmarks.

Usually you can’t miss it. There’s often a BIG change in the tissue texture! Now, don’t think you’re dying if you find it to be sore on your foot.

Remember it’s a “call for energy” and not a verifiable illness.

However, it’s in your client’s best interest to spend a little TLC time on that reflex point. Roll into it or hold it steady. Is there one way that’s better than another to work that little point… probably, but it’s not because “The Professor” said so it’s what the tissue needs – so “listen” to the tissue.

I love to work on this reflex point and don’t be surprised if you notice it can even be found on other reflex zones.

What else can you do?

A big adrenal stimulator is caffeine. It’ll increase the release of our stress related hormones and it keeps the body in a continuous, and unnecessary, state of stress – which can stress the adrenals along with other organs and glands. If this goes on for too long, you’ll probably notice other symptoms like fatigue, irritability, allergies, sleeplessness and… and inability to cope with stress. Not fun.

Always check with a professional before treating yourself (and don’t even think about treating others unless you’re a doctor). Some self-help texts say that small amounts of licorice help by acting as a re-uptake inhibitor for adrenaline. But, too much licorice can increase other hormones, so only use in small quantities.

Other than reflexology, one of the safest and most effective ways to combat stress that comes to mind is meditation.

There’s much more I’d like to share on this topic, so look for the next installment, coming soon.

Here’s a quote by Rachel Carson, who sums up an important perspective for well being:

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

Hand Reflexology and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

March 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Reflexology Teaching

Every reflexologist needs to know about the carpal tunnel. It’s important because you’ll have clients that complain about it. Equally important – you want to avoid getting it yourself. And, if you already have it you need to be especially careful.

You’ve heard me over and over again – I say that we reflexologists don’t treat, don’t prescribe and don’t diagnose. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know what’s going on.

Clients often hope that reflexology will be a magic bullet to their health woes. I can’t say it will be, and I can’t help but smiling too.

Why?

Because, most people will experience a reduction in pain and/or symptoms with Hand Reflexology. That’s true for local issues on the hands – even though they’re not the intended destination.

This is important – let me explain.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is pain or weakness in your forearm and hand caused by pressure on a nerve in your wrist.  It is a medical condition in which the median nerve is compressed at the wrist, leading to paresthesias, numbness and muscle weakness in the hand.

The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (although not the little finger), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move.

The carpal tunnel – a narrow, rigid passage way of ligament and bones at the base of the hand – houses the median nerve and tendons.

Sometimes, thickening from irritated tendons or other swelling narrows the tunnel and causes the median nerve to be compressed.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome:

Symptoms most often occur in the parts of the hand supplied by the median nerve: the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger.

If your little finger is not affected, this may be a sign that the condition is carpal tunnel syndrome, because the little finger is usually controlled by a different nerve (the ulnar nerve) than the thumb and other fingers.

Symptoms usually start gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers (especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers).
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often the result of a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, rather than a problem with the nerve itself.

Some other symptoms are:

  • Tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain felt in the fingers or, less commonly in the pal
  • Pain in your forearm, wrist or palm
  • More numbness or pain at night than during the day. The pain may be so bad it wakes you up. You may shake or rub your hand to get relief
  • More pain when you use your hand or wrist more
  • Trouble gripping object
  • Weakness in your thumb

Fact: Women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, perhaps because the carpal tunnel itself may be smaller in women than in men.

Causes:

The Carpal Tunnel Syndrome causes might be due to work conditions or due to underlying medical problems.

Other causes that could lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are:

  • Pregnancy
  • Rheumatoid arthritis and other causes of inflammation of the wrist
  • Endocrine disorders such as diabetes and hypothyroidism
  • Wrist fracture
  • Alcoholism

Risk associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:

The following are risk factors associated with the development of carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Repetition
  • High force
  • Awkward joint posture
  • Direct pressure
  • Vibration, and
  • Prolonged constrained posture
  • Poor ergonomics

Diagnosis:

If you, or your client has some or all of these symptoms – unless you’re a medical professional you cannot diagnose it.

In fact, when a client tells me they have carpal tunnel syndrome I always ask who made the diagnosis. It makes a difference whether it was a doctor or a specialist – or their aunt Betty or someone at the local gym.

There are a few simple tests that can be done to check general function of the wrist (you’ll learn those in the Hand Reflexology Workshop and more). This will help emphasize the importance for your client to seek the appropriate medical help.

Of course, early diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid permanent damage to the median nerve.

A physical examination of the hands, arms, shoulders, and neck can help determine if the patient’s complaints are related to an underlying disorder or to daily activities.

The wrist is examined for tenderness, swelling, warmth, and discoloration.

Each finger should be tested for sensation, and the muscles at the base of the hand should be examined for strength and signs of atrophy.

Routine laboratory tests and X-rays can reveal diabetes, arthritis, and fractures.

Treatment:

Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome vary and should begin as early as possible, under a doctor’s direction.

  • Underlying causes such as diabetes or arthritis should be treated first.
  • If there is inflammation, applying cool packs can help reduce swelling.

Non-surgical treatments:

There are a couple of homeopathic creams that might help the symptoms:

Brands like Traumeel (a calendula and arnica based ointment) and Topricin (with 11 homeopathic ingredients) have both shown effectiveness and are available in many health food stores.

In special circumstances, various drugs can ease the pain and swelling associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. NSAIDS such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonprescription pain relievers, may ease symptoms that have been present for a short time or have been caused by strenuous activity.

Alternative support therapies – Hand Reflexology, Acupuncture and chiropractic care have benefited some patients.

Exercise – Stretching and strengthening exercises can be helpful in people whose symptoms have abated.

Doctors will sometimes suggest that one wear a wrist splint (can be purchased at most drugstores) to keep the wrist in a neutral position at rest. Splinting is usually tried for a period of 4-6 weeks.

What can Reflexology Do?

As a reflexologist, why would I even care about carpal tunnel syndrome if it’s not my job to fix it?
Remember, if you or anyone you know even thinks they have this problem – it’s very important they get the appropriate medical attention.

And, I’m repeating myself here too – with any illness, stress is always a factor. Rest is important and the stress relief that Hand Reflexology brings is a wonderful component to any health maintenance regime.

If carpal tunnel is acute (meaning it hurts or it’s active now) you won’t want to work on the area directly.

There are a lot of things to know and even more to think about. Be very careful with any nerve impingement.

I’ve learned this from my own experience – nerves do not like to be irritated – because it just make them, well, crankier. Not good.

If you’re trained in Hand Reflexology you know that there are some very specific strategies to support the body in its own healing process.

And, what about the reflexes?

Good point. There are specific reflexes in the area and as a good reflexologist, you need to also be focused on the systems of the body.

Be curious about these reflex area – does the client also have sciatica? Do they have any reproductive or digestive issues?

Inherent in the Hand Reflexology techniques (I can’t say what others teach, usually – not this much), are techniques that will let you work safely to relax the hand.

And, what if you don’t have this specific training? – I suggest that you work the good hand and the opposite foot – or the ears.

The benefits of reflexology can be nothing short of amazing.

And, it’s never been more apparent than in the UK where an British media article from 2004 reports that; “According to a survey conducted on behalf of Yellow Pages…, the number of high street greengrocers has declined by almost 60 per cent in 10 years, while the number of reflexologists is up over 800 per cent.”

I rest my case.

Endocrine System

March 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

The respiratory & circulatory system.

March 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

A Lesson from Mr. Spock

March 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Reflexology Tips

If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be writing about an “obscure” little point like the Eustachian tube reflex, I might have laughed out loud.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always known how powerful all the points around the bases of the toes are.

So important, in fact,  that I’ve designed a new technique, or at least one that I was never taught or had never seen done before, just to detail this incredible reflex area.

You know where I’m talking about… at the base of and in between those little toes. Who but a reflexologist would even go there. It’s where sock bunnies live and other squishy things that we sometimes just have to avoid.

But deep in those crevices, around and between the toes, are some of the most populated reflexes known to humankind.

I suppose I’m more sensitive to their effects because this area contains the reflexes to the parts of my body that give me the most grief: the neck, the sinuses, the lymph, the trapizeus muscles, the eyes and ears and… the Eustachian tubes.

What a list, and at any given time, on any given person there will be cause to work there, to detail this reflex or that, for the sheer relief that our reflexology techniques can bring through relaxing the body and connecting to all its systems and parts.

I could spend a good amount of time on any one of the reflexes mentioned above, but I want to focus on just one… the Eustachian tube reflexes.

What are the Eustachian tubes anyway? When was your last conversation about them? Can you even spell the name without looking?

Most reflexologists know that the Eustachian tube is the fine tube that connects the middle ear to the outer world.

One function of the Eustachian tube is to drain excess fluid down, and eventually, into the throat. Other functions allow ventilation and the equalization of the middle ear and atmospheric pressure.

Think colds, sinus build-up and congestion – plenty of not so wonderful things that can benefit from the draining effects of a wonderful little tube.
Now, this tube is small, it’s thin and delicate – and that’s just in adults.

Babies have tiny little parts and the Eustachian tube is one of them. If anything gets clogged or congested in the body, it can cause discomfort and worse.

I want to remind you that reflexology is never a substitute for medical attention, so if you or anyone else has inflammation or infection, you must seek medical attention.

I’ve long taught the joys of holding the Eustachian tube reflexes, either steadily or with a playful alternating stroke, to calm and sooth fussy babies.
And, everyone who has tried it, and has reported back to me, describes an experience that has had some measure or a calming or soothing effect, especially on babies.

For some it has “worked like magic” to quote one or two very relieved parents.

Mothers are such naturals… healers and all. When they play this “little piggy went to market”, they are, in reflexology terms, stimulating the CNS reflexes – the brain.

And when they tweak between the toes they’re detailing the neck, shoulder, lymph, sinus, eye, ear… and Eustachian tube reflexes.

How do you find the Eustachian tube reflexes.

Think of Spock… Mr. Spock.

He’s the Vulcan guy with the big ears on Star Trek. He gave a special signal that opened to the Eustachian tube reflex of the hand.

That’s it, in the web of the hand or foot, between the third and fourth digits.
“Go forth and prosper”, I think he said.

I say, hold on and reflex.

Try it and let me know.