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Defining Reflexology Part 2: Informed Touch

Seldom in Western society are we touched for health, because generally touch is seen to have negative or sexual connotations. In fact, touching is one of the most healing things a human being can do […] When I touch you, you can feel the sincerity of my words. You can feel my -mmpathy and my energy.

Charles T Krebs PhD

The first physical contact we receive as babies is usually the firm, reassuring hand of the Midwife who cups our head from behind as we make the exit from darkness into light… As a Facial Reflexologist I cradle each receiver’s head in the same way every time I give a treatment. Whilst the Midwife initiates a dialogue of touch, I engage with its rich language as my tools or fingertips glide across the forehead and circle slowly down the nose.

Touch is the first and most powerful of the senses and as the world so tragically witnessed in the understaffed Romanian orphanages of the 1980s and 1990s, the consequences of raising children without loving, interpersonal touch, can be dramatic. Yet, touch deprivation is an issue that’s still widely overlooked in our society today. Fear of sexual predators has led us to employ no-touch policies in our schools and workplaces, despite understanding its vital role in human development at all ages.

Our sense of touch, unlike any other, relies upon an immensely complex and counterintuitive interface of skin, nerves and brain and is duly our most emotional sense. Even everyday language conveys this primary place: “I’m so touched,” or “You really hurt my feelings.” The e-motional and the tactile are so deeply intertwined that to show our distrust of someone who lacks sensitivity or is inconsiderate we call them tactless, literally lacking touch. Take a moment to imagine losing this super-sense… Though you can live a full and rich life without sight or hearing, remove touch and the world becomes motionless.

Whether it involves the electric touch of romantic love, the unsettling feeling of being watched, the relief of pain from mindful practice, or the essential touch that newborns need to thrive and communities need to cohere, the transcendent aspect of touch prevails when we understand that these feelings flow from the evolved nature of our skin, nerves, and brain. Ultimately, the biology of touch shows us that the natural is as deeply human and humane as the supernatural. (From Touch: The Science of the Sense that Makes Us Human by David Linden)

Thanks to neuroscience, we are beginning to investigate the relationship between touch and health. Although science cannot yet articulate this dimension of human function, waves of studies document numerous incredible benefits to our well-being.

You may well be aware for example that massage and cuddles are known to induce secretion of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone,’ and feel good, stress-busting endorphins... But we also know that conceive that touch is the foundation upon which we build trusting relations. Have you been informed about the regions of the brain which determine whether a given touch feels emotionally positive or negative? Did you know that these same regions are engaged in acting to dull or enhance pain without medication? Is it possible that touch alone can heal?

I would say so. Reflexology is described in many ways, rarely in simple terms. If we're really honest, it can be simplified to informed touch whereby the Reflexologist uses precise stimulation at one part of the body following established maps, in order to treat another part of the body. This is not the definition you’ll find on Wikipedia, nor from other Reflexologists but with it, Reflexology (on the face specifically) is unleashed. No longer is it a method restricted to the therapist-receiver dynamic, but a revolutionary tool for healthcare already in the public domain; a super-power for healing available to each of us willing to use our hands to explore. This eternal art of touch, at the same time ancient and modern, will be a key to our remembering of its power.

We live in a time when a respected newspaper exalts, without a hint of prudence, that “Physical touch affects emotional mood: sitting in your favourite armchair really does put you in a better mood, a new study suggests.” How much we rely upon the intellect to confirm things that we already know!

Awareness of the power of touch will be a great remembering for the modern human family and one we needn’t wait for men in white coats to initiate. Its function permits a sharing of kindness, wisdom, trust and a sense that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves which lives within our cells.

For now, our attention to it is weak, undervalued and under-exercised. We must notice it, practice it, strengthen it for when we cultivate sensitivity we invite an experience of life in full vibrancy. Informing ourselves of body maps and clear technique then brings us closer to healing. As people, we learn to love and respect when we release our fear of touch and invasion.

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