Stress, insomnia, digestive problems, joint pain, menopausal flushes and memory loss: all of these are common conditions that can be hard to treat, leaving sufferers in despair.
Some turn to complementary therapies such as reflexology, which works by stimulating pressure points on the feet that correspond with particular parts of the body.
An estimated 35,000 reflexologists are now practising in Britain and a growing number are now using the face, rather than the feet or hands, to deliver this health therapy.
Reflexology is an Eastern massage therapy that manipulates hands and feet. A pleasant exercise using this method can be done while taking a bath. Use the thumb, index, and middle finger to rotate each toe in a circular motion. Then, make a fist and rotate it slowly around the bottom of the foot. Finally, gently twist each foot as if wringing wet clothes, moving the top and bottom in opposite directions.
According to reflexologist Shaum Natusdad "the practice of reflexology is so powerful that in many parts of the world, that medication is sub-standard because mind and body medicine (such as reflexology) is far more effective."
According to its advocates, facial reflexology is effective because the face has a large number of nerves and blood vessels.
Facial reflexology combines massage with theories based on acupuncture and Chinese concepts of energy lines, or meridians.
According to Chinese medicine, our energy flows through the body via 12 invisible meridians. If these energy lines become blocked, imbalances occur, and this imbalance can result in aches, pains, insomnia and even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Facial reflexologists say they can feel a change of texture as a result of these ‘imbalances’ under the upper layer of skin on the face. They are said to feel like lumps of porridge or grains of sand.
By working over the face (excluding the eyelids) with the fingertips, they can, they claim, break down these deposits, boosting the energy, circulatory and nervous systems.
‘The brain is the control centre of the body and the face is much closer to it than the feet are, so face reflexology can work faster than foot reflexology,’ says leading facial reflexology practitioner Nikke Ariff.
Ms Ariff, who has a clinic in London, explains that each session begins by stimulating the acupuncture points on the face using acupressure (pressing on them with the fingertips and rotating them on the spot). As well as being ‘energy points’ they are, according to Ms Ariff, important blood circulation and nerve supply areas.
She warms the face and corresponding body areas, releasing muscle tension and allowing more blood to flow through. The theory is that the face is a micromap of the body so, by working on a particular point of the micromap, you can affect the
corresponding body part, calming it if there is inflammation or stimulating it if there is sluggishness.
The reflexologist uses the fingertips to make deep, sweeping massage movements or short, fast strokes. Sessions last for 45 to 50 minutes.
Ms Ariff says: ‘The treatment relaxes the entire body, and when the body relaxes, you start to heal. It’s no longer putting all its energy into stress.’
Often clients are so relaxed by the therapy that they drift off into a dreamy state that some describe as being like ‘going under’.
The treatment is popular with those suffering from conditions that may be stress-related such as insomnia, tension headaches and IBS. In some IBS patients, for example, there is a strong link between stress and symptoms, especially constipation. If stress can be alleviated, gut symptoms such as constipation can be alleviated too.
Although IBS is normally treated through changes to diet and, if necessary, medication to alleviate abdominal pain and constipation or diarrhoea, there are those
for whom such treatments do not work or who are reluctant to stick to them, and for whom reflexology may provide relief.
The medical director of digestive diseases charity Core, Dr Anton Emmanuel, also consultant gastroenterologist at University College London, cites a study in which constipated patients received reflexology and bowel behaviour was monitored.
In 18 out of 19 patients, not only did they feel less stressed, their bowel movements became more normal. Dr Emmanuel believes that the effects of reflexology on IBS-sufferers are about more than relaxation. ‘I think it may have an effect on the nervous system. Pain is perceptual: any intervention to alleviate pain has to work on the brain and the nervous system.
‘It’s plausible that reflexology could do something to the brain’s reflex control of the gut and how pain is processed, in a way that is comparable with how conventional IBS treatments work.’
There are others, however, who remain sceptical that reflexology is anything more than massage. David Colquhoun, Professor of Pharmacology at University College, London, says that while facial reflexology may be relaxing, any claims of a nerve -connection between the face and other parts of the body such as the pancreas are ‘purely invented’.
Yet its fans report that not only does facial reflexology alleviate specific symptoms, it improves overall health and emotional wellbeing. As Ms Ariff explains: ‘It is a holistic therapy so it addresses the whole body, not just the specific problem, which is why we work on the whole face.’
Now Try It Yourself
According to reflexology theory, specific points on the face are connected via meridian lines (energy lines) that run throughout the body connecting systems and organs. Each point is mirrored on the other half of the face.
A facial reflexologist is an expert in manipulating these points – which correspond to acupuncture points in Chinese medicine – and using other massage-like strokes. These points can be used to treat such localised symptoms as tension headaches or sinus problems.
There are some simple steps you can take which may help alleviate some common conditions. Press fingertips softly on one pair at a time, circling gently without lifting fingers. Circle slowly eight to ten times.
BACKACHE: Press and circle all three bladder points.
HEARTBURN: Press and circle all three stomach points and small intestine point.
SINUSITIS: Press and circlecolon, stomach, bladder and gall bladder points.