Just like feet, fingerprint and many aspects of our physiology, we are all different. It is important to remember this goes for the inside as well as the outside of everyone.
As I continue to speak to people about their own mental health issues, one thing is obvious, we are NOT the same. To believe that the same processes for the same issue will have the same outcome is flawed, seriously. Much to the detriment of those struggling with day to day life.
Almost as bad as that friend who thinks they are helping by saying "chin up" etc, for the medical world to assume the position of "feeling like this, take two of these" is damaging, and gives some with the sense of doom and being alone, a worsened sense of those feelings. When a treatment or medication doesn't work, some will feel that they are beyond help. Believe me, I am speaking from experience here.
The same applies to everyone in fact, in all walks of life, which is a long way round for me to get to where I am going with this entry. Complimentary therapies, they are not for everyone.
Having been lucky enough to have been asked to participate in a few studies and training programs now, I have been able to start piecing together a clearer picture of what I myself can expect from treatments such as Reflexology, and more recently Reiki.
Both practises have their critics, but both (along with many other such treatments) have a strong following, and a strengthening belief that they have a role to play in treatment of all sorts of conditions. I will try and keep this as objective and fair as possible.
Expectations. A big part of any treatment starts with the hopes and expectations of what you want from the treatment. Like anything in life, if you overstretch, you are likely to end up disappointed and underwhelmed. Keep it within reason, and you are far more likely to come away with a positive result. Sadly some of these expectations are driven by over selling something. Take spot cream for an example, or the latest toothbrush. If you believe the advertising, you will have baby like skin, and glistening white teeth in a matter of days. In reality this is rarely the case, but many are driven towards these products by the advertising which sells them to us with such great hope. Keep it realistic, and you are off to a good start.
Timescale. As I have said, the most successful advertising promises great results in a matter of days, however with anything medical, be it physical or mental, the changes are rarely instantaneous. Which when you are desperate for change can be devastating.
For me, I have always tried to go into these things with an open mind, keeping my expectations low, but my pre-formed opinions on the back burner to try and give it every chance of success. Doing my research before hand, to try and understand what to expect. Of course my research consists of some of the best research material known to man, the internet. The #1 authority on everything, and always 100% correct.
Naturally, if you Google any complimentary treatment out there, you are bound to get a wide spectrum of opinions, from the ultra positive, to the completely negative. As humans, we are always more vocal about dissatisfaction, so the majority of most things you look up on the internet will be negative or neutral at best. Like with anything, people are more than happy to contribute towards negativity with no actual experience or knowledge of something.
Those treatments which are not primary treatments such as physiotherapy, osteopathy, etc frequently come under fire and are accused of being frauds, fake, or having no effects. One of the reasons for this I tend to find is, complimentary therapies tend not to be funded by the NHS, therefore it is peoples own money being spent on them. Mix high expectations with spending your own money, and you have a risky recipe. Should you not get the desired outcome from the treatments, or the results are not happening quick enough, and it is easy to see why some would claim they are no good.
But the perception of the results usually lays perfectly in line with the expected outcome of the treatment. Speak to one of the extreme practitioners of such treatments, and you are at risk of having massively high expectations from the treatment. Putting all your eggs in one basket, and expecting a great recovery or improvement based completely on the treatment. On the other hand, speak to someone who is realistic about the expectations and timescale, and you are off to a better start.
Results for any treatment vary, and are affected by the actions and state of mind of the patient. Like hypnosis, if you fight against the process, you will more than likely remain largely unaffected by it.
Taking a look at each of the treatments I have experienced, I want to break down what I expected from them, and what the physical and mental outcomes were. Starting first with the chiropractor.
Following a bike accident, I was left with pain and reduced range of motion in my right hip and lower back. As time went on with no real answers from the GP, other than pain killers, I decided to look into alternatives. The lack of movement was starting to affect my shoulders and upper back now, things were not good. Initially going to my sports physio in Catford, the results were OK, but I was not getting enough of an improvement to continue the treatment. Something else was needed.
Originally looking at an Osteopath, I was told of the Chiropractor by a friend who had used the practice. Ignorant to the difference between the two, and having the thought of having my back cracked (technical term obviously) being the solution to it all, I booked in. Time for some research. Oh... I wasn't expecting that! So much negativity about Chiropractors. That said, when you look deeper at it, it is the more elaborate claims which seemed to attract the most negativity. The basic stuff, back pain and other related physical ailments seemed to be OK.
Going along for the first time, I had an initial assessment in which my movement, and general physical condition was assessed, and any issues I may have been having discussed. Focusing on the back and shoulder pain a course of treatment was agreed. The main treatments were correction and manipulation of the back, a little massage, and some self help exercises. It seemed to be doing the trick, so who was I to argue with its effectiveness.
The most notable session was mid way through the course of treatment. On arrival at the office, I was having trouble fully extending my right leg. The pre session exam was done, during which the chiropractor asked if I was having trouble with my right leg. YES! I exclaimed! She told me that it was a simple correction and we would take care of that. Laying down I again tried to extend my leg, nope, no joy. A couple of minutes later, and one glorious CRACK, I was asked to try again. Et voila, full range restored!
What I learned from my time seeing the Chiro was quite simple. The claims of some in a sense discredit the whole practice. Setting the bar of expectation and hope far too high. Extending the scope of the treatment far beyond the provable limits damages the integrity of those who practice the basic fundamentals. The same is true for other complimentary treatments, as well as other practices.
With the Chiropractor there is very little mental going on, the treatment itself is very much physical, and the only mental implications are those of taken from the positive physical outcome of each treatment. Knowing you are on the mend is a powerful tool in itself.
To this day, when problems arise Chiropractors remain one of my go to treatments, along with physio.
More recently, as I have written about, I experienced Reflexology for the first time. With a friend James building up towards his final exams to become fully qualified, I was blessed with a couple of tester sessions. Again, knowing little about the practice, I turned to the internet for guidance, and again my findings were similar. Negativity, calls for proof of some of the claims of Reflexology, driven by the slightly further reaching claims of what it can treat. For me, expectations were neutral, mind wide open.
After the initial pre treatment chat, my mind was eased further by the lack of promises of the session. Suggested effects were discussed, expected sensations explained, and away we went.
I will say from the off that with some of these treatments, state of mind is crucial. As I said earlier, close yourself off to the possibilities and you immediately limit the scope of things to come. The mind is a powerful tool when it comes to healing both physically and mentally, not to be underestimated. If you are tense during any kind of massage or physical stimulation, you will reduce the ability to reach those deep seated physical hot spots which are key to the sessions.
For me, doing yoga when I can has allowed me to relax my mind far better than I have ever been able to before. This relaxation really helps with such situations.
Reflexology for me combines both physical and mental stimulation. The right environment allowing you to slip into deep relaxation, which in turn allows the physical stimulation to have maximum effect. With feet being so delicate and sensitive, some might find it hard to relax enough to have them massaged and stimulated. However, allow your mind to take you to a place of relaxation, and the results are fantastic.
With the basic understanding of the practice, and what it is set out to do, I know that each part of the foot has a trigger point relating to a part of the rest of the body. With no major issues that I was aware of, it is hard for me to say exactly what impact the treatment had on different parts of my body. That said, there were most definitely some physical benefits to be had from the treatment.
By the end of a one hour session I was relaxed from head to toe, both inside and out. For me, this in itself is one of the keys of the treatment, the mental well-being. Releasing the stress and tension brought upon by any ailment, in itself is healing. Time out from the worry, laying completely relaxed, somewhat vulnerable can be of massive benefit to a physical issue. Body relaxation, reduced heart rate, easing the strain on the body, allowing it to find a little balance, and work on fixing the issues. Accelerated bed rest if you like.
Mentally, it is hard for me to explain the benefits to anyone who has not needed time out from themselves and their thoughts. When you mind is running at a million miles an hour, for every waking moment of every day, the chance to switch off for a while, and focus on something as simple as breathing deeply is a blessing. So to have a treatment like Reflexology is a great opportunity to be at one with yourself, while being gently controlled by the practitioner.
Mindfulness is a bit of a tough cookie for some people. The more active your mind is, the harder it is to switch it off for a while. Being in a situation where there is a mild physical distraction to try and block out while you relax, is easier that simply meditating and trying to clear your mind. I am not sure if it makes sense, but if someone tells you to clear you head of worries and thoughts, and concentrate on your breathing, for the inexperienced it is nigh on impossible. A thought of some kind will sneak in, and spiral into a whole train of thought in a flash.
Now put yourself in a situation where there is a physical distraction, such as massage, it becomes the focus of your thoughts, and like when running or cycling, it is hard to think about anything else in the moment. At this point you tend to surrender your mind to the moment. For reflexology, as long as you are comfortable in the environment you are in, it is easy to zone out so to speak, and just experience the sensations, rather than fighting them, or over thinking them. With this state of mind achieved, the next step is simple, and taught by yoga all the time, breathe!
Feeling your breaths, allowing your mind to relax and let everything go, becoming hyper aware of every inch of your body, what you are feeling. Feeling the pressure of the blood pumping through your body, feeling every heartbeat pulse through you. Once relaxed, the body and mind really work together, and anything is possible.
It is at this point I believe that physical change can come about, encouraged by the stimulation of the Reflexologist. As I say, in my experience I lacked any real feeling of such change, but then maybe my mind was not as open as it could have been, and I was simply not aware of what I was feeling. This is something I learned more about with my next experience, Reiki, but I will come to that in a bit.
I can say by the end of each session I was left in a physical and mental state I would have been happy to remain in. A natural high of relaxation. So relaxed, I craved it more. For someone like me who finds it so hard to relax even when the situation allows it, such as bedtime, feeling this relaxed is a blessing. I somehow need to invoke this feeling before I sleep at night.
In fact, so convinced as to how the state of mind can alter how I sleep, I have now started yoga before bed on some nights, just to get my mind to a state of relaxation.
My final take on Reflexology for this entry is a simple one. While there are those who cast doubts on what can be achieved by it. For anyone who is active and spends a lot of time on or using their feet, if nothing else, Reflexology will be the best and most relaxing foot massage you have had in your life. With the added benefits of doing nothing other than unwinding, breathing, and having some time to yourself. Unlike some other alternative treatments, there are 100% guaranteed physical benefits from the sessions.
The most recent treatment I have had is Reiki. Something I knew absolutely nothing about until last week. For some reason I have always put it in the same category as yoga and pilates. Don't ask me why, at 46 I am still ignorant to many things, Reiki is no longer one of them.
For anyone who is not familiar with Reiki (similar to me last week) it is basically "healing hands". The passing and channeling of energy via the hands. Helping re-balance the energy in the body. Probably the hardest to prove for any doubters out there. Again, research on the internet will turn up many a bold claim, much to the disapproval of some, so once again it attracts a large following of negativity.
Having only had one session, and not being sure what to expect from the whole situation, it is a hard one to say much about. During the consult some issues I have were discussed, mentioning that I struggle to sleep, have a history of depression and anxiety were the main things that came to mind. Also mentioning physical issues with my shoulder and hip, but these were not focused on.
Deciding to focus on the sleep issues, I was laid down, allowed to get comfortable and relax, before the process begun. The only way I can describe it is, if you have ever had a massage which has ended with pressure points around the head and certain points of the body, it is a little like that. Nothing intrusive, nothing painful or awkward. Simply put, it is placing the hands on certain parts of the body, for my session the head, and drawing energy to stimulate change of some sort.
Again, turning to yoga to relax and find my head space, it was easy for me to clear my head, and just be aware of my body and mind.
Sensations I felt I experienced during the session are as follows.
Change of weight and balance within my head. Tough to explain but if you have ever had an imbalance in your inner ear, and felt your head feels it wants to drop to one side, this is similar. As hands move around, feeling the head become weighty on one side, and feel the sensation of it dropping to one side.
The next one is a bit harder to explain. If you have ever lay still, eyes closed, you may have noticed colours, lines, patterns in your vision. Flowing and pulsing as your heart beats. When you relax deeply, these patterns and lines can calm down, and seem to flow gently, in line with your heartbeat For me, during the session, I am sure they changed direction according to my thoughts, and where the hands of the practitioner were at any one time. Feeling the flow of energy towards the hands on my head, seeing the lines racing in that direction, from time to time, as the hands moved, or my thoughts returned to my mind momentarily, I would see and feel a change.
Hard to quantify really, but if you believe in the flow of energy in your body, if you are aware of your state of mind, then it might make a little more sense. At the end of the session, discussing how it had been, I mentioned these changes, and was told she too could feel them. Suggesting it felt like I was blocking the flow with my mind, it would fit with the idea that the thoughts rushing back into my mind may have contributed towards this change. Who knows! I am going back next week, so will experiment a little.
The thing I takeaway from these sessions is that physical stimulation goes a long way to helping with mental relaxation. Regardless of what you make of such treatments, for me they create a fantastic channel for me to allow my mind to relax to a state I struggle to achieve otherwise. With balance restored in my mind, I find it much easier to deal with anything life throws at me. Less stress, means less tension, so there are certainly physical benefits to be had. Add to this the release of tension and increased relaxation from the massage aspects of some of the treatments, and all in all it is an hour well spent, and money well spent.
Is it for everyone, probably not. If you simply have tight shoulders from gardening, then a massage will suit you down to the ground. Want to take some time to yourself, relax deeply, and explore you mind and body, then maybe it is time to look into a suitable form of complimentary therapy.
If you are interested in anything I have mentioned above, I will leave the links to all the services below. Thank you for reading, and if you take nothing else away from this, I hope it has induced a good nights sleep.
Sports massage and physiotherapy -https://backontrackphysio.wordpress.com/
Chiropractor - http://www.sevenoakschiropractic.com/
Reflexology - https://jamesedwinreflexology.com/