Whenever I get a massage, I always wish more time could be spent on my feet. It just feels so good to have our feet pampered. Which is also why so many women, me included, love getting a pedicure. Sure, a little polish on the toes looks nice, but it’s really the foot rub some of us are after.

Most of us take our feet for granted. We stand, walk, run and hike with nary a thought about our feet unless they hurt. Bunions, blisters, corns. Since I make my living, literally, on my feet as a swing dance instructor, it’s especially important that I pay attention to them. Enter Lorraine E. Cucci, a certified reflexologist who works out of her home in Pleasant Valley. Reflexology is most often associated with the feet, but Cucci is quick to point out that it can also include the hands, which is why she operates under the name Hands to Feet Reflexology and Healing Arts.

“Some people either can’t or don’t like to have their feet touched,” Cucci said. “Maybe they have a real medical issue, such as a burn, fungus or broken bone, or maybe they simply feel they are too ticklish.” For these people, hand reflexology allows the exact same benefits as foot reflexology.

But the practice of reflexology is more than just a foot or hand massage, and its benefits are many. Whereas a massage focuses traditionally on relaxing tight muscles, reflexologists believe there are reflex points on the hands and feet located on the tissues of the skin that link to different organs or parts of the body. When a reflexologist works on the reflex point using thumb, finger and hand techniques, it is thought that it also affects the corresponding part of the body. Say you have liver issues, the reflexologist can address them by working on the liver reflex point on the foot. This is especially helpful when direct application to an organ or part of the body is inaccessible or undesirable.

A study published in the November 2012 issue of Oncology Nursing Forum found that reflexology helped ease some of the side effects from chemotherapy and hormonal therapy treatments in women with metastatic breast cancer. Like in many alternative circles, reflexology also stresses that ill-health is associated with blocked energy, and gentle manipulation and pressure applied on the reflex points opens the energy channels and promotes healing. It may also send signals to the nervous system and release endorphins that reduce stress and pain.

In fact, one of the major benefits of reflexology is the profound relaxation it facilitates.

While practices resembling reflexology have been documented in early China and Egypt, it was actually introduced to the United States by two medical doctors in 1913 for its anesthetic effect on the rest of the body. At the time there was no safe and effective method of anesthesia for surgery, and the medical community embraced this new “Zone Therapy.” This notion was modified by Eunice D. Ingham, a nurse and physiotherapist in the 1930s. She claimed that the hands and feet were especially sensitive and it was she who mapped the entire body into reflex points on the hands and feet.

So it’s no surprise that Cucci brings to her reflexology practice more than 30 years of experience in the medical profession as a registered nurse, blending her nursing knowledge with her intuitive healing gifts.

“Stress is one of the central causes of many illnesses,” she said. “When we are bombarded with everyday stressors, such as being overworked, worried about finances, juggling our family and work requirements, and just managing our day-to-day lives, our bodies react with increased levels of cortisol. These continuous increased levels of cortisol keep us in a fight or flight state. Our bodies have a difficult time returning to a balanced or normal state, also known as homeostasis. This sets the stage for illnesses, which can become chronic.”

Reflexology promotes relaxation throughout the entire body and brings it back to a state of homeostasis. It is said to also stimulate the elimination process to cleanse the body of toxins, and increase circulation and delivery of oxygen to all cells of the body. This returning to a more balanced and relaxed state gives the body the tools to begin to heal itself, calming the nervous, hormonal and lymphatic systems, and leading to the restoration of physical, emotional and mental well-being.

The experience

Cucci has a full-time job in the medical field and practices her alternative healing arts out of her home in Pleasant Valley on evenings and weekends. She says she finds it healing and centering for herself as well as for her clients. Her dedicated reflexology room is bright and cheery and taken up mostly with the massage table in the middle of the room.

She begins the session by examining my feet and asking if I have any issues or concerns about them and in general. She lays her hands on my feet and closes her eyes. Then she starts to massage my calves. She says she starts at the top and works her way down the Achilles tendon before she starts to work on my feet. It feels great. She applies such great-smelling oils that it’s part aromatherapy, part massage as her hands glide over my feet. It’s not too long before I fade away completely. The session is one hour and afterward I feel so groggy, I’m not sure I can drive home. Once I get there, I fall into a deep, restful sleep. The next day working in the yard I trip and twist my ankle. I apply RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation — and my go-to healing application of Topercin cream). Even I am surprised when my ankle feels completely fine in the morning. I attribute my quick healing to my response to the trauma, but also to the fact that I had just received the reflexology treatment. I believe the combination sped the healing.

It is a few weeks before I am able to return, and when Cucci asks if I noticed anything different I tell her the story above, but also that I realize that the soles of my feet feel more sensitive and tender when I walk barefoot. It’s almost like after years of no attention, they are now reminding me that they are there. I zone out completely just a little way into the session, but when I leave this time, instead of feeling groggy, I simply feel relaxed. By the third session, I actually feel energized after the session, as if my body needed to go through certain stages in order to get to the most balanced state.

For our final session she introduces me to hand reflexology. She explains that all of the same points that are mapped on the feet also exist in the hands. Just as she started with the calves before working on the feet, here she starts with the forearms before working on the hands. While it seemed obvious once she points it out, I never before really thought about how the back of my hand is like the top of my foot and the palm of my hand is like the sole of my foot. She says she could do a whole hour on just my hands as she had been doing for my feet, but after a half hour I ask her to switch to my feet. I need to nap.

The bottom line

There is nothing more important to a dancer than her feet. Except maybe her overall emotional, physical and mental health. These reflexology sessions addressed all three, offering me an hour of nothing but genuine R&R. While I love getting massages, I often find myself unable to simply drift away from the experience. But with reflexology, I found myself drifting away quite easily. There is something profoundly comforting, even biblical, about having your feet rubbed with oil.

Anyone who read my August column on having a sleep study knows that I seem to have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. I found the reflexology treatments to be profoundly relaxing, enabling me to move into a deeper relaxed state than I was able to find in my own bed at home.

These sessions were something I looked forward to and which allowed me perfect relaxation.

In addition to reflexology, Cucci offers reiki, Medical Intuitive Healing and an aromatherapy treatment called the “Raindrop Technique,” which I will be bringing to you in a future Holistic Guinea Pig column. As always, stay tuned.


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