Improving the drains around your brain with indian head massage….


Just when you thought there was nothing new to learn about the anatomy of the human body, a recent discovery has well and truly rocked the scientific community.  Recent research* has proved that our brain is connected to our immune system via lymphatic vessels, a discovery which may have profound consequences for the study and treatment of neurological disorders from alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis to migraines and depression. 

The lymphatic system is part of your immune system and provides a superfast highway for transporting your infection fighting cells as well as playing a vital role as a waste disposal system and maintaining the fluid balance in your body.  This complex drainage system has been found in nearly every part of the human body but not, until now, in the brain.

“No one knew there were those ‘pipes’ in there that could take out the brain’s trash,” says Jonathan Kipnis, director of the university’s Centre for Brain Immunology and Glia and the study’s senior author.  The discovery of vessels, nestled just beneath the skull in the meninges – the membrane that covers the brain – overturns decades of textbook teaching.  As to why the discovery took this long, Kipnis explains that it could have come only in the past 10 years because of advances in microscoping technology.

When the body is fighting a foreign invader, such as a virus, the lymphatic system carries immune cells to the site of the infection.  It was assumed that this didn’t occur in the brain given its lack of lymphatic network. Up until now, it was thought that the brain was too vulnerable to be part of the normal immune response and that the central nervous system existed separately from the peripheral immune system.

We already knew that keeping our lymphatic system free flowing and healthy was important and we know that this can be positively influenced by diet, exercise and wellbeing therapies.  It has to be said though that this new information ‘ups the ante’ somewhat!  During the Head Massage sessions I give, I look at the techniques I use in the context of this new research. An Indian Head Massage incorporates a mix of soothing and invigorating techniques which result in reduced stress and tension in the back, shoulders and neck together with improved circulation and lymph function.  In the light of this new research, it seems that IHM may also have a role to play in establishing and maintaining healthy communication and connection pathways between the brain and the immune system by assisting the efficient drainage of toxins and excess fluid via the lymphatic vessels in and around the brain.        

*The study was carried out by researchers from The University of Virginia and was funded by Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale and by The National Institutes of Health. The study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature in 2015


Reflexology and Lymphatic Drainage


In 2013/14 twenty six women who had developed swelling in their arm following breast cancer surgery took part in a research study* to assess whether Reflexology Lymph Drainage (RLD) could reduce their lymphoedema.  This Reflexology technique reduced the swelling for everyone who took part.  The benefits of RLD were not limited to fluid reduction as the women reported that their pain levels also went down and their feeling of wellbeing increased. 

Thought to be relatively uncommon, a recent study has estimated that over 240 000** people in the UK may be affected by lymphoedema/chronic oedema.  As an approved Reflexology Lymph Drainage practitioner, I see first hand how physically, emotionally and psychologically challenging this painful and debilitating condition can be.  March is Lymphoedema Awareness Month so it seems an appropriate time to shine a light on this condition.   

The lymphatic system is part of your immune system and provides a superfast highway for transporting your infection fighting cells. Less well known is the vital role it plays as a waste disposal system and maintaining the fluid balance in your body. 

The lymphatic system can be likened to a vast road network along which the lymphatic fluid flows carrying cell waste and bacteria away from the trillions of cells in our body.  At various points along the road it passes through filtering stations (lymph nodes) where immune cells – our bodyguards and police, destroy the microbes that could cause us harm. Then the lymph fluid is allowed to continue its journey back to the bloodstream and out of the body via the kidneys as urine.    

If the lymphatic system is not working correctly, the fluid in the tissues builds up – imagine a blockage in a river or stream –  the lymphatic vessels are unable to cope with the amount of fluid in the area and swelling (flooding) occurs.  

Primary lymphoedema is the result of the impaired development of the lymphatic system itself.   Secondary lymphoedema is usually the result of damage or trauma either through surgery to remove lymph nodes in cancer treatment, radiotherapy, accidental injury or reduced mobility.  It can affect any part of the body but is most commonly seen in an arm or a leg. Once diagnosed, this condition may be managed using various techniques which include compression garments, exercise programmes, kinesio taping and Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage (MLD). Reflexology can work well alongside these programmes as it is clear from the 2013 study that it can have a very positive effect on getting the lymphatic system moving, but can also help relieve pain and increase wellbeing.

MLD is also used in conditions other than lymphoedema such as arthritis, asthma, eczema, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, sinus problems and migraines. Reflexology Lymph Drainage may be used similarly as a stagnant waste disposal system with unfiltered bacteria and toxins may lead to a variety of health disorders, so keeping your lymph flowing is vital.


**     Lymphoedema Support Network (


The Birds of Worry and Care….

Stress.  This word has become such an ingrained part of our vocabulary and daily existence, that it’s difficult to believe that our current use of the term originated only a little more than 50 years ago. In daily life, we often use this term to describe negative situations which can lead to the belief that all stress is bad for you.  Stress is neither good nor bad. It is our perception of our capacity to cope which determines whether our stress response is positive or negative.  A situation that causes fear, panic and inactivity in one person may motivate and stimulate someone else. 

Our body’s stress response is stage managed by our nervous system and hormones working together.  Faced with a threatening event or situation (and that could be physical or emotional) our ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in and our adrenal glands release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to prepare us for the approaching danger, demand or challenge. Heart rate is speeded up to increase the flow of blood and oxygen around the body, muscles become tense and taut, body functions such as digestion, elimination and immunity are put on hold as they’re not considered essential in an emergency situation.  Memory and rational thinking are also placed on the back burner during this flight or fight response. BUT this state of red alert is only intended to be temporary.

As soon as the emergency or threat is over, your (parasympathetic) nervous system tries to restore balance and return you to a normal ‘rest and digest’ state.  The problem is, your nervous system doesn’t know the difference between every day stressors and life-threatening events.  You may be upset over an argument, stuck in traffic or facing a mountain of bills and your body can still react as if you’re facing a life-or-death situation. It’s not good for us to experience this response repeatedly in daily life.  With our bodies in this high state of alert, those body systems which have been suppressed may become malnourished and weakened.  This can lead to a wide variety of health conditions including raised blood pressure, a weak immune system, digestive problems, muscle pain, headaches and sleep problems to name but a few.

Complementary therapies like Reflexology can help to interrupt this stress pattern and give the body the opportunity it needs to switch off the flight and flight stress response and return the body back to a balanced state. Research studies have shown through the measurements of alpha and theta brain waves that Reflexology is effective in lowering blood pressure and anxiety levels. With over 7000 nerve endings on each foot, it’s not surprising that many people find Reflexology has a profoundly soothing effect on the nervous system. 

That the birds of worry and care fly above your head, this you cannot change.  But that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent. (Chinese proverb)

A Masterpiece of Engineering


A quote from the great Leonardo da Vinci to describe the amazing biological structure which is the human foot.  The words I mostly hear though as a client removes their shoes and socks for their first Reflexology session is “I’m really sorry about my horrible feet…..”  Accompanied by an apologetic look as if they are expecting me to run for the hills… Statistics say that 20% of people think their feet are the most unattractive part of their body.  The truth is that all feet are fascinating to a Reflexologist and as I work on theirs and point out how amazing feet actually are, I see their opinion slowly shifting and they begin to look at their feet with new eyes.

Did you know that a quarter of all your bones are in your foot?  That’s 26 bones, 33 joints, more than 100 tendons, muscles and ligaments. In an average lifetime they will have carried you 5 times around the world.  That’s a lot of anatomy in a relatively small package especially when you consider that these bones are some of the smallest, yet each step you take exerts a force 2-3 times your body weight.  Those feet deserve respect.

So what do we do with these biological marvels? We cover them up, we hide them and don’t give them much thought.  Until something goes wrong.  Philosopher Socrates once said: “To him whose feet hurt, everything hurts”.  When our feet hurt, it’s all we can think about and that’s because there are more nerve endings in the feet (and hands) than anywhere else on the body.  The primary purpose of these nerves is to send vital feedback via the nervous system to the rest of the body and brain about our environment and as our safety is of prime importance, these messages from the feet are given a high priority by the brain – another reason why Reflexology can be so effective.   

Cushioned in our shoes, all of these receptors in our feet do not get the work out that walking barefoot used to provide and it’s thought that this in turn affects our general health and wellbeing. In some countries, public cobblestone Reflexology footpaths are common and are designed to improve the health of the feet as well as stimulating the feet’s reflex points – leading to health benefits such as improved circulation, more efficient digestion, pain relief and stress reduction. A walking Reflexology session!  Having a Reflexologist work these pressure points for you is infinitely more relaxing though as the sensations conveyed along these nerve endings can induce a wonderful state of tranquillity and calm.  

If you have been neglecting these biological wonders, you get double benefit as Reflexology will also encourage better circulation to them which in turn leads to healthier feet.  It’s wonderful to watch the feet start to ‘bloom’ as they bask in 60 min of concentrated appreciation and attention during a Reflexology session and by the end, they’re positively glowing…!     



Earthing….Your daily dose of Vitamin G

Throughout history, humans have spent time outdoors barefoot – hunting, gardening or tilling the soil –  humans have always touched the earth…  Think for a minute how you feel when you walk barefoot along wet sand at the beach or on a field of dewy grass.  Do you recall feeling some tingling in your feet or legs, or a sense of warmth or well-being rising up into your body? This is now known by the term ‘Earthing’ or ‘Grounding’. The Earth literally teems with natural electrical energy and the theory is that our bodies are meant to come into contact with this energy or “grounding” force on a regular basis. Emerging research is showing that when we are connected directly to the earth’s electric field through direct contact with our skin, the earth’s negatively-charged electrons flow through us and our electric charge goes from positive to negative. Negative electrons (those flowing from the earth) are known as healing electrons, while positively-charged electrons are those that contribute to disharmony and disease. In other words you receive an energy infusion, compliments of Mother Earth. Think of it as “Vitamin G” – G for ground. Just as the sun above creates vitamin D in your body, the ground below provides you with vitamin G, a kind of “electrical nutrition.” *

The research is showing that Earthing may be a simple, natural and yet profoundly effective environmental therapy which may help to reduce inflammation and chronic pain, increase energy, improve sleep, lower stress, improve blood pressure and flow and speed healing – among many other very positive effects.**   Good grounding surfaces include sand, grass, soil, concrete/brick and ceramic tiles.  Surfaces not so good for grounding include asphalt, wood, rubber, plastic and vinyl and tarmac.

But, if you don’t live in an area that lends itself to wandering around barefoot, don’t have a garden, or if it simply doesn’t appeal then it’s good to know that there is a way of enjoying the benefits of a barefoot lifestyle without actually being barefoot….Reflexology. The foot is a collection of thousands of sensors that sense pressure, stretch and movement. Reflexology can stimulate these sensors and help to reawaken those areas of the brain once activated by having to navigate rocky terrain. The bottoms of the feet are teeming with nerve endings, yet because we insulate our feet through thick rubber shoe soles, we miss out on a lot of sensation. Reflexology helps to address this and can help to bring about positive and therapeutic changes in the nervous system as well as boosting immunity and bringing about a greater sense of wellbeing.

* Dr Stephen Sinatra, HeartMD Institute

**Journal of Environmental and Public Health



Has Your Immune System had its Breakfast Yet…?

A voice on the radio asks me this as I drop my son off at school – it’s an ad for a probiotic yoghurt-type drink.   I did actually remember to take my probiotic this morning and my gut is now playing host to gazillions of ‘friendly’ bacteria. I smile as I imagine these friendly little fellas being ever so nice and polite to my insides and exchanging cheerful banter with neighbouring cells and organs….. Although friendly to our insides, they helpfully want to kill the nasty bacteria that could potentially make us ill and that’s why we take them.  The fact is, that your immune cells are chomping their way through the equivalent of breakfast, lunch and dinner all rolled into one – every second of every day.  Silent assassins lying in wait to protect you from invading microbes. They are vitally important in digesting some of the food we eat, developing our immune system, and protecting us from harmful bacteria. 

Every single person has a gut microbiome that is unique to them alone, sort of like a fingerprint.  It is now thought that the microbes in the gut affect whether we develop gut diseases like inflammatory bowel disease or infectious colitis and may also determine whether or not we will develop other conditions that extend outside the gut such as obesity, cancer, anxiety, and depression –  all may be influenced by the type of bacteria living in the gut….

Our bodies are constantly defending us against attack from bacteria, viruses, fungi and chemicals and it does this successfully every single moment of every single day.  The body’s immune system has other ingenious weapons that it can use. 

Our first line of defence are barriers such as our skin, mucous, tears and saliva, together with chemical barriers such as perspiration and gastric juices.  If bugs still manage to enter the body, they face the body’s next line of defence – natural killer cells.  These are white blood cells (born and raised in our bone marrow, spleen and thymus gland) which act as the body’s police, army, general cleaners and repairers.  Every single cell in the body has its own ‘identification papers’ which verify that it belongs inside you. No papers – no entry. The microbe is identified as an unfriendly invader (antigen) and is destroyed as quickly as possible by the white blood cells.  The body’s third line of defence is the process of inflammation (swelling, heat, redness, pain) and during this process the body sends the white immune cells needed for toxin clean up and repair of the injury site.  If all these measures don’t work and infection takes hold, the body has a fourth line of defence – fever.  The body increases its core temperature to a point where either the growth of the invading bacteria is severely impaired or it cannot survive.  Genius.

We know that a healthy, balanced diet and good quality sleep can positively influence the strength of our immune system, but did you know that the hormones released during prolonged periods of stress can significantly reduce immune function by up to 60%?  The first signs of this could be a sore throat, frequent colds and niggly infections.  It takes an awful lot of your energy to operate an efficient immune system, so when we go through periods of stress our bodies diverts energy to those body systems needed to cope at that moment while other body systems such as the immune system and digestive system are suppressed. Incorporating regular reflexology into a healthy wellbeing regime can help your body out of the stress response back to a place of physiological balance.  This in turn will will help the free flow of energy back to those body systems which have been suppressed – bringing your immune system back online.  



A Quiet Island…..

“I don’t really like anybody near my feet….”  I look at the very tense feet I have in front of me today and quickly reassure my worried looking client that we can easily switch to hand Reflexology instead if she feels uncomfortable at any point.  It’s a Reflexology taster session and this lovely lady has felt brave enough to get her own feet out (which she tells me are ‘ugly’) after just having watched her best friend slip into relaxed Reflexology bliss during her taster session.  Given how she feels about her feet, the first major step for her was the act of removing her shoes and bearing her soles.  When I don’t actually run screaming from the room as she seems to expect, she visibly relaxes and I begin to apply some calming techniques to acupressure points on her feet.

The truth is that to a Reflexologist, your feet are fascinating.  To us, each new pair of feet is like a map waiting to be explored or a book waiting to be read.  Any blemish, bent toe or patch of rough skin an integral part of the overall story.

Touching the feet.  Some people hardly ever do it. They put on their shoes and socks without really coming into contact with their feet.  If you really take a look at your feet – go on, take a good look – you will see how they are a perfect mini-map of the whole body.  The toes are like little heads and the inside curve of the foot corresponds to the natural curves of the spine.  With over 7000 nerve endings in each foot, it is hardly surprising that Reflexology can have such a deeply profound relaxing effect on the nervous system.

Our body is a dynamic and constantly changing energy system –with energy needing to flow unhindered around our organs and body systems to maintain good and balanced health.  However, we live in a sea of noise, deadlines, worries and responsibilities,  bombarded by environmental pollutants which can upset the balance of our body systems and energies potentially leading to health issues and disorders. Many people find that Reflexology can provide a quiet island in the course of the week which enables them to reboot and restore balance, which in turn can help to maintain good health and wellbeing.

My lovely, initially reluctant client is now lying back in a glowing contented haze, no longer self-conscious about her feet and completely lost in the multitude of sensations being transferred from the thousands of nerve endings in her feet to the rest of her body…

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you….

(Anne Lamott)

Health…it’s an Inside Job

‘Holistic’ – it’s a word you’ve probably heard used a lot but what does it actually mean?   The term ‘holistic’ comes from the Greek word ‘holos’ which means ‘whole’.  It’s the practice of taking the whole person into account rather than just the symptoms of a particular illness or disease.  Holistic therapies such as Reflexology are underpinned by the idea that health is the result of harmony between the body and the mind. Therefore, you will find the focus during any holistic therapy is not purely on physical symptoms you may have, but equal attention is paid to how all your body systems are working together.  Furthermore, all of this is considered in the context of what psychological, social or environmental factors may be having an impact on you at the time too.

Stresses of any kind, be they physical, psychological, social or environmental can upset this balance and cause ‘dis-ease’.  You may be experiencing a symptom in one part of your body, but the cause may originate somewhere else – in another body system, the result of a nutritional deficiency or a physical symptom brought on by emotional conflict or stress going on in your life. 

Consider the situation where ‘flu is doing the rounds in the office.  Not everybody will catch it.  Why?  They are all exposed to the same bug so it must be the internal environment within each body – their state of wellbeing at that moment – that’s the deciding factor in who goes down with flu and who doesn’t.   It’s becoming more and more evident that the onset of illness as well as our ability to heal is greatly influenced by our emotional and psychological state. 

Reflexology and other holistic therapies do not see you as a collection of separate parts but as one amazing, dynamic energy system which comes complete with its own powerful chemistry set and internal pharmacy.  All your thoughts and feelings get translated into chemicals that fire off throughout your body altering the behaviour of your cells. A sad feeling will influence the cells of your tear ducts and make them produce tears and a funny joke or lovely memory will release feel-good hormones and lighten your mood.

The profoundly calm and relaxed state of being enjoyed by many during a Reflexology treatment provides the ideal conditions for ‘Bodymind’ rebalancing and healing to take place.  It is thought that in this state the mind quiets and chemicals are released which help to balance the digestive system, bring the heart rate down and reduce the amount of stress hormones in the body.  This in turn can help to reduce and relieve the many stress related symptoms which are responsible for over 70% of visits to our GPs.   In this way, holistic therapies can have a vital part to play in maintaining bodymind health and wellbeing.

For the Part can never be well, unless the whole is well….(Plato)


In one year and out the other…

Making positive lifestyle changes is usually on most people’s list of resolutions for the year ahead and this was certainly the case for a new client who recently contacted me.  She had decided that she was going to start having regular reflexology sessions – not because she has a particular health issue, but as a means of keeping healthy for 2017 and having some relaxing time out for herself.

Using complementary therapies like reflexology in order to help prevent ill health is a practice more and more of us are turning to these days.  All body systems are worked via the feet during reflexology as all our body systems need to work together for balanced health and wellbeing.  If that balance is disturbed – either by stress, fatigue, or environmental and/or chemical pollution – then we are susceptible to illness and disease. To keep the body running harmoniously, a tune-up is often needed and for many, reflexology does just that. 

The deep and profound state of relaxation induced by reflexology assists in producing endorphins (the body’s feel-good hormones) which help to relieve stress and pain as well as boosting your mood.   Studies show that people who have a more positive, optimistic and contented state of mind develop a more robust immune system which protects them from viruses and bacteria.  The relaxing nature of this therapy also allows the miles of cardiovascular vessels within us to relax which improves circulation and may help to reduce blood pressure.  Taking out the rubbish regularly is essential for a healthy body and mind and the body systems responsible for this – lymphatics, kidneys, colon and skin – are all encouraged to function more efficiently and smoothly.   This all helps keep the body in a dynamic state of balance. 

Ok, so you had really good new year intentions this year and if you’ve managed to stick to them so far, I applaud you.  But if not, don’t stress it.  We put so much pressure on ourselves at a particular point in the year to make changes and if we don’t jump to it right away – we view it as a failure.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.  It’s not about making one big change at one specific moment in time.  If you want it enough, change will happen, but it probably won’t happen in one big single moment.  It will take thousands of little moments…each time you choose to walk instead of taking the bus, each time you choose an apple over a biscuit and each time you choose to stay calm and slow down rather than allow yourself to get stressed and irritated…that’s where the change happens.   Yes you might fail once or twice…or twenty times, but you’ve got thousands of more little moments ahead of you to get it right.   



Skin…It’s Got You Covered

If you were asked, which is the largest organ in your body… would you say it was the liver? The lungs?  Would you even consider your skin to be an organ?  It is, in actual fact, your largest organ and covers about 1.7 square meters (18 square feet in old money) of the human body.  It weighs about 9 pounds and contains more than 11 miles of blood vessels.

What’s the big deal about our skin?  This amazing organ is our first line of defence, our knight in skin-coloured armour, our human shield creating a barrier against the constant onslaught from our environment. It sends out the first SOS to the brain via the nerves that we’re being hurt which makes us move – double quick – away from further injury.  Our skin is the body’s natural heating and air-conditioning system and, under instruction from the brain, is always striving to maintain our core temperature either by sweating or shivering – regardless of whether we’re in the tropics or in the Antarctic.

Your skin is constantly fighting an epic battle on your behalf and if any harmful chemicals or bacteria make it through the protective layers of skin, they face the skin’s own immune hit squad which kill off most of these nasties. That said, we can and should do our bit by scrutinizing what we soak in and slap on especially when there is evidence which suggests that some ingredients in cosmetics may harm us and disrupt our hormone system; namely parabens and phthalates among others (see

Our amazing skin is also a barometer of our overall health.  It is an important organ of elimination and belongs to a group of organs including the lungs, kidneys, large intestine and liver, whose role is to help our body get rid of toxins and help prevent chemical waste build-up.  Drinking plenty of water, taking regular exercise and eating a well-balanced diet are all important ways of supporting your skin and the other organs of elimination.

As a Reflexologist, if I see a client with a skin condition, I always look at how the other organs of elimination are functioning and work these reflexes on the feet to try to help the skin.  The liver is the cleansing powerhouse of the body and if it is not doing its job of breaking down toxins efficiently, they must be eliminated from your body by other means – in many cases they may come out through your skin!*

Skin is also the organ of touch and as such is one of the most meaningful ways we connect with other people.  From a first handshake, to a warm hug, touch is an important means of communication and comfort. Reflexology is a touch therapy and this is one of the reasons it can be so effective in the healing process.


*It is always advisable to consult your GP if you are at all worried about any skin condition or problem