Scents of lavender, eucalyptus and soothing music alerts me that I am at a reflexology centre. I am here to unwind from a busy life with a one-hour foot therapy that involves an expert tapping on my feet.
By applying pressure of specific parts of my feet, the reflexology therapist says it will reduce stress, improve blood circulation, rid the body of toxins, hasten healing and help fight disease.
At Svelte Reflexology Centre in Nairobi’s Westlands, Esther Mukami starts the session by asking my age, race, gender and underlying conditions such as injuries, high blood pressure and surgeries.
“These questions matter because a woman, who has periods, is ovulating or going through menopause means I use a different approach to massaging the pressure points on the feet,” says Esther.
During a reflexology treatment, a therapist touches ‘reflex areas in the feet and that every part of the body corresponds to.
It is said that there are over 7,000 nerves in each foot which when stimulated they achieve many health benefits as massage does.
“Reflexology is done on the feet so it can be done in a less private area, unlike massage and acupressure. The scents and music have a calming effect on the client,” says Esther .
As more Kenyans seek alternative methods of healing, to relax or sleep better, Esther has seen an increase in number of locals, both men and women.
“Generally, my clients are Kenyans but because I have worked abroad, I have made a lot of contacts from South Sudan, expatriates. I have an equal number of men and women. Usually people in their 30s visit the centre more.
The oldest patient I have attended to, the family says she is between 115 and 120 years old,” she says.
The second step is sanitising the feet.
“I cover the foot I am not working on to keep it warm. Feet can get cold quickly and that will interfere with the coziness and relaxing a client is supposed to experience,” she says.
This is then followed by applying the cream being used to do the reflexology. A professional reflexologist can make use of any kind of oil that is available especially in cases of emergency. They can even use cooking oil, as long as they know the pressure points, they just need something to make sure they are not dragging the patient's skin.
The examination of the foot then begins.
“From looking at underneath a patient's foot, there is so much I can tell. The shape and the colour of the foot can provide interesting pointers.
For example, I can immediately tell if someone has enough sleep, if they experience migraines, if they have allergies such as sinuses and eyestrain. Every part of your foot connects to an organ.
For example, the centre of your foot represents your intestines, the big toe the head and so on. The examination is also to create awareness for someone who has never done reflexology before so that they understand that all their body organs are on the feet. I also check if there are wounds during the examination,” she says.
Ticklish feet are usually not an issue in reflexology, because there is a professional way that you handle the reflex points on the feet. Once a therapist works on a specific point, it passes a particular wireless transmission message to the spine and then immediately to the specific area or organ.
“When doing reflexology, you may experience a little bit of pain on some areas of the foot. The pain can be because the organ has an issue or there is poor blood circulation. The discomfort could also be because some parts are more sensitive than others for example the part of the foot that connects to the uterus for women and the prostate for men,” she says.
Common conditions she sees clients for are nerve-related issues because of the sedentary lifestyles most people live. Muscle issues are also common because of sitting long hours.
Nevertheless, even without any conditions, Esther says one needs to see a reflexologist at least once a month to check on your overall health.
“For someone who has an issue, we advice on how many sessions one will need to treat that condition. If one is already on medication, we do not discontinue until your doctor advises otherwise.
Once a condition is identified, you are scheduled for specific sessions of therapy. On average, you will need 10 sessions but within the first five sessions, you will have got results. Ideally, the sessions should be done every day but we usually adjust depending on someone's schedule,” she says.
Despite this flexibility, certain conditions require stricter adherence to the reflexology sessions such as patients seeing her for paralysis.
“Paralysis requires 10 sessions, to begin with, every day. After that, they can space out depending on how they are responding. The cost per session is the same (Sh3,500) regardless of what you are being treated for,” she says.
“In general, reflexology is a preventive measure, you do not have to be sick to go for a reflexology session. A reflexologist can detect a problem and advice,” she says.