As excerpted from The Skeptic’s Guide to The Adventures of Life-An Experiential Review of Alternative Healing.
Ko Tan, Nationally Certified Reflexologist, NCBTMB, Certified Massage Therapist and Instructor/Educator.
Just when you think you have learned everything you need to know about different energy modalities, you have an experience that helps you understand there is still a wealth of information out there to explore that you have yet to even touch on.
I had been chasing Ko Tan around Atlanta for a few months before I pinned down a time when I could meet with him to learn about reflexology and experience a session. He is a very gracious man and had agreed to work with me when we first chatted, but he often finds himself on the road teaching reflexology workshops across the country and our schedules made us continue to miss each other.
Reflexology is the science and healing art of applying touch to the pressure maps that are connected to other parts of the body. The reflexology body maps are found on the feet, hands and outer ears. I knew I had to include reflexology in my journey because my mother has had such great results from her experiences. My mom suffers from postpolio syndrome and has sought relief from various alternative therapies over the years for her overtaxed muscles which have been called upon to perform functions they were not originally designed to handle.
Mother’s neighborhood friend Winky had researched and then introduced her to the world of reflexology. There are not a lot of practitioners up in North Dakota, so they would journey over an hour to Ada, Minnesota when they wanted a session. The reflexologist would methodically work on her feet which helped loosen up the tension in her neck and shoulders and ultimately restore her physical balance.
While Mother would not have any reactions to the session until the next day, she would always laugh at Winky who would fall asleep in the car on the way home. Mother’s reactions were not severe; rather they just felt like she had experienced a deep tissue massage or chiropractic treatment that had given her muscles a real workout. But she always cautions that everyone reacts differently. When Mother first persuaded her friend Lucille to try out reflexology, she called my Mom up the next day and read her the royal riot act. Her legs were giving her all sorts of pain which she hadn’t had before she had gone for a session. Mom smiled and told her, “Well that is because you haven’t had the circulation going in your legs for some time. Give it a few days and see how it feels then.” And so it was good. Lucille became a convert and booked a number of subsequent sessions.
When I entered The Harmony Learning Center in Atlanta for my appointment, I was truly surprised that I significantly sensed I had entered a different space. While most healers try to operate in a calm and relaxed environment, often employing feng shui to help them create this feeling, Ko Tan’s success in creating a sense of peace seemed to far exceed every place else I had been. Yet it was a simply decorated room located in the lower level of a professional building. The small window had the blinds closed with barely any light seeping in. Most of the room was lit through a single sconce on the wall situated between two wall hangings, one of Koi and one with dragons. On the opposite wall were a couple of charts explaining the relationship between the reflex points and the rest of your body. There were a few bamboo plants in the corner and a few neatly arranged shelves mostly covered by decorative screens. The massage table in the center of the room was comfortably padded and had dark blue sheets and a lavender blanket with a pillow positioned to support the body under the knees and one for under the head.
I soon learned that Ko Tan might have an edge when it comes to applying feng shui. He has his masters degree in architectural design and practiced as an architect for six years before he was persuaded to become a full time instructor for the L.A.-based American Academy of Reflexology. While at first this may seem like a wild leap off a chosen path, with further discussion it seems the study of architecture was more the diversion from the planned journey. From the time Ko Tan was a very small boy in Malaysia, he was totally fascinated with the art of healing. His favorite pastime was to watch the local pharmacist prepare his magical concoctions. The kindly man was amused by this curious boy and would take the time to appease Ko Tan’s inquisitive mind with answers to his questions, “Can you put this medicine with that one? Can you ground that into powder?” or whatever else popped into his head as a mystery begging to be solved.
When he left home to study architecture in the US, Ko Tan did not totally leave his passion for healing behind. During his six years of architectural studies, he also took massage classes. Then with just a year left of school, he traveled home to see his mother, who had become gravely ill. She had been bedridden for three years and the family was highly distressed that they were unable to relieve her excruciating pain through traditional medicine. They had tried everything offered to them, but nothing gave their beloved mother relief. A friend of Ko Tan’s family had heard about a local man that was able to relieve pain with just the use of his hands and having exhausted every other avenue available to them, it didn’t take a lot of convincing for the family to decide to give it a try.
When they arrived, they were shocked to see the long line of people lined up at the gate waiting their turn for the 30-45 minute healing session. The line parted as the family carried their mother through the crowd, everyone willingly allowing her to move to the head of the line in hopes of receiving some relief. She was very frail and the Healer was only able to work on her for 5 minutes, but in those 5 minutes he was able to do what others could not. Her pain was totally erased. Ko Tan spent the last two weeks of his mother’s life at her bedside, finding her continued absence of any type of pain from just that one brief session to be a deeply profound experience.
When he returned to L.A., he decided to enroll in the professional reflexology program at the American Academy of Reflexology. Upon completing his masters degree in architecture, he proceeded to work as an architect and went on to study Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Samra University of Oriental Medicine. Later, he was persuaded to begin teaching reflexology for the American Academy of Reflexology and finally things “fell into place” as he became a full time reflexologist, massage therapist and an instructor.
Ko Tan has been a teacher of Traditional Chinese Medicine Theory since 1995. He was one of the few practitioners of the US invited to the International Chinese Medicine Symposium in Shanghai, China, in 1994. As a champion for the continued growth and broadening acceptance of reflexology, he participated in the first US study conducted on the positive effects reflexology has on PMS symptoms, which was published in the Obstetric & Gynecology Medical Journal, December 1993. In 1998, he co-founded the Georgia Reflexology Organization (GRO)and has been the president since. In the same year he was elected to be a board director for both the American Reflexology Certification Board (ARCB) and the International Council of Reflexologists (ICR).
Reflexology has its roots in ancient healing practices from Asia, Africa and the Middle East and is considered a way to reduce stress through a process that releases tension and toxins and restores balance to the body. As a healing art practiced in the US today, it is based on the work of two American physicians, Dr. William Fitzgerald and Dr. Joe Shelby Riley, in the 1920s. Foot and hand reflexology is based on the premise that there are ten zones of communication passing vertically through the body from the head to the fingertips and toes. Along these zones there are also reflex areas in the feet and hands which correspond to all body parts. When you stop to think about it, the connection seems logical when you think that we all start from a single cell that multiplies and takes shape as the human form. Reflexology is also based on a number of other theories including the fourteen meridians and the twenty-eight pressure points in the feet and hands discovered by the Chinese and the thousands of nerve endings found in the feet and hands that can reveal body imbalances through the discernable blockages around those nerve endings. he physical act of applying specific pressures using thumb, finger and hand techniques to these reflex points, works to help restore normal functioning to organs and glands, improve nerve function and the flow of blood, and bring about a state of relaxation.
In 1957, the first ear reflexology map that corresponds to the shape of the human body was discovered in France by Dr. Paul Nogier. Later the Chinese verified this map and came up with another Chinese ear map. Then in the early 1980’s, Bill Flocco developed the “Flocco Method- Integrating Foot, Hand & Ear Reflexology” in the US. It is the first reflexology program of its kind and Bill teaches it throughout the world. There is an extensive scientific basis for reflexology as well. Ko Tan explains: “In the 1890’s knighted research scientist, Dr. Henry Head, proved the neurological relationship that exists between the skin and the internal organs. Nobel prize winner, Sir Charles Sherrington proved that the whole nervous system and body adjusts to a stimulus when it is applied to any part of the body. In Germany, Dr. Alfons Cornelius observed pressure to certain spots triggered muscle contractions, changes in blood pressure, variation in warmth and moisture in the body as well as directly affecting the “psychic processes” or mental state of the patient.
“Currently research studies to further validate reflexology are being conducted in many countries including Switzerland, Denmark, USA and Australia. In Japan and Denmark reflexology has been incorporated into the employee health programs of several large corporations saving each company thousands of dollars annually. Over 300 reflexology research studies on over 150 health challenges have been conducted around the world.”
Ko Tan practices the Flocco Method. He explained that reflexology therapies utilizing just the feet or the hands and feet are very effective, but by working with all three of the major reflex points areas (on all the hands, ears and feet) you will have the best results. While each area is connected to all parts of your body, they have an area where they are particularly effective in relaxing and creating balance during a session.
For the hands, it is the sinuses, headaches and digestive problems. For the ears, it is neck and shoulder stress as well as lower back pain. For the feet, it is internal balances such as liver blockages, assimilation of nutrients, coordination and cooperation between the internal organs, gland imbalances, sugar imbalances, etc. All three of the areas are considered equally effective in addressing pain. As the reflexologist touches each of these areas, he can tell what is going on in the body by the visual and tactile changes of the hands, feet and ears. As they change, the practitioner can tell when to move to the next area. Reflexology is not considered a massage; rather it is a reflex modality.
Before we began our session, Ko Tan had me fill out a brief form where I provided my contact information and answered a few questions about what health conditions were bothering me, what type of major surgeries and/or medical traumas I had been through, current medications being taken and the reason for my visit.
He then escorted me into the room where we were to have the session and instructed me to remove my rings, earrings and eyeglasses, shoes and socks and then lay down on my back. Ko Tan put on music and to my surprise it was not the expected Asian music or classical, rather a woman singing more traditional sounding folk songs. When I later commented on the music, he says he selects different types of music depending upon his clients.
He began by lifting my right hand up and putting his fingers through mine, gently rotating my hand on my wrist. With his other hand, he began applying pressure to my thumb, then other fingers, palm and top of my hand. I could feel my sinuses slowly began to clear. When he was through, he laid my arm back down by my side and slightly tugged on my hand with one of his as he put slight pressure on my upper arm with his other hand. It was at about this point that I remembered to mention that a mysterious pain had developed over the last month in my upper right shoulder, like something was about to erupt, yet there was no sign of anything surfacing on the skin surface. He suggested that it was likely a concentration of toxins that need to drain out of system and that he would be working on unblocking my lymphatic system in general to help aid in the release of body toxin buildup.
Next he moved behind my head and began gently touching the upper parts of both ears. I was surprised at how soothing it felt and was thinking I should learn how to do this magic. Later he moved down to the base of my ear lobes and applied pressure to them. He asked if I felt stress in my neck and upper back and I said I hadn’t noticed any. It was during this part of the session that I started seeing purple energy blobs appear in my closed-eye darkness. I am always entertained when something like this happens, but this was even more unusual than what I had experienced before. Typically I would see little purple blobs changing shapes and coming towards me indicating little spirit guides coming to aid in the healing process. But this time, the purple blobs were big and coming from behind my eyes and then disappearing into a yellow blob of energy.
I mentioned this to Ko Tan and he indicated that it was a good sign, I could be releasing something I had been holding on to. Later as we talked more about reflexology, Ko Tan explained that at the heart of the practice is the intent to release and balance so the body can help heal itself, and that was exactly what was happening to me.
When he moved to my left hand and repeated the same routine as followed on the right, something unusual happened when he was finished. I was still feeling the pressure of his hand on my upper arm, yet I could see him through my half closed eyes as clearly at the opposite end of the table at the base of my feet, out of reach of my arm. When I asked him about this after the session, he told me that it is important to keep a physical or energy contact throughout the session to keep everything flowing as he worked inside my energy field. When he had physically released his hand from my upper arm, he consciously kept his energy presence there as to not break the connection while he walked to the end of the table to began working on my feet.
By this time I was in a full state of relaxation with my eyes fully closed, a stillness that does not come quickly or easily to me without being asleep. As I was lying there, I started to feel a prickly, tingling sensation in my head, and when asked what part of my body Ko Tan was working on, he confirmed he had in fact just completed working on the reflex points between my head and right shoulder.
That night I felt a strong tiredness across my shoulders and upper back, like I had over exercised those muscles, yet amazingly the only physical movement I had was a light touch and slight pressure on my hands, ears and feet. By morning, most of the tired muscle feeling was gone. I also had slept very, very deeply. So much so, that I was told I had made an incredible snoring noise that night like a Mack truck was making its way through the bedroom. Thankfully that is not my typical nightly routine, yet it evidences the deep relaxation that ensued post session.
I definitely felt like there was a shift in my body as a result of the session evidenced by the workout felt by my neck and shoulder, the clearing of my sinuses and the deep sleep I had experienced that night.
Through my journey, I have also come to value the appearance of the purple energies that appear in my closed-eye darkness. The fact that they were moving out and away from me further validates the releasing and balancing effect of reflexology on me.
I have a new-found respect for my hands, feet and ears and the connection they have with the rest of my body. It makes one think about the wisdom in taking the time and giving the attention needed to better care for these areas.
I would like to learn more about this modality and how I can apply some of the theories to help myself relax and keep in balance. I am especially intrigued by the effects of touching the ear points and that might very well be the result of that reflex point being the preferred contact point for relieving tightness in the neck and shoulders, the point where I hold a lot of my stress. Ko Tan offers a 28 hour course for those who want to learn how to apply reflexology for self care and I am putting that on my list of things to do. Those interested in pursuing reflexology as a career should anticipate 200 hours of study to become a practitioner.
For more information visit:http://www.americanacademyofreflexology.com