Combining Forces - Aromatherapy and Reflexology

By D.S. Braun - Certified Aromatherapist, Certified Reflexologist


In the holistic health care field many healing modalities have become the subject of interest and study for healthcare providers, holistic practitioners and the general populace alike. Many are finding that the combination of two or more therapies brings quicker, more complete relief from physical, emotional, spiritual and mental maladies than does one modality alone. For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to focus on the practice of using Aromatherapy to complement and enhance the benefits of Reflexology.

Many people are aware of the positive aspects of Reflexology. Stress release, total relaxation, and relief from chronic complaints are some areas that this treatment targets. Now, imagine using essential oils to complement the above effects. By combining the healing properties of Aromatherapy with the calming touch of Reflexology, clients undergo a complete holistic experience.

Reflexology massage is derived from a primitive instinct. It is inherent in human nature to use ‘touch’ to comfort and heal. Hugging, patting, even kissing a child’s scraped knee are all instinctive responses ‘to making it better’. Not only does this help to relieve physical pain, but it also makes one feel emotionally secure. Without conscious intent, we generate a small form of holistic care. This, the act of touching, combines the physical and emotional sides of what we consider to be ‘care’. (5)

Essential oils complete the holistic approach by affecting the mind. Due to the fact that these oils stimulate the limbic system, the brain’s own healing mechanism is triggered. By inhaling these fragrances during therapy, the scents’ own healing power enters the bloodstream. When these oils activate the olfactory bulb, it sends electrical impulses to the Limbic system, which affects emotional behaviour. This is why people feel invigorated when they smell Rosemary and Basil, and calmed by Chamomile and Jasmine. (5)

This is the main focus of ‘ReflexAroma’ - the term I have coined to signify the combination of Reflexology and Aromatherapy methods: to combine several of the body’s senses in effectual healing. Other orthodox medical practices can temporarily ‘heal the client’ but usually fails to help the client ‘to heal themselves’. This is where ReflexAroma excels as a treatment. By using scent and touch together, the body’s healing is heightened not only by the therapist, but also by the client.

First let us take a look at the definitions, histories and benefits of Aromatherapy and Reflexology.

Aromatherapy - What Is It?

Aromatherapy is a holistic treatment, the aim of which is to produce a physical, spiritual, emotional and mental sense of well-being through inhalation and massage of essential oils. Essential oils are derived from plants and are chosen for their particular therapeutic qualities that are stimulating, refreshing and sedative. Massage is used with the oils to enhance their effectiveness. (1)

Aromatherapy is also referred to as the fragrant art of using socially selected aromatic oils for therapeutic purposes. It is one of the fastest growing complementary therapies in the world and is recognised as one of the most natural and holistic treatments available today. (1)

Aromatherapy does not aim to treat disease. Its aim is to release feelings of well-being, harmony and improved mental and physical health. (1)

Essentail oils are aromatic volatile liquids distilled from shrugs, flowers, trees, roots, bushes and seeds. The chemistry of essential oils is very complex; each one may consist of hundreds of different and unique chemical compounds. Moreover, essential oils are highly concentrated and far more potent than dried herbs. The distillation process is what makes the essential oils so concentrated. It often requires an entire plant or more to product a single drop of distilled essential oil. (4)

Aromatherapy - History

Nobody knows exactly where and when the healing art of aromatherapy began. Nevertheless, it has its roots in the rites and rituals of earliest mankind. By analysis of fossilised pollens found in ancient habitation and burial sites of early humans, scientists have discovered traces of plants that have known medicinal properties. At least some of these properties must have been evident to these early people, who would have made the discovery either by accident or by observation. Early man would soon have recognised which leaves, berries, fruit or roots encouraged wounds to heal or sickness to improve. He would also have observed which plants sick animals sought out and ate. They discovered startling proof of the early use of plants by Neanderthal man in 1975 at a cave site in Iraq. Scientific excavation showed signs of human habitation for 60 000 years and the discoveries there have been some of the most significant and important finds to date. (1)

At this site in 1975, the burial of a Neanderthal adult male was discovered. The subsequent soil analysis showed pollen evidence that the body had been placed on a bed of a type of woody horsetail plant and that it had been buried with a wreath of flowers. The plants used for the wreath are all well known today and still used for their medicinal properties. They include yarrow, groundsel, cornflower, St. Barnaby’s thistle, grape, hyacinth and hollyhock. As several of these plants are known to have wound healing and fever reducing properties, it is tempting to think that they were used for those same properties by the Neanderthal man, who, far from being a lumbering cretinous creature, had now been shown to have been a thinking, feeling being as demonstrated by the care of the burial ritual. (1)

Evidence of the widespread use of aromatic plant substances was seen in the tomb paintings of the ancient Egyptians 5000 years ago. Plant substances were used not only for medicinal purposes, but also for perfumes and cosmetics, in preservation and preparation of food to enhance flavour and aid digestion. They were also used for their antibacterial and antiviral properties to stave off illness and epidemic. Some were even found to have contraceptive qualities. (1)

The ancient Egyptians practised a sophisticated level of medicine and many of the plants that they used are today recognised as beneficial in the treatment of certain diseases. Their surgeons even developed techniques for successful brain surgery. (1)

Medieval Europe saw the use of plants in infusions, pills, potions, pomanders and nosegays, which were sniffed as protection against epidemic and pestilence. The herbs lavender, sage and rosemary were used widely to scent linen and to protect materials against moths. Herbs were strewn on the floors of dwellings to perfume rooms and repel fleas, flies and ticks. In times of plague, bonfires were lit at intervals along the streets in the belief that the smoke would act as a powerful disinfectant and would give some protection against infection. Although many uses of plants through the centuries would have been extremely effective, some were not and this type of fumigation during the times of the bubonic plague would provably have been useless. (1)

Towards the end of the 19th Century, a French chemist, Professor Rene Gattefosse, accidentally discovered the healing power of lavender essence when he plunged his hand into a bowl of lavender oil after receiving a bad burn. The burn healed quickly, without forming a blister or leaving a scar. He then began many years of research into the healing properties of essential oils. His knowledge increased further when he treated soldiers wounded during the 1914 - 1918 war and in 1928 he gave his treatment the name “Aromatherapie”. (1)

His work was later extended by Dr. Jean Valnet, a French physician, who used essential oils to treat cancers, tuberculosis, diabetes and other serious illnesses. He claimed many successes. Marguerite Maury followed him, a French biochemist and beautician, who further developed massage techniques and skin-care treatments using essential oils. She continued to further develop and work in the field of aromatherapy until she died in 1968 at the age of 73. Interest in aromatherapy has continued to grow and today, rightly, it has a massive following. (1)

Aromatherapy - Benefits

Essential oils are some of the oldest and most powerful therapeutic agents known. In their pure state, essential oils are also some of the most concentrated natural extracts known, exhibiting significant and immediate antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, hormone-balancing effects. In clinical practic, they have been shown to have a profound influence on the central nervous system, helping to reduce or eliminate pain, release muscle tenstion and provide strong emotional uplift. (4)

The chemical structure of an essential oil is such that it can rapidly penetrate cell membranes, travel throught the blood and tissues, and enhance cellular function. (4)

Dr. Gary Young, ND, observed two fundamental facts during his 20-year history in using essential oils in his practice. First, he began to see that essential oils are very potent, in some cases more potent than prescription drugs. Second, despite their concentration and strength, unlike prescription drugs, the essential oils generated no negative side effects. (4)

Reflexology - What Is It?

For the Reflexologist, the feet are a microcosm of the human body and every organ and body part is represented in the feet. Where there are two organs in the body they will be represented on both feet, e.g. lungs and kidney and where there is only one organ, this will be represented on one foot, e.g. the liver will be on the right foot while the heart will be on the left. Where the organ or body part is reflected in the feet, this is called the “organ” reflex, e.g. the heart reflex. (2)

Reflexology is the science or method of stimulating reflexes of the foot, hand or ear that correspond to each gland, organ and part of the body. Stimulation of these reflexes serves to relax and normalize all functions of the body in order to promote a natural balance and revitalization. In ancient times, walking barefoot over rocks and hard ground naturally stimulated these reflexes every day. (3)

By applying pressure on specific areas of the feet or hands, a reflexologist can stimulate corresponding organs or glands. For instance, pressure is applied to the big toe to affect the pituitary gland and the four other toes are stimulated to affect to the brain, sinuses, eyes and ears. Because internal organs like the lungs and the kidneys can not be directly massaged, reflexologists believe that the feet, hands, and ears are an appropriate alternative. (3)

The right foot represents the right side of the body as well as the past while the left foot represents the left side of the body as well as the present and future. (2)

Reflexology - Principals

By stimulating reflexes on the feet, hands and body with a type of pressure massage, the organs of the body are stimulated, thus allowing them to start unblocking and healing themselves. In addition to this, the stimulation of these reflexes allows the body to begin detoxing and eliminating poisons which have built up through bad diet, thinking and habit. (3)

Reflexology can only be defined as a body, foot or hand massage that induces relaxation and reduces tension. This is essentially true. By inducing relaxation and reducing tension, the body is able to heal itself. (3)

Reflexology - History

Reflexology is known to be more than four thousand years old. Paintings were discovered showing a Reflexology treatment in practice in about 2300 BC. The Chinese were known to have used the practice of Reflexology in earlier years in conjunction with Acupuncture. (2)

There is no way of tracing the true beginnings of Reflexology, however both the Egyptians and the Chinese shared the same belief of the use of this treatment. (2)

Reflexology, as it is known in the West today, had its origins in the study of Zone Therapy. This practice utilised the longitudinal lines of energy that run through the body starting at the feet and moving up to the brain. In the early 20th Century Dr William Fitzgerald spent time broadening his medical experience at various hospitals. At a post in an American hospital where he was head of an ear, nose and throat department, he brought to the attention of the medical world his research into the ancient Chinese healing techniques. He had discovered that by applying pressure to the feet he could bring about an increase in the functioning of other parts of the body. (2)

By chance a Eunice Ingham, a physiotherapist at a hospital, overhead talk on Dr Fitzgerald’s findings and was immediately fascinated by his discoveries as to the benefits brought about by Zone Therapy. (2)

In her practice at an orthopaedic hospital she introduced the practice of Zone Therapy after post operative surgical procedures on her patients, noticing that it speeded up the body’s natural healing and that they were able to move quicker after the operation. Eunice Ingham introduced Zone Therapy or Reflexology as we know it today. (2)

In 1930 Eunice Ingham started a private practice as a Reflexologist. She was instrumental in writing the first book on Reflexology and was later to open a teaching school dedicated specifically to train students in the practice of Reflexology. Eunice Ingham dedicated forty years of her life to Reflexology but sadly passed away in 1952. (2)

Reflexology - Benefits

Thousands of specific benefits have been reported from people who have received reflexology sessions. The broad range of reported benefits can be divided into several categories.

* Stress reduction, profound relaxation, for all parts of the body,
* Pain reduction and pain elimination, such as in the neck, shoulders, lower back and jaw,
* Improved circulation resulting in better oxygen and nutrient supply to all the cells of the body,
* Detoxification, improved organ and gland function,
* Feeling better, greater productivity, enriched quality of life,
* Normalization of body functions,
* Prevention by reducing accumulated stress in the body before health challenges develop,
* Safe nurturing touch. (3)

Methodology - Combining Aromatherapy and Reflexology

When you combine the practice of Reflexology with the use of essential oils, both modalities become more effective than either used alone.

Because reflex points are basically neural pathways to various body organs and systems, the therapeutic effects of the oils are carried through the body to treat the condition and through the reflex massage, circulation to these organs and systems is stimulated, unblocking vital energy pathways. This combination of effects - the unblocking and stimulation of energy and circulation together with the healing properties of the essential oils used - serves to better promote the body’s own natural self-healing tendencies.

The ability of essential oils to act on both the mind and the body is what makes them truly unique among natural therapeutic agents. The fragrance of an essential oil can be very stimulating - both psychologically and physically. The fragrance of other essential oils may be calming and sedating, helping to overcome anxiety or hyperactivity. On a physiological level, essential oils may stimulate immune function and regenerate damaged tissue. Essential oils may also combat infectious disease by killing virusses, bacteria, and other pathogens. (4)

Probably the two most common methods of essential oil application are cold-air diffusion and neat (undiluted) topical application. (4)

Combining the discipline of Reflexology with the application of essential oils enhances the healing response and often produces amazing results that can not be achieved by Reflexology or Aromatherapy alone. Just 1-3 drops of an essential oil applied to a meridian or reflex point on the hand or the foot can produce results within seconds to 1-2 minutes.

A technique which uses the principals of Reflexology in the application of essential oils is a method of delivery which is exceptionally effective in delivering the benefits of essential oils throughout the body. (4)

This method is based on a complete network of reflex points that stimulate all the internal body systems. Essential oils are applied to contact points, and energy is released through electrical impulses created by contact between the fingertips (or massage tool) and reflex points. This electrical charge follows the nerve pathways to a break or clog in the electrical circuit usually caused by toxins, damaged tissues, or loss of oxygen. As with acupressure, there are hundreds of reflex points throughout the body, encompassing the entire realm of body and mind, that are capable of releasing many kinds of tension, congestion, and imbalances. (4)

This application combination of Aromatherapy and Reflexology uses a rolling and releasing motion to apply the essential oils to the appropriate reflex points and/or areas. Use of a percussion instrument or other reflex tools are also effective methods of stimulation application of an essential oil.

Combining the therapeutic properties of the appropriate essential oil(s), which are absorbed into the body via the skin within minutes, with the energy and body system stimulation of Reflexology massage, the practitioner can frequently expect far more dramatic results in much less time than with the use of either healing modality alone.


Case History #1 - 14 year old female

Brief medical history: K was 35 week gestational baby who was born with an enlarged heart, a heart murmur and one immature lung. She was on heart/breathing monitors for the first year of her life. She had frequent bouts of pneumonia (average of once monthly) until she was 4 years old. At age 8 she was diagnosed with Cough Variant Asthma - a type of Asthma that is characterized by violent, sustained coughing due to spasms in the upper bronchial tubes. Whenever K suffered from any type of respiratory ailment - even the common cold - she would invariably end up in what physicians termed an ‘Acute Asthma Phase.”

These phases resulted in numerous trips to the emergency room and hospitalizations - intravaneous infusions of broncho-dialators, antihistamines and nebulizer treatments. She was put on the prescription medications Singulair and Advair at age 10 to attempt to prevent the frequent acute asthma phases and attacks. By age 12, K was continuing to experience at least bi-monthly attacks resulting in hospitalization.

Reflexology/Aromatherapy Treatment Begins: Treatments of reflexology began on K (at age 12), concentrating on the respiratory and lymphatic reflexes in both her feet and her hands. Also used during the reflexology treatments was an oil blend composed of the oils: Ravensara, Eucalyptus, Pine, Myrtle, Cypress and Peppermint.

The essential oil blend was also administered via direct inhalation and topical application to bronchial area on the chest.

Improvement in K’s condition was nearly immediate. After approximately six months of 3 x weekly Reflexology/Aromatherapy treatments, K showed marked improvement in breathing, stamina and overall health. She has not suffered another asthma attack severe enough to require medical intervention since the commencement of the afore-mentioned treatments. She was able to go off of her medication within 6 months of these treatments beginning and has remained off of all medication to date. She receives weekly maintenance reflexology treatment with the use of essential oils coming into play if there is any sign of respiratory illness.

During a recent bout of Croup at age 14.5, K was aggressively treated with the oil blend and a combination of manual reflexology foot stimulation and percussion foot stimulation. She was over her illness within 72 hours without having to use her rescue inhaler at all. That was a first for K in her lifetime.

Case History #2 - 40 year old female

Brief medical history: D had suffered from debilitating migraine headaches since the age of 13. Medical intervention resulted in the use of prescription drugs such as Fioronal, Ibuprofen and Hydrocodone. After experiencing a severe allergic reaction to a hydrocodone medication, D refused further prescription medication and instead relied on the practice of reflexology and over-the-counter pain medications.

The migraines included symptoms of dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and considerable pain in the back of the head and forehead. Reflexology, if used early enough in the headache, could stem the pain, but didn’t completely relieve the symptoms.

Reflexology/Aromatherapy treatment begins: At age 39, D began combining the reflexology stimulation on both hand and foot reflexes corresponding to head, eyes, sinuses and digestion, with an aromatherapy essential oil blend of Peppermint, Basil, Marjoram, and Helichrysum.

This blend is also administered via direct inhalation and topical application to the temples, behind the ears and throat area.

The addition of the essential oil blend to the reflexology stimulation resulted in total abatement of the migraine symptoms within 20 minutes as well as the ability to completely prevent a full-blown migraine if the technique was used at the first sign of a headache. Weekly prophylactic reflexology treatments have proven effective with no recurrence of headaches for the past 5 months.

Case History #3 - 15 year old female

Brief medical history: J experienced difficult menstrual cycles beginning at age 12, characterized by migraine headaches, cramping and nausea. Over-the-counter medications seemed to provide no relief and frequent visits to the emergency room resulted in injections of narcotics to relieve the migraine pain.

Reflexology/Aromatherapy treatment begins: At age 13, J began a regimen of reflex stimulation to both hand and foot reflexes corresponding to the endocrine glands (with special concentration on the sex gland reflexes), the head/brain, eyes, sinus and digestive reflexes. Oil blends were rotated during treatments, one blend for the migraine symptoms and one for the cramping and other symptoms of premenstural tension.

The migraine blend included the oils of: Peppermint, Basil, Marjoram, Helichrysum.

This blend was also administered via direct inhalation and topical application to temples, behind ears and throat area.

The premenstrual symptom blend contained the oils: Clary Sage, Marjoram, Fennel, Sage, Jasmine.

This blend was also administered via massage into J’s abdomen during bouts of cramping.

This combination therapy has proven very effective for J and she has not had to miss school since age 13.5 due to migraine or PMS symptoms - she is now age 15.5. Weekly prophylactic reflexology treatments are given. These treatments are combined with the essential oil blends during the time period immediately before the start of her menstrual cycle each month.


Combining reflexology and aromatherapy speeds the healing process in the body. The aromatherapy calms, revitalizes or stimulates and the reflexology balances the energy in the body.

For a healthy body everything must function in harmony. Reflexology can be used as a tune up by reducing tension and calming the mind. By reducing tension and calming the mind we are then free to think our best thoughts, work longer hours with greater clarity especially with difficult tasks and come up with our best ideas. Reflexology and aromatherapy combined, speeds up healing as it increases blood circulation, stimulates the body and makes the client feel refreshed, vital and energized.

From the research, as well as from my own experiences as shown by the three case histories, I am confident in asserting that combining the healing modalities of Aromatherapy and Reflexology is not only more effective than either modality used alone, but in the cases I’ve worked with, it has proven more effective, without the rash of negative side effects, than allopathic treatments and medication.

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Originally posted 2007-11-14 12:25:57. We hope you have enjoyed this Post From the Past!

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