Focusing on Your Head, Hands, and Feet

December 11, 2012

Matt is one of our fantastic massage therapists at milk + honey 2nd Street District.

There really isn’t anything like a proper back rub. A quick session on the shoulders and neck at any given time does wonders, too. Some people really do keep all of their stress there, but what about the neglected head, hands, and feet?

After all, these three features all but define our humanity, if not our human form. Only humans have feet shaped to accommodate bipedal motion for long periods of time. Our hands, sensitive and dextrous, allowed our ancestors to shape our environment to our purposes. Over time camp sites became villages, and villages became cities. With these hands we carried and cared for our young, for much longer periods of time than other mammals. Human children require longer periods of dependence on their parents than other mammals, thanks to the size of their brains. We have huge heads relative to our bodies. Starting from within, the eyes are the windows of the soul. Our face carries our past while, to some, our palms describe our future. Many of us never consider these unsung heroes, but they have allowed us to accomplish all that we have, and define us as individuals.

The more poetic expressions of medical practice intuited and explored the importance of our head, hands, and feet, most famously, the doctors of traditional Chinese medicine. They understood the head, hands, and feet are doorways through which they could gain entry to the rest of our body. Here the ears symbolize and relate the fetal body, and acupuncture treatments can focus solely on this area. Furthermore the eyes, tongue, face, and pulse all inform a TCM practitioner’s diagnosis. The aruvedic traditions of India privileged the hands and feet with special importance. They understood that the minor chakras embedded in the hands bore a special relationship to the heart, and those of the feet related to the root chackra, almost like ambassadors. Other wellness practices, such as reflexology, have grown from a similar synecdoche. Reflexologists treat the entire body, focusing on major body structures and organs, by manually manipulating the feet and hands.

Relying on a more direct connection, Rolfers and structural integrationalists target the hands and feet for some of their most significant fascial interventions. These body workers avail themselves of the collagenous network that forms the warp and weft of our body, connecting us from tip to stern. The arches of our feet contain fibers that connect, blend, and piggy back all of the way into the reaches of our diaphragm, our pericardium, and the inside of our heads. The hands too, share a fascia that stretches inward, relating wrist to elbow to shoulder before diving inward toward the torso.

One of the strongest connections these extraneous structures have with the rest of the body resides in our brain itself. Our bodies show an enormous degree of enervation and sensory intelligence in our head, hands, and feet, disproportionate to the rest of the body. Nervous tissue arranges in a series of one way streets, motor neurons travel from the central nervous system and sensory neurons travel toward it. Sensory input goes back into the brain, the greater detail of which, is the greater effect. Therapeutic, supportive, and sympathetic touch in these areas will go far to calm the mind, and thus the body.

The common image of the sensory homonuculus anthropomorphizes the sensory motor cortex, basically correlating the devoted sensory cortical space of our brain to the size in those structures in the human body to the homonuculus. Photo by Beth Scupham

In short, one cannot avoid affecting the entirety of the body when only working the head, hands, or feet.

Often we neglect these in practice and in memory. I find that most people are unaware as to how much tension they hold in their hands, feet, jaw, scalp, and so on, until another human works those areas.

I find it intriguing that, regardless of whether one favors a physical, structural relationship, or a more poetic and energetic one, that the very structures of our bodies that help us relate to and alter the outside world, in turn have the richest relationships to the core of our being … our hearts and minds.

If you find your curiosity piqued, or simply want to verify or deny my ramblings, know that milk + honey offers the distinct service of focusing on the head, hands, and feet. You can also request your therapist to spend more time in these areas yourself, wherever you enjoy massage.


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