Betsy’s hands — from face to feet, pampering and healing

Finally, the answer to: What the heck is reflexology, anyway?

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Joyce Wagner submits to the able hands of Betsy Shands. — Photo by Michael Cummo

By her own admission, Betsy Shands is a seeker. Her quest for knowledge has taken her through many esoteric disciplines in two countries, until she landed full-time on Martha’s Vineyard in 2003 and opened her energy healing shop, Betsy’s Hands. “We are energetic beings in a physical body,” she explains. Her repertoire of services includes Hand and/or Feet Reflexology, Craniosacral Reflexology, massage, Transformational Coaching, Neurolinguistic Programming, and Body/Emotional Release Work, and many more.

I visited Betsy in her Vineyard Haven studio for two procedures — reflexology on my feet and what she calls an Access Energetic Facelift. I arrived armed with Chicago-bred doubts.

I didn’t have to remove anything but shoes and socks for the procedures. After a quick chat and tour of her studio (including a built-in sauna), she invited me to relax in a chaise lounge. I settled in, she began working on my feet, and I asked questions.

The problem with interviewing a practitioner while having a soothing procedure done is that one tends to drift into a kind of contented mental limbo. Also, whenever my feet would tense because I was becoming too cerebral, Betsy would grab control by hitting a certain point on the edge of the ball of my foot with her thumb. I would have to fight for my train of thought.

At one point, I actually felt a surge of energy pulling down from my head into my body. So much for my misgivings. I finally gave up, relaxed, and enjoyed the process. By the end of an hour, if the room had caught fire, I would have been hard-pressed to move at anything resembling a normal rate of speed, and would probably have accepted my fate without complaint. I was a rag.

Besides relaxing, the procedure is said to be healing. “People still think of it [as], ‘I have something wrong with my foot, I’m going to a reflexologist.’ It’s not podiatry. It’s a gateway into the whole body — physical issues, emotional issues, psychological issues, and, ultimately, spiritual issues. It’s communicating with the body. What we do in reflexology is to communicate with the body and open up the channels for the energy to flow again freely, and then correct the imbalance.”

What is reflexology? The Reflexology Association of Canada defines it as “a natural healing art based on the principle that there are reflexes in the feet, hands, and ears, and their referral areas within zone-related areas, which correspond to every part, gland, and organ of the body. Through application of pressure on these reflexes without the use of tools, crèmes, or lotions, the feet being the primary area of application, reflexology relieves tension, improves circulation, and helps promote the natural function of the related areas of the body.”

After 22 years practicing reflexology, Betsy’s hands are well trained. “Under my fingers I might feel a kind of flaccid tissue,” she says. “I might feel a kind of hard tissue. Something doesn’t feel quite right. Sometimes I feel in my body what’s going on in the other person’s body. It might be like a rut, like my thumb is just staying in one place. That’s the knowledge my fingers now have.”

She is also attuned to the reactions of her client during the procedure. “I might not notice something, but the person experiences tenderness or pain,” she explains. “That’s a sign of congestion.”

And my feet? “The thing I felt the most was your diaphragm,” Betsy says. “[There was] a kind of holding. The diaphragm moves with the breathing. It’s actually massaging all the internal organs. It’s massaging the whole abdominal cavity — including thoracic — so it’s really important. When we’re stressed, we stop breathing. And the diaphragm then isn’t doing its wonderful massaging. People get blocked. It’s a really important muscle to work on. It’s a huge de-stress area.”

Another thing she noticed was that I tensed my feet whenever I tried to engage mentally. “It was really good to get you to a point where you really let go,” she admits.

Betsy was born in Boston. Her father was a psychiatrist and her mother a professor in art history. She spent her formative years in North Carolina, England, and Brooklyn. She spent a year at Ithaca College, and transferred to North Carolina University at Chapel Hill, where she switched from premed to sociology. “I loved the idea of being able to explore, and sociology had much more leeway,” she recalls.

In 1971 she moved to Grenoble, France, where she learned the language, married a native, and stayed. They eventually moved to Canada, where Betsy received a master’s degree in French translation from the University of Montreal. While in Canada, she and her husband learned massage, and joined a spiritual training group where they learned Attunement — a no-touch healing practice. “It’s akin to Reiki,” she explains. “Instead of Swedish massage, where you pull everything in toward the heart, it was like pulling energy that didn’t need to be there anymore out through the extremities.” The idea was intriguing. “It was really pivotal,” Betsy recalls. “I really tuned in to the energy healing.”

She and her husband — and now two sons — eventually returned to France. In 1992, she combined forces with a friend who taught reflexology but had limited use of the French language. She came back to the states, and became accredited to teach the modality, returned to France and opened a school. Always the seeker, she has since added other forms of energy healing to her practice — many of which are currently available.

The Access Energetic Facelift was quite different from what I expected. Rather than slathering on and massaging in product after product, as is the usual procedure for facials, it was more like a gentle laying-on-of-hands. It’s based on a 20-year-old practice called Access Consciousness. In it, Betsy touches areas called “bars” that address point of view and beliefs. “Normally, it takes an hour to an hour and 15 minutes,” she later relates. “I felt with your case, things were moving faster because we had already done that reflexology.” She works from a list of energies compiled by Gary Douglas, founder of Access Consciousness. “I call up this list of energy processes, and that runs the whole time that I’m working with my hands,” she says. “It’s like flipping a switch. The energy is coursing through me, it’s not originating with me. It’s using me as a conduit.”

Strangely, during the process, I was seeing images of architectural details — the corner of a tiled shower, a white louvered door, a wall painted gold — until I drifted off to sleep. Betsy took a picture of my face before and after the process. Whether it was from the relaxation of the two procedures or from the release of negative energy, there was definitely a difference. The eye-catching line between my brows was smoother, and the crow’s-feet were almost gone. My face appeared calm and glowing. According to Betsy, Access Consciousness claims that having the procedure done 20 or so times makes the changes permanent.

Betsy Shand’s business is called Betsy’s Hands. She can be reached at betsyshands@gmail.com.