I grew up on the east side of Los Angeles. Unlike members of mi raza who have come here legally or illegally over the past few decades, mi familia has been here for over 150 years. We were here when the flag of Mexico flew over California, when the flag of Russia flew over parts of California, and when the flag of Spain flew over California. Members of my family fought to help California win independence from Mexico and we supported California's entry into the United State. The story goes that I have a distant relative who moved away from here and started a small village that still bears his name.
As part of a political community, I take great pride in being an American. As part of my personal background I am also proud of my Hispanic heritage. I speak English without an accent, and I can speak the half-English, half-Spanish "Spanglish" (that is stereotyped on television) con mis amigos.
My parents frown on that, saying that it links me to gangs. I know a few people who are in gangs but I have little to do with them. I just use the accent when I want to, to fit in.
I understand the fears of my mother and father. Although they love their Hispanic heritage (You should see some of the fiestas around our house!), their parents instilled in them the importance of assimilation and that they should become totally Americanized. Part of my use of Spanglish is to make my Hispanic heritage even stronger within me. Make no mistake — I, my parents, their parents, and their parents' parents are as proud of America as any person could be. We are also proud of our traditional cultural background. We just honor that in different ways.
Because of my parents' total adoption of the American lifestyle, instead of being brought up listening to Tejano or Mariachi music, I grew up listening to American folk music and rock-and-roll. When I was a baby, my parents noticed that every time a song by Gordon Lightfoot (yes, I know he's Canadian, but they played him on the American music stations) came on the radio, I'd start to smile and coo. When I could stand with a support, I'd move around rhythmically. Eventually, they started to call me "Little Lightfoot." By the time I was eight I was quite tall, so the "Little" was dropped and my nickname was shortened to "Lightfoot."
East Los Angeles is heavily populated with Hispanic people. When I attended public school, the kids asked why I had that nickname. Most of them had grown up listening to Hispanic-oriented music and had never heard of Gordon Lightfoot. They assumed that I was a fast runner. Luckily, because I was so tall and had long legs, I could live up to their concept of me. I was Lightfoot.
And I loved to run. I wasn't very good with short sprints, but with long races I did very well. There was just one problem. I could get bored very quickly. I had one girlfriend who told me that this was because I was an Aries. Running around a track for an hour just didn't interest me. Even so, I was the fastest runner in middle school.
When I got into high school there were kids who could easily beat my best time when I ran around the track. My gym teacher called me over and talked to me about it. He said I was awfully slow for being called "Lightfoot."
"It's not that I'm slow, sir. I'm still better than lots of the guys. It's just that I get bored fairly easily. I think running around in circles on the track is kind of stupid."
He glared at me for a moment and I thought he was going to yell at me for daring to say something negative about running, but he was smarter than that. He was also the cross-country coach. "Why don't you come see me after school and we'll talk about getting you on the cross-country team."
"Cross-country? What's that?"
"Come by and I'll show you."
Curious, I went to his office after school. He told me all about it. Running up hills, down valleys, through cities, and even into parks and forests. I got really excited about this. He had me try one of their long courses. I beat the best time of any member of the team by just over five minutes. And I hadn't even tried that hard.
For the next three years, I led the school in cross-country. I ended up getting offers of full scholarships to universities so I could run on their teams. With the help of my parents, I chose a small mid-western college that was also known for their fine business school.
I was nineteen, just a kid, and separated from my parents for the first time. I was getting some real competition in running, and the classes were so much harder than in high school. Still, I maintained a B+ average and led the cross-country team.
Until my senior year.
As I was running through a field, I must have stepped on an oddly-shaped rock. I fell to the ground. Now, I know I should have rolled as I fell. That was what we were trained to do. Instead, I put my hands out to catch my fall. Bad move. Wrists, I found, are fragile things. My hands, arms, and chest received numerous small cuts and abrasions, but my left wrist was broken.
I had to stop running for several weeks. This was very depressing to me. Running cross-country was not only a joy, but it was my local claim to fame. Lots of students had B+ averages, but only one student was the fastest cross-country runner. Now I was just one of those numerous B+ students.
My wrist healed slowly. Finally, the doctors said that I would be getting out of the cast in two weeks and could start running again. I was elated. Then, it happened.
I woke up the next morning, jumped out of bed, and almost fell to the floor. The bottom of my left foot caused me intense pain when I stepped on it. I looked at it and saw that the bottom of my foot was rounded, as if somebody had put a ball inside the sole of my foot. I could barely walk on it. This was not good.
Somehow, I showered and dressed. I hobbled over to the health center. My foot was prodded and poked, x-rayed and MRIed. Finally, they gave their great report: "We're unsure of what it is. We think it is a soft tissue spasm, but would like to keep an eye on it. Here are some muscle relaxants to take. Take some acetaminophen if the pain gets too bad and come back in a week. We'll also fit you for crutches before you leave today."
So now I was the walking wounded. My left arm was in a cast (thank goodness it wasn't in a sling!) and I was on crutches. It looked like I was recovering from an automobile accident. I struggled to get to the office of my cross-country trainer. He took one look at the bottom of my foot and gently felt it. "Whew!" he said. "That's one helluva muscle spasm."
"That's it?" I asked, feeling greatly relieved. "It's just a spasm? What can I do for it?"
"Soak it in warm water and massage it."
I thanked him and hurried to the student bookstore. Soaking I could do, but I knew nothing about massage.
In the bookstore, I found a small section on massage. There were hardbound books with illustrations of the muscles and tendons of the body. There were softbound books with pictures of the back and neck. There was even a book on erotic massage. I spent about twenty minutes looking through the available titles, but I didn't see anything that would fit my needs. I was just about to close my eyes and simply grab one when a student with a cart full of books to shelve came by. He put four copies of the same book in the massage section and walked off. I looked at the cover and couldn't believe my eyes. It had a picture of feet on the cover, said it was "for beginners," and that it covered "healing the foot with massage." I grabbed the book, bought it, and took it back to my dorm room.
I was lucky. Because of my sports scholarship I had a deluxe dorm room, and it had a private bathroom. I filled the bathtub with enough warm water to cover my foot, sat on the edge of the tub, and took the book from out of the bookstore's paper bag. Oh, had I goofed. The book was called Reflexology for Beginners by David F. Vennells. It wasn't about healing the foot with massage. The cover said it was about "Healing through foot massage of pressure points." But I was more interested in just getting my foot to "work right."
Sitting there with my foot in the water, I figured I might as well take a look at this book. Maybe it had something useful for me. I sort of thumbed through the first part of the book with all the theory. It said that reflexology was based on something earlier known as zone therapy and it had an illustration showing how the body was composed of various related vertical zones. From there it showed how points on the feet and ankles could affect the rest of the body in its related zone. It even got down to which areas on the foot could be used to help different parts of the body. At some points the book would sound fascinating and I'd look a little closer and read the page. But then I'd get back to the matter at hand. I continued through the book until I came to the chapter entitled "Beginning a Treatment." As I went through this chapter, I realized it was exactly what I had wanted.
I had to adapt the instructions to work on myself as the book shows you how to use both hands as you work on another person. I crossed my left leg over my right so that the calf of my left leg was on the thigh of my right. This way my foot was within easy reach, the toes pointing forward. I used a towel to dry my foot.
The first thing the book said to do (p.63) was stretch and squeeze the Achilles Tendon. Following the instructions in the book, I gently pushed the toes and ball of my foot toward my knee, stretching the tendon. It also had an effect on the problem with my foot, because the sole started to ache and then hurt. I eased up on the pressure. I then reversed the action until it just barely started to hurt. I did this several times. Then I rotated my foot at the ankle in both clockwise, then counterclockwise directions.
Because my hand was in a cast, I couldn't do the next two techniques for loosening the ankles and the foot, but I was able to do the "Spinal Twist" (p. 67). This was simply moving my foot from the ankle in an up and down direction. If you were standing this would be like moving your foot, from the ankle, to the left and to the right. I did it several times up to the point where the bottom of my foot would hurt. This was followed by rotating and gently pulling each toe. Frankly, I didn't get much from that, although I did feel a few tweaks when I pulled the center toe.
I looked a bit askance at "Wringing the Foot." I grabbed my foot and gently twisted it back and forth. The book says that "only a firm, slow action is needed...[begin] at the base of the foot and move...toward the toes. The foot will be more flexible nearer to the toes" (p.69). When I did this, which included gently squeezing the sides of the foot together, I was racked with shooting pains. I eased the pressure until I could just feel the pain. I repeated this until I could squeeze a bit harder with no pain.
The next technique, called the "Solar Plexus Press." was even more direct. The instructions said, "To find the solar plexus point, squeeze the sides of the foot together. A natural crease will appear toward the center of the sole, just below the ball of the foot. The solar plexus reflex area is located in the depression at the center of this crease. Place your thumb on the solar plexus reflex, with the fingers wrapped around the front of...[the foot]. As the patient inhales, apply pressure by pushing the thumbs into the sole of the foot. The foot will move back under the pressure. Do not use the fingers to squeeze the foot. As the patient exhales, release the pressure and allow the feet to move back toward you. Repeat this three or four times in time with the patient's breathing." (p. 79-71)
As you can guess, I couldn't press very hard. Each press caused intense pain. But with each press, the pain was a bit less. And then it happened.
A sharp pain, sort of like an electric shock, ran up my back. "Eee-yow!" I shouted. I fell off the side of the tub and onto the floor. Something made me twist my body, with my hips going to the right and my shoulder to the left. "Pop!" A large snap came out of my body, just below the middle of my back. And then there was calmness.
Something in the middle of my back had snapped. It sounded like cracking a knuckle, but this happened just below the center of my back. My guess was that a vertebra had been out of alignment and because of my writhing, had gone back into place with a loud noise. As I rested, I noticed, much to my surprise, that I could breathe a bit more deeply.
I got up off the floor and walked over to my bed, where I sat down. And then I realized what had happened. I had walked ten or more steps with no pain. I looked at the bottom of my foot. The bulge was gone. When I rubbed it there was some soreness but no pain. It was like a miracle. Somehow, my writhing had corrected my spine in the area of my solar plexus. That was when I realized what had happened: I had pressed on the solar plexus point of my foot, my spine in that area ended up correcting itself, and I was better.
It would seem that this was all due to the benefits of this particular type of massage. I made up my mind to go through the rest of Reflexology for Beginners.
Within two weeks, the cast on my arm came off. As I started running again, I discovered that I had greater endurance. Although I don't have proof, I think that something in my spine had been keeping me from getting as much breath as I should have. After the incident, my breathing — and my endurance — became stronger. And for some reason, measurements showed that I was almost half an inch taller. When some of my teammates asked me what happened, they wanted me to massage their feet.
At first I thought that the last thing I wanted to do was rub their dirty, sweaty, stinking feet. But they energetically washed themselves, so I gave it a try. And when I massaged them with what little I knew, they got these expressions of bliss on their faces. I really liked what I was doing.
Much to my parents' dismay, even though I was a senior, I changed my major from business to pre-med. I was fascinated with the interrelationships of the different parts of the body. During the day I learned about ligaments, muscles, and bones. In my free time I learned about reflexology with the help of Vennells' book.
I was able to quickly treat sinus problems by pressing the tips of the toes. Below the big toe is a point associated with the pituitary gland. Stimulating this helped some of the guys on the team lose a bit of extra weight. It would also give me some extra energy before a race. Pressure on the areas below the toes helped with hearing and eyesight. I showed a friend these points and she claims that now she rarely has to use glasses at all.
I wish I could tell you all the points I learned and mastered. But the truth is, you really have to see pictures and try it out for yourself. I have lots of books on reflexology, now, but whenever somebody tells me that they want to learn how to do this, I always recommend Reflexology for Beginners.
I was lucky. I had taken many of the same courses that I would need for my pre-med major. As a result, it it will only take me an extra year to graduate (and I worked my way up to an A- average). Then I want to go home home to East LA. I already have a job offer to work as a reflexologist in a chiropractor's office after I return. I intend on going to med school, too.
The combination of being a doctor and doing reflexology can't be beat. My focus will still be on reflexology, but I'll be able to add western medical techniques to my reflexology practice. My parents tell me I should just be a doctor. But for me, watching the change that comes from people when I simply rub them the right way is better than anything else in the world.