For a nation where it’s quite common to receive a friendly wave from a stranger, the past year has been a very difficult one. When in living memory, did we find ourselves wondering whether someone was smiling or not behind a mask? Or choose to socially distance that extra third metre – just to be sure. But despite our social freedoms grinding to a halt, we still selflessly did all that we could to support our family, friends, neighbours and the wider community. Many people were so concerned about others, they forget to care about themselves.
More than half the adult population in Ireland has now received the first dose of the vaccine. Restrictions are being eased, and we are now looking forward to the second half of the year with far less trepidation. There is no doubt that some very scary times will have left a permanent imprint on us. Therefore, there is no better time than the present to focus on yourself. It is time to practise some self-care so that both your body and mind can feel re-energised.
Caroline Walsh, a reflexologist based in Garden Vale, Athlone, helps her clients combat any stress or anxiety from the Covid-19 pandemic: “It’s a huge thing and a lot of people are quietly suffering from anxiety. Quite a lot of my clients are realising that reflexology can help them on a far more holistic level.”
In the 1890s, Sir Henry Head carried out research to show a neurological link between the skin and the body’s internal organs.
In modern reflexology, the entire body is mapped out and particular areas of the feet and hands are massaged to get a reflex. The toes represent the head and the neck. The high arch part is the digestive system; the heels represent the pelvic area and the hips; the side of the foot from the big toe down to the heel is the spine.
“In treatment, all of these parts are worked either by applying pressure or a gentle movement. Reflexology is very gentle and brings balance back to the body. You get to lie back and fall asleep. It might feel like you’re having a nice massage, but a lot of work is going on. The more relaxed you are, the better it is for the body because the body is more open to responding.”
Background and Horology
Caroline grew up in Firhouse, Dublin and went to St. Louis High School, Rathmines. “I’m more of a hands-on person than a book person. When I was in my 6th year at St. Louis, I was fortunate to have a great career guidance teacher who recognised that I didn’t want to follow the traditional academic route. I applied to do a furniture-making course at a college in Letterfrack, but I didn’t get in. The same teacher then came back to me with a leaflet about a 3-year diploma in horology, which is about making clocks and watches, and I loved the idea!”
The horology course was taught in the old psychiatric unit in Blanchardstown Hospital. “It was a fantastic old single-level building that had been there since the 1960s.” The course itself covered tool making through to creating technical drawings of the insides of watches, and Caroline loved the course.
After she graduated, Caroline moved to Cork and worked there at Stokes Clocks for a year before moving back to Dublin to start a quality control role at Hewlett-Packard. She then followed that position, with a role as a watch repairer at Weir & Sons of Grafton Street for about four years. Shane, her husband, is from Athlone and the family moved to Athlone in 2002.
Horology to Reflexology
I was curious how someone, who was a Swiss-trained watchmaker with 20 years of experience in the jewellery trade, became a reflexologist. Caroline explained: “They are, and they aren’t similar because you’re dealing with a mechanical kind of thing and there is a certain precision to it. I suppose when you’re fixing a watch, you’re also checking to see that everything is in balance. With the feet, you’re also looking for those little imbalances. It was a bit of a leap!”
Caroline has always had an interest in complementary therapies. She was asthmatic as a child, her mother sent her to an acupuncturist to help with her asthma. At that time, in the 1980s it was unheard of to do that.
“I came across this course in reflexology many years ago, but with two small children, it just wasn’t the right time to do it. So, for years I was working here at Sheffield Jewellers in Athlone, the job was fine, and I worked around my children.”
Leap to Reflexology
As the years went by, Caroline never forgot about the reflexology course. “I needed something more now that my children were grown up and didn’t need minding. I started training to be a reflexologist while I was still working in Athlone. It was six months into my reflexology training when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. So that was a bit of a setback. But I suppose the training was a good distraction for me and I qualified in 2018.”
Moate to Athlone
Caroline initially started giving treatments from her home, but then a hairdresser in Moate had a spare room that Caroline took over for two days a week. It allowed her to establish herself and build up a client base. Then in 2018, a treatment room became available in Garden Vale, Athlone. “It was a perfect location here at Garden Vale and my catchment area became bigger. I have people from Ballinasloe, Ferbane, Kilbeggan and Roscommon. Fortunately, my clients from Moate came with me. Thankfully, that was two and a half and years ago, and I’m still here!”
Caroline specialises in maternity reflexology. “Pregnancy can be a difficult experience for many women. Nausea, sleeplessness, aches and pains all-cause added problems. Reflexology provides much relief and allows women a breathing space when preparing for labour. Studies have found that women who experience reflexology during pregnancy encounter better outcomes, better recovery, shorter delivery time and their babies are more content.”
Caroline would like to run baby reflexology classes to teach new parents some simple reflexology techniques over 4 weeks to help with teething, colic and constipation. Also, she wants to get more involved with couples who are on an assisted fertility route. “Fertility clinics are recommending that women use reflexology as part of their fertility journey. It’s a support mechanism for them.”
Currently, Caroline can see only a maximum of five people a day. After each treatment session, she has to ensure that everything is cleaned and wiped down. She also now provides fresh linen for every client. “This ensures that my working day is much longer, and I can’t wait till we get back to some sort of normality again.”
Caroline is clear proof that it is never too late to change careers, and her advice is always to give it a go. “It hasn’t felt like work in the last three or four years for me. It took me a bit of time to get to find my ology!”
This article was published in the Westmeath Independent 09/06/21.