Gill Hepworth grew up in Heckmondwike and worked in retail in Leeds before giving it all up to become a reflexologist. Interview by Neil Hudson
It was a rather lackluster visit to her doctor in her late 20s which prompted Gill Hepworth to seek out alternative health therapies and now, aged 50, she is helping others reap the benefits of reflexology, Indian head massage and reiki.
She grew up in Heckmondwike along with her seven siblings and parents Joyce (who died this year aged 91) and Percy but it was the death of her father when she was 10 which had a lasting effect on her.
After leaving the local grammar school, she ended up doing a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) in graphic design and afterwards drifted into retail, ending up managing a charity shop - The Community Shop in Meanwood - but even as she was about to hit 30, she was still feeling the after effects of losing her father.
She explained: “Even in adult life you still feel the repercussions of something like that. I was almost 30 and was still dealing with it, so finding things like reiki gave me clarity on what I had gone through.
“I went to the doctor because I was generally unwell and at that time I had a lot of stress. I’d never really been to the doctor’s before. I think I was only in there about three minutes and during that time he hardly looked up from the desk and it seemed to me all he wanted to do was to give me some tablets.”
I call the company Happy Life because that’s what I wanted for myself and I wanted to pass that onto other people.Gill Hepworth, who runs Happy Life Holistic Therapies
The experience caused her to seek out alternative therapies. She went to see a lady who performed massage and after a few sessions she realised it wasn’t just helping with her aches and pains but also with the stress she had built up. It was the spark she needed to begin a journey of her own.
“I thought I could do this, so I did the training.”
She and her partner moved out of the city and into the country, settling in East Hardwick, near Pontefract, a tiny community surrounded by idyllic views, a stone’s throw from Wentbridge House,
“The move to the country was all part of wanting a quieter life, getting away from the city. East Hardwick is a little rural community and the place I work is surrounded by open views over the Went Valley. In fact, I work in my garden shed. The man who had the house before was really into woodwork and it was just a shed for him but it had running water, a wood burner and double glazing and I thought this would be perfect to work in... now it’s all fairylights and nice smells, it’s like a little cottage, it has a really nice vibe now, a nice energy. I call it Shed Heaven.”
Although she deliberately scaled the business back following the birth of her son, now six, she is once again slowly building it back up.
“We look onto the Went Valley, we’re only a mile from North Yorkshire border, I think what a lot of people are lacking in their life is peace and quiet so that’s something people get when they come here. I offer three different treatments: reflexology, Indian head massage and reiki.”
While the first two forms of treatment are ‘hands on’, it was reiki which she says had the most profound effect upon her and she admits when she first encountered it, she was sceptical.
“The first time heard about it, I went along and it piqued my interest. She gave a little taster. I thought I can’t feel anything going on here, someone’s hands on my shoulder, that’s it. But as I set off driving home, I burst into tears. Reiki works by bringing back lost memories and buried emotions to the surface, it’s different for everyone.
“It’s more of an energy based therapy, it is the one which is a bit more different, there’s no actual physical massage, you just place hands around the body and head and you are not even touching them, it’s about balancing the physical, emotional energy of a person. I always say with reiki it’s one of those things you have to try for yourself but I’ve been doing this for about 20 years now and I’ve seen the benefits.
“I volunteered at Kirkwood Hospice, Huddersfield for nine months and that was the favourite treatment for everyone there.
“When people are in that position, where they are facing death, they need something that will make them thing this isn’t it, life is not just about getting up and going to work, there must be something else. People find it very comforting to have someone to talk to about their loved ones and they need to know there’s a spiritual side to life.
“For me, it’s something that has added another dimension to my life. It really does make you think that life does not end when someone dies.
“When I started, reflexology was out in the same area as reiki, while Indian head massage was something Indian mothers used to do to their children to relax them and promote hair growth. Nowadays it incorporates shoulders and neck, because there’s a lot of tension that we hold there. This relaxes all those areas and gets all the blood pumping around. I treated a lady who had lost quite a lot of hair and it did begin to regrow.
“Reflexology is the one where you get the real physical reaction. Essentially, it’s a foot massage, the theory being that your entire body is mapped out on your feet, from your head to every organ, each has a specific area on the foot. So, you massage around the feet and you are looking for areas of tension - its amazing what you can learn about someone from their feet. Even now, every time I get a new client, I learn something new.
“I treat people for all kinds of conditions, from stress and hair loss to people who have trouble with fertility. I have had several clients who have struggled with pregnancy and I am not going to say it was because of the reflexology but afterwards they have conceived. It can also help with things like migraines.”
She added: “I am one of those people who believes in unicorns and fairies but at the same time, I have a sense of humour about it. I call the company Happy Life because that’s what I wanted for myself and I wanted to pass that onto other people.”
Reiki was developed by a Buddhist monk in 1922. It is regarded as a pseudoscience and is based on ‘chi’, although there is no empirical evidence that such a force exists
Reflexology is based on the theory that different points on the feet, lower leg, hands, face or ears correspond with areas of the body
Indian head massage has been practised in India for more than 1,000 years. It works on both the physical and the mental level. It helps the mind to relax