What is Reflexology? How does it work?
Reflexology is an ancient natural healing art that is based on the principle that a there are reflexes in the feet, hands and ears that correspond to every part, gland and organ of the body. Through applying specific thumb and finger pressure techniques on these reflexes, reflexology relieves tension, improves circulation and promotes the natural function of the related areas of the body. Reflexology helps to address factors contributing to the progress of disease: congestion, inflammation and tension. Congested conditions contribute to growths; inflammation leads to disorders such as colitis, bronchitis and sinusitis and tension lowers the efficiency of the immune system. By reducing stress and tension, reflexology improves blood and lymph circulation, strengthens the functioning of the immune system, improves the assimilation of nutrition and elimination of toxins and calms the nervous system. Through these aims, reflexology facilitates the body’s natural healing abilities and thereby enhances the body’s innate health and vitality. Reflexology is gentle and non-invasive. Although oriented to revitalizing and supporting the body in its own healing process, and not geared toward a treatment orientation, Reflexology does aim to improve and strengthen the compromised areas of the body causing the symptom or condition. This is done by focusing on the problem areas through the reflex points found on or around the feet, hands or ears.
Reflexology works on an holistic level. Rather than “treating” specific conditions, reflexology gently assists the healing process by bringing the stressed body back to a state of balance in order that the body may heal itself. Reflexology soothes the entire nervous system which in turn relaxes the body, relieving stress and pain, thus improving overall functioning of the body’s systems. The primary aim of Reflexology is to relax the body so that it is receptive to healing
There are many theories how Reflexology works. Two of my personal favorites follow. One common theory involves our marvelous nervous system with “exposed” nerve endings on the surfaces of the feet, hands and ears. Stimulating these nerve endings creates an electrical /chemical message being sent throughout the nervous system, causing increased circulation throughout the entire body. This increase circulation sends a wave of vibration through the cells, breaking up congestion, allowing oxygen to penetrate all cells. Where stagnation or congestion occur; aging and disease follow. Where oxygen flows – life flows!
In addition, the feet have 6 meridians or electrical pathways which are located in the toes. These meridians run through the main internal organs of the body. By stimulating the toes with specific thumb/finger techniques, one is causing the body to increase the life force flowing in these electrical pathways.
Wearing shoes all day throughout our work environment, stress, illness, lack of hydration and inactivity can cause muscle tissue to weaken and blood flow to stagnate. This blood stagnation can accumulate in our feet. Using the analogy of a river clogged with debris and mud that cannot flow smoothly and feed its many tributaries, the health of your entire body depends upon the nourishment provided by healthy circulation. Lack of the smooth flow of energy due to poor lifestyle habits or trauma can result in congestions accumulating at the neurological endings found in the feet, hands and ears. Therefore soreness in the reflex zones is understood to reflect imbalance in the corresponding organ, gland or structure of the body.
This ancient wisdom is found in the world’s oldest medical textbook ‘The Yellow Emperor Classic of Internal Medicine: Interruption in the flow of Qi (energy) results in pain”.
3,000 years later this knowledge the connection between stagnation and disease was echoed by the American Reflexology Pioneer and Physiotherapist, Eunice Ingham: “When congestion exists, disease will result….no one can deny the well-known fact that circulation is life; stagnation is death”.
Today Reflexology is utilized by mainstream healthcare systems and recognized as a preventative health care modality in may countries such as China, Japan, Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden and Great Britain.
In ancient times, people walked barefoot over natural surfaces such as rocks, grass and hard ground, naturally stimulating the reflexes on the feet, giving themselves a daily reflexology treatment. The use of Reflexology as an art and science dates back at least 5,000 years. As the evidence continues to pile up, it seems that variations of reflexology existed in all of the ancient healing cultures. Substantial information suggest the origin of Reflexology lie in India, China and Egypt. The ancients shared the basic premise that the foot was a road map for the entire body. Frequent conjecture has been made about Reflexology’s relationship to and development alongside the oriental practices of Shiatsu, acupuncture and meridian theory. For example, by stimulating certain reflex points, the Chinese record being able to release stagnation of ‘chi’ or energy, which relates to the acupuncture meridians, in targeted areas of the body.
Modern Reflexology was ushered into western society by the American Dr. William Fitzgerald, ENT, who advanced and developed the practice of reflexology. He discovered that pressure applied to certain points on the body could relieve pain and improve functions of certain organs. He developed a new system he called Zone Therapy which divided the body into 10 vertical zones from the top of the head to the tips of the toes and hands. Dr. Fitzgerald found that by stimulating any certain point in a particular zone, everything in the zone was affected. Dr. Fitzgerald taught Zone Therapy to Dr. Joe Shelby Riley, who used it extensively in his practice for many years. He refined Zone therapy and made the first detailed diagrams and drawings of the reflex points on the feet. Eunice Ingham, who worked as Dr. Riley’s physiotherapist . pioneered the development of Reflexology beginning in the 1930’s. She is recognized for her untiring devotion and promotion of Zone Therapy, as it was known at that time, from the 30’s up to the early 1970’s. She later changed the term Zone Therapy to Compression Massage, finally settling on the present term Reflexology.
Known as the “Mother of Modern Reflexology”, Eunice toured the United States annually, giving seminars and published two books “ Stories the Feet can Tell (1938) and “Stories the Feet have Told”. Her nephew Dwight Byers has continued with Eunice’s work since her death in 1974.
Other names adopted by other people for the practice of Reflexology are Pressure Point massage, Pointed Pressure massage and Vita Flex. In Europe and some other parts of the world the names Zone Therapy, Reflex Zone Therapy and other variations of these names are used.
HOW IS REFLEXOLOGY DIFFERENT FROM MASSAGE AND OTHER MODALITIES?
Reflexology should not be confused with massage. Massage works on particular areas of the body to improve muscles and connective tissue directly involved with that area. Reflexology works on the feet, hands and ears to improve the function of body organs, tissues and systems distant from where the reflexing is applied. Reflexology is a separate discipline and independent stress reduction method, but can be incorporated into a massage session, pedicures, aromatherapy or other bodywork modalities.
There are differences as well between Shiatsu, acupuncture, acupressure and reflexology. The 4 modalities all apply pressure to points on the body to create a response in another part of the body. Whereas the first three work with points on the Chinese meridians to clear and balance energy, reflexology points may or may not be found on the meridians. Shiatsu, acupressure and acupuncture often work to stimulate a single organ or system into balance, while during a reflexology session, stimulation to the entire map of the body on the feet, hands and/or ears provides relaxation for the entire body, enabling it to reach a state of homeostasis, or balance. The other three also usually go much deeper than reflexology does.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF REFLEXOLOGY AND WHAT IS IT USED FOR?
Today the professional practice of reflexology has been integrated into the mainstream healthcare structure in China, Japan, Denmark and the U.K. In countries all over the world reflexology is rapidly being embraced for it’s reputation of enhancing overall health, creating profound relaxation and assistance in the healing of many health conditions.
Scientific research is being conducted in Austria, Denmark, the U.K., Japan, Korea, China and the U.S, all verifying the benefits of reflexology. According to the worldwide research, the following conditions have been improved with the use of reflexology. (partial list)
The Egyptians, Native Americans, Europeans, Indians, Japanese, Australians, Malaysians, Thais and North and South Americans have all re-discovered the benefits of reflexology over the past 90 years. Reflexology clinics and paths are as ubiquitous in Asian urban centers as coffee houses in the United States.
The following are excerpts from U.S. major medical centers’ brochure advertisements of their own in-house reflexology services.
ST.JOHN HOSPITAL AND MEDICAL CENTER
Skillful application of pressure to specific points in the feet and hands. Evidence suggests that your body is mirrored in your feet. Reflexology promotes the body’s ability to adjust and balance during times of stress. Some of the benefits include an increase in energy, improved mood, reduction in muscle tension and soreness and improved immune function and circulation.
UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH MEDICAL CENTER
What are the indications for reflexology? Reflexology is a form of preventive medicine that aims to maintain a person’s balance and well-being. Though empirical studies are lacking, many patients have benefited from reflexology. Conditions treated may include: migraine headache, hypertension, menstrual cramps or irregularities, myofascial pain, fibromyalgia, insomnia and anxiety disorders.
MARYLAND CENTER FOR INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE
The benefits of reflexology include reduction in tension and stress, increased vascular, neural and lymphatic circulation and the releasing of toxins. Research has shown that blood pressure can actually decrease during a session. Clients use reflexology to alleviate or manage asthma, sinus problems, digestive disorders, inflammations, menstrual irregularities, pain, fatigue, inflammatory skin conditions and other imbalances. It is especially beneficial for circulatory problems.
THE HEART CENTER AT ST. RITA’S offers open-heart patients reflexology as a complimentary therapy to help speed recovery and reduce discomfort. Reflexology strengthens and supports the body’s own healing process. It can be used to restore and maintain the body’s natural equilibrium and encourage healing. St. Rita’s Medical Center conducted a three month pilot study on open-heart patients who received reflexology, and the study confirmed a patient’s level of pain and anxiety decreased significantly. It also helped patients increase the distance they were able to walk, decreased the number of days they were hospitalized and the amount of medication administered during their recovery process.
WHAT IS A TYPICAL SESSION LIKE?
When you come to your initial visit you will be filling out a brief medical history form, medical disclaimer stating that reflexology does not substitute for medical advice or care and the required HIPPA privacy form. A consultation at the beginning of the session will provide me information about you: your lifestyle, general health, medical history, as well as what you would like to achieve by receiving reflexology.
You will generally be lying face up on a comfortable table, covered with a blanket, unless you prefer no covering. Some clients cannot lie on a table so an adjustable lounge chair is provided. I attempt to play music of your choice, which contributes much to the relaxation process.
In some countries Reflexology is applied with a very strong pressure. I always work within the client’s comfort level, as I find that the body responds most favorably when it is relaxed and not having to guard and tense up in anticipation of a painful pressure. A relaxed body is one that is receptive to healing and therefore able to make changes. There can be sensitive, even painful spots found during the session, however by the end of the session these tender spots most often disappear or decrease significantly.
WHAT YOU MAY EXPERIENCE AFTER A SESSION
Everyone is unique, and will react differently to reflexology, even experiencing different reactions each time they receive a session. There are a whole list of various responses that you may or may not experience. Most people respond with deep relaxation and tranquility, many fall asleep on the table, waking up a bit “floaty” , needing a little time to “come back to earth”. Others may experience fatigue, which can be a result of cleaning out the body’s systems. Usually after a few sessions, fatigue is no longer experienced. Reflexology sessions done on a regular basis help keep the body moving and clearing, so the body is not so tired out afterward. Other responses can include increased urination and bowel movements due to the stimulating effects of reflexology, tingling, itchiness, better sleep, disturbed sleep, vivid dreams, emotional reactions. Some people who have stress and toxins built up in their bodies may experience a “healing crisis”. Typical reactions are headache, diarrhea, coldness, nausea and sinus congestion. Fear not! This is indicative that the reflexology has stirred the body to use it’s many systems of elimination to let go of the toxins. These symptoms usually pass within 24 hours and because the body is cleansing itself, such symptoms are less likely to happen the following sessions.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I RECEIVE REFLEXOLOGY?
The decision as to how many sessions and/or how often rests with the individual. Basically this differs from person to person depending on their general health, response to the sessions and most importantly, their motivation and goals for improving and or maintaining their health. As a rule of thumb, acute conditions respond better to more frequent sessions initially, then as symptoms improve, sessions may be spaced out less frequently. We will talk and work together to come up with a plan that will work for you, on all levels, at the end of the first session. For those people who are not experiencing any particular health issues and are seeking simple stress reduction and relaxation, they may choose to make appointments once a month, more frequently or more occasionally. My clients never feel compelled to book more sessions than they desire.
WHERE CAN I FIND A PROFESSIONALLY TRAINED REFLEXOLOGIST?
You can find a certified and qualified reflexologist by contacting:
The Washington Reflexology Association at www.washingtonreflexology.org (425) 818-4785
The American Reflexology Certification Board at www.arcb.net (303) 933-6921