The History, Application, and Effects of Reflexology

Sensual, therapeutic, and utterly relaxing, foot massage can evolve into an out-of-body experience. One does not need to be veteran masseuse to invoke such a reaction; a basic understanding of the foot and simple manipulations will naturally trigger a deep response.

The feet are mirrors of the internal body, with 7000 nerve endings, 26 bones, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles. Tense shoulders, a bad knee, or a thyroid impairment can be detected in the feet by a masseuse unaware of the patient’s medical background, and the patient may feel a curious tenderness as well. Stimulating different regions of the foot can result in clearing blockages and toxins out of the body, while fostering deep relaxation. The process of understanding the feet, applying pressure in specific areas, and promoting the flow of energy in the body constitutes reflexology.

The first signs of reflexology are illustrated on the wall of a physician’s tomb in Egypt, dating back over 4000 years. It is believed the Chinese have been practicing the technique since the 4th century B.C. However, it was not brought to the West until 1913, when Dr. Fitzgerald introduced ‘Zone Therapy.’ He posited that there are ten zones in the body that start at the top on the head and continue all the way down through the hands and to the bottoms of the feet. There are five zones on the left of the body and five on the right, corresponding to five zones on the respective foot. (See zone chart) He deduced that zone 5 on the foot is reflective of zone 5 in the rest of the body.

Based on Fitzgerald’s findings, Dr. Riley and Dr. Ingham pushed the concept further and found that specific points on the feet correspond with specific organs in the body. For a patient suffering an imbalance, pain can be alleviated and recovery time optimized when these pressure points are stimulated properly. (See Reflexology Map )

These doctors built the foundation for understanding the fundamentals of reflexology and continuous research has found many benefits for undergoing treatments. While it does not cure disease, it does help promote balance for the digestive system, blood pressure, and the respiratory system. Those with headaches, insomnia, and menstrual disorders benefit as well. Reflexology works as preventive medicine, promoting a healthy flow of qi and serving as an excellent complement to acupuncture, herbal remedies, or other medical treatments.

To begin a reflexology treatment, the patient is lying face up on a massage table with their feet at the end. The therapist sits in a chair with clean hands and a focused mind and begins foot massage. The massage helps relax the patient so that they can achieve the full effects of the treatment. The legs are pulled to stretch the body and the reflexologist places their thumbs on the solar plexus of each foot. A gentle press in and release is given in rhythm to the patient’s breathing. Powder, such as arrowroot, is applied to the right foot and the actual reflexology begins.

Thumb walking, a movement of advancing the thumb forward like a caterpillar, is the massage pattern applied to the entire foot. The toes, representing the head, are the first area covered. Each toe is stretched up and rotated each direction, and then thumb walked up and over. Special attention is paid to the big toe; the base, indicative of the neck, is thumb walked twice. The pituitary gland is also on the pad of the big toe and is pressed for a few seconds. The areas in between all the toes are massaged. When finished with all the toes, the line connecting all five of them is thumb walked. Directly under the second toe is the eye and directly under the 4th toe is the ear and both these regions are pressed.

Moving down, the chest region is the next portion to be covered. The mound underneath the big toe is the thyroid, in the middle is the lung, and underneath the pinky toe is the shoulder. Special attention is paid to the shoulder region, as most people have tension there, which yields crunchiness in the foot. Working this area helps break up these crystals that have formed.

Continuing downward is the digestive system. On the right foot, the liver, pancreas, and gall bladder are found. On the left foot is the spleen. Both feet have the stomach, solar plexus, and a kidney. This area is thumb walked, and pressure is given to the solar plexus, gall bladder, spleen, and kidneys. After the kidney has been stimulated, thumb walking follows a trail to the inside of the foot where the bladder sits.

The bottom part of the foot is the pelvis region. The colon is the first part to be thumb walked. It begins on the right foot, mid-heel under the 4th toe and goes upward until it meets the digestive territory. Then it moves across to the inside of the foot and continues onto the left foot, all the way underneath the pinky toe, and then shoots down to the bottom of the heel. The rest of the heel is thumb walked.

Attention now is on the top part of the foot. Around the ankle are the reproductive organs. The whole area is thumb walked and massaged. Between each toe are lymph nodes, and these areas are stimulated and then thumb walked an inch down.
The outside of the foot has the knee halfway down and the hip just below it. The knee and hip are massaged, and the whole side is thumb walked. The inside of the foot is the spine, and its shape mimics the actual shape of the back. This area is thumb walked three or four times and afterward, one finger is placed on each end of the foot spine to connect the qi. Both the reflexologist and the patient should feel the energy being transmitted from one other, often in an energizing fashion.

This completes the thumb walking and all major organs have been stimulated. The session finishes with a final foot massage and pressure on the solar plexus. By this time, many patients might have fallen asleep and may require a few minutes to wake out of their trance.

Affects of reflexology are bipolar; it can make you feel energized or make you want to sleep. It can lift your spirits or make you emotional. Some people get headaches or even sinus congestion. Although, the negative affects might sound like a deterrent, they are actually signs that the treatment is working. This is known as the healing crisis. A headache, for example, indicates that the body released toxins, which in turn causes the head to pound. It is advisable to drink a lot of water after treatments, as it aids the detoxifying process. Someone who is good health is more likely to feel upbeat and energized after a treatment that someone who suffers from stress, unhealthy eating habits, or has chronic pain.

Although the overall benefits of reflexology are good, it can be dangerous in certain conditions. Those with heart disease, thrombosis, early or unstable pregnancy, acute inflammation of venous/lymphatic system, infections skin conditions of the feet, fever, or use of heavy drug medication should not receive reflexology. In addition, anyone who receives too many treatments in a row can be negatively affected.


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