What is reflexology?

Reflexology is a type of massage that involves applying different amounts of pressure to the feet, hands, and ears. It’s based on a theory’s that these body parts are connected to certain organs and body systems. People who practice this technique are called reflexologists.

Reflexologists believe that applying pressure to these parts offers a range of health benefits.

Read on to learn more about how reflexology works and whether it’s worth a try.

What Is the History of Reflexology?

Because reflexology is an ancient practice, its origin and history is difficult to track. However, reflexology is thought to have been passed down through an oral tradition, and possibly first recorded as a pictograph on the Egyptian tomb of Ankhamor in 2330 BC along with other medical procedures. Reflexology symbols are thought to be recorded on the feet of statues of Buddha in India and later China.

A brief timeline

  1. The Chinese classic, the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, which was written around 1,000 BC, has a chapter on “Examining Foot Method” and is the beginning of discussions in print about the connection of life force and points and areas on the feet.
  2. It is believed that Marco Polo translated a Chinese massage book into Italian in the 1300s, thus introducing reflexology and massage to Europe. In 1582, a book on an integral element of reflexology called zone therapy was first published in Europe by Dr. Adamus and Dr. A’tatis.
  3. In the United States, William H. Fitzgerald, MD, who is frequently referred to as the father of reflexology, wrote in 1917 about ten vertical zones that extended the length of the body. He found that the application of pressure to a zone that corresponded to the location of an injury could serve as relief of pain during minor surgeries.
  4. Dr. Fitzgerald’s work was expanded by Dr. Shelby Riley, who developed a map of horizontal zones going across the body and a detailed map of reflex points on the feet and hands. He also suggested pressure points on the outer ear.
  5. Eunice Ingham, a physiotherapist who worked for Dr. Riley, is another prominent figure in the development of reflexology. In her research with zone therapy’s pressure points, she found the feet to be the most sensitive and responsive. She developed the foot maps and reflexology charts still in use today and introduced reflexology practices to the non-medical community in the 1930s.
  6. In 1957, Dr. Paul Nogier recorded a reflex map of points on the outer ear. His work has been expanded by Oleson and Flocco and is now being taught as part of an integrated approach to hand, ear and foot reflexology.

How does reflexology work?

There are a few different theories about how reflexology works.

In traditional Chinese medicine

Reflexology rests on the ancient Chinese belief in qi (pronounced “chee”), or “vital energy.” According to this belief, qi flows through each person. When a person feels stressed, their body blocks qi.

This can cause an imbalance in the body that leads to illness. Reflexology aims to keep qi flowing through the body, keeping it balanced and disease free.

In Chinese medicine, different body parts correspond with different pressure points on the body. Reflexologists use maps of these points in the feet, hands, and ears to determine where they should apply pressure.

They believe their touch sends energy flowing through a person’s body until it reaches the area in need of healing.

Reflexologists postulate that reflexology helps release stress, which in turn helps the body heal and regenerate itself. There are several theories about how this process work.

Theory #1: Reflexology works with the central nervous system.

This theory builds on research done in the 1890s by Sir Henry Head and Sir Charles Sherrington, who began to show through their research that a neurological relationship exists between the skin and the internal organs, and that the whole nervous system adjusts to a stimulus.

According to the theory, the reflexologist’s application of pressure to feet, hands, or ears sends a calming message from the peripheral nerves in these extremities to the central nervous system, which in turn signals the body to adjust the tension level. This enhances overall relaxation, brings internal organs and their systems into a state of optimum functioning, and increases blood supply (which brings additional oxygen and nutrients to cells and enhances waste removal). It positively affects the circulatory, respiratory, endocrine, immune, and neuropeptide systems in the body.

Theory #2: Reflexology reduces pain by reducing stress and improving mood.

 

Another theory that may also explain how reflexology can produce pain relief is the gate control theory, or, more recently, the neuromatrix theory of pain. This theory suggests that pain is a subjective experience created by your brain. The brain does this in response to the sensory experience of pain, but it can also work independently of sensory input and create pain in response to emotional or cognitive factors. Thus things that influence the brain, such as your mood or external factors like stress can also affect your experience of pain. According to this theory, reflexology may reduce pain by reducing stress and improving mood.

Theory #3: Reflexology keeps the body’s “vital energy” flowing.

Another theory that may also explain how reflexology can produce pain relief is the gate control theory, or, more recently, the neuromatrix theory of pain. This theory suggests that pain is a subjective experience created by your brain. The brain does this in response to the sensory experience of pain, but it can also work independently of sensory input and create pain in response to emotional or cognitive factors. Thus things that influence the brain, such as your mood or external factors like stress can also affect your experience of pain. According to this theory, reflexology may reduce pain by reducing stress and improving mood.

Yet another theory holds that there is a “vital energy” in the human body. If stress is not addressed, it leads to congestion of energy, which in turn causes bodily inefficiencies, which can lead to illness. According to this theory, reflexology helps keep the energy flowing.

Theory #4: Zone theory

The recognition of reflexology as a specific type of treatment began with Zone Theory, in which the body is divided into 10 vertical zones. Each zone corresponds to fingers and toes all the way up to the top of the head. For example, if you are standing up with your hands on your thighs (palms facing down) the thumbs and great toe would be zone 1. On either side of the body, the index finger and second toe would be zone 2, etc.

In reflexology theory, every organ, valve, muscle, etc. that lies within a zone can be accessed via a point or area on the feet or hands. For example, working between toes 2 and 3, or fingers 2 and 3, the eye point is found. These pathways between pressure points and other parts of the body are thought to be connected via the nervous system, as described above.

The zones are alike, but not the same as meridians found in Chinese medicine. However, there are some correlations between meridians and location of organs on the feet and ankles.

How does the procedure work?

The procedure entails using specific thumb, finger and hand massage techniques, with or without the use of oil or lotion.

It is based on a system of zones and reflex areas that reflect an image of the body on the feet and hands.  This work on the feet and hands causes a physical change to the related areas of the body.

The underlying theory behind reflexology is that there are certain points or “reflex areas” on the feet and hands that are connected energetically to specific organs and body parts through energy channels in the body.

By applying pressure to reflex areas, a Reflexologist is said to remove energy blockages and promote health in the related body area.

What are some examples of Reflex areas and their corresponding body parts?

·         The tips of the toes reflect the head

·         The heart and chest are reflected around the ball of the foot

·         The liver, pancreas and kidneys correspond to the arch of the foot

·         Lower back and intestines are reflected towards the heel

Why and when should you consider having Reflexology?

It is believed that Reflexology stimulates feel good hormones called endorphins that help to reduce pain and alleviate stress.

So that in itself is a good enough reason!

However, people experience long-term relief from :

  •  Tension headaches & migraines
  •  Digestive disorders, like constipation
  •  Arthritis, Whiplash and Soft Tissue Injury
  •  Back & Neck pain
  •  Insomnia
  •  Hormonal imbalances, like Thyroid & Adrenal disorders
  • Women who battled to fall pregnant, have been known to conceive after a few treatments
  • Sports injuries
  • Menstrual disorders such as PMS or premenstrual syndrome
  •  Multiple sclerosis

What are the potential benefits of reflexology?

Reflexology is linked to many potential benefits, but only a few of them have been evaluated in scientific studies.

So far, there’s limited evidence that reflexology may help to:

  • reduce stress and anxiety
  • reduce pain
  • lift mood
  • improve general well-being

In addition, people have reported that reflexology helped them:

  • boost their immune system
  • fight cancer
  • get over colds and bacterial infections
  • clear up sinus issues
  • recover from back problems
  • correct hormonal imbalances
  • boost fertility
  • improve digestion
  • ease arthritis pain
  • treat nerve problems and numbness from cancer drugs (peripheral neuropathy)

What reflexology feels like

Experiences with reflexology sessions vary from a general feeling of relaxation, to a sense of “lightness” or tingling in the body, as well as feelings of warmth, a sense of “opening,” or “energy moving” from the practitioner’s pressure to the specific body area or organ. There is often a physical perception of energy flowing through every organ, valve, gland, or muscle, as well as a sense of communication between each body system.

Normal reactions

Other reactions during the session range from physical to emotional and may include:

✔  Perspiration of hands or feet ✔  Sensation of being cold or chilled
✔  Feeling light-headed ✔  Coughing
✔  Laughing ✔  Crying
✔  Sighing deeply ✔  Overwhelming desire to sleep
✔  Disappearance of all pain and discomfort ✔  Loose, relaxed muscles and organs
✔  Thirst ✔  Rarely, contraction of muscle groups (pain)

How long is a treatment?

A full session means working all areas of both feet.

This can vary from 30-60 minutes depending on the style of Reflexology practised and wellness level of client.

After a reflexology treatment

Various reactions may occur following a reflexology session. These, too, are subtle, and are often not recognized by many people as a result of the reflexology therapy. Many of the reactions are positive signs that the session is part of a healing process; other symptoms are indicative of the body’s attempts to return to a state of balance and harmony.

Generally you will feel relaxed and possibly a little tired. Rest or quiet time may be needed for 10 minutes to even a couple of hours to allow the body to rest and restore.

Possible outcomes over 1-3 days may also include:

  • Varying sleep patterns from deep to restless sleep
  • More frequent and noticeable dreams
  • emotional changes with a greater awareness of feelings
  • Urination may increase and/or vary in colour, odour
  • Increase in bowel movement/volume
  • Cold like symptoms as nasal passages clear
  • Coughing and secretions from lung area
  • A desire to drink more water to flush toxins and impurities from the body

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