by Melissa Upham-Strickland
What is Reflexology?
Reflexology is an extremely effective form of therapeutic foot massage that is a compliment to any modern medical treatment. The word reflexology has two parts-the root “reflex” pertaining to the neurological reflex pathways of the body, and the suffix “ology” which means “the study of”. Reflexology is the study of the reflexes within the body. This does not refer to the muscle reflexes of the body but instead to the involuntary responses activated within the body when corresponding pressure points are stimulated. The reflexologist utilizes specific pressure techniques on precise reflex points on the feet based on the premise that these reflex areas correspond with the entire microcosm of the body. All organs, glands vertebrae and nerve pathways are mapped out on the feet as a mirror image of the body. This mirror image is also evident in the hands, eyes, and ears; however, the corresponding areas of the feet are the easiest to work on. Physiological, neurological and chemical changes are facilitated within the body as the body’s natural healing potential is stimulated through pressure on the nerve pathways.
The reflexologist does not diagnose, isolate a disease or treat it symptomatically; instead they treat the whole person, incorporating body, mind, and spirit from a holistic approach. All body systems are interwoven, intricately connected to function together as a whole. Anything that affects one part will ultimately affect the whole. A chain reaction is set in motion when the reflexes of the feet are stimulated, causing physiological changes to take place throughout the whole body. Reflexology is a treatment not a method of diagnoses.
The goal of reflexology is to facilitate the return of homeostasis (equilibrium) within the body. The most important step in attaining homeostasis is reducing tension and allowing deep relaxation to set in. Abnormal tension and stress causes tightening of the muscles in the spine, inducing undue pressure on the nerve endings, resulting in pain and toxic waste build up within the tissues. When tension and stress is alleviated, the muscles cease to contract, allowing the blood vessels to dilate and circulation to flow freely throughout the body. All of the necessary oxygen and nutrients is then transported into the tissues, reducing toxic waste and creating optimal tissue perfusion. When the body is relaxed healing can take place. Reflexology induces a deep state of relaxation, alleviating the effects of stress, allowing the body to seek homeostasis.
Reflexology works to discover how the entire skeletal system, organs, and glands of the body are functioning. Through trained hands, the reflexologist can detect warning signs that the body is out of balance and can help restore balance to the entire system. The reflexologist is trained to seek out the small crystalline deposits found on the reflex points in the bottom of the feet. These deposits are an accumulation of toxic waste build up within the nerve pathway. They consist of uric acid, calcium and other toxic waste products that have accumulated during the reduction of blood circulation. They are often referred to as “crunchies” and feel a lot like sand or crystals under the skin. The larger the crystal deposit the longer the nerve pathway has been effected. The reflexologist works with a firm pressure to slowly break apart these crystals and return the blood flow into the nerve pathway in order to obtain proper balance within the body. Stimulating the proprioceptors in the feet helps to alleviate congestion, toxins or stagnant energy in the nerve endings, allowing for optimal functioning. Reflexology can calm overactive areas of the body, stimulate under active areas, and has no harmful effects of those areas of the body that are functioning properly. It can establish imbalances in areas of the body that are not functioning at peak performance and facilitate the body’s return to proper balance.
Who Can Benefit From Reflexology?
There are no limitations as to who can benefit from reflexology. All people of any age, sex or creed can reap the rewards that reflexology has to offer. Reflexology can help to alleviate many discomforts of acute or chronic conditions that are not life threatening such as headaches, sinus congestion, constipation, menstrual symptoms, circulatory problems, muscle tension, and blood pressure problems. In the case of chronic illnesses or disease big changes are not to be expected in a single session. Reflexology can offer immediate assistance to minor aches and pain associated with these illnesses; however, immediate, permanent changes are not to be expected from just one session. For ongoing chronic illnesses the recommended treatment is three times a week for six weeks. The body has suffered for many years in order to get to that stage of disease and therefore will take more time to heal itself. In the case of terminal illnesses such as Cancer or AIDS reflexology should not be expected to be able to remove the disease, however it can alleviate the many uncomfortable symptoms associated with these conditions and improve the overall quality of life. It can stimulate the respiratory system, activate the immune system, and improve the overall function of the excretory organs; easing the pain, making the patient more comfortable and offering temporary relief of the situation. With the exception of diabetes where the insulin levels will have to be carefully monitored by the patient as the pancreas is stimulated and insulin levels may have to be reduced, or in the case of a thrombosis; many people from all walks of life can reap the rewards offered by reflexology.
The benefits of stimulating pressure points on the feet to bring the body back into a state of well being can be seen as far back as history itself. In Asia written documentation can be found on the acupressure massage system dating as far back as 5000 BC. This acupressure massage system forms the basis of our modern foot reflexology technique today. In Egypt a pictograph was unearthed in the tomb of an ancient physician, Ankmahor, at Saqqara, dating back to around 2500 BC. The scene depicts two men working on the hands and feet of two other men, practicing the science of reflexology. A form of reflexive pressure therapy applied to the feet was passed down from the Incas to the American Indians and has been practiced for centuries by Native American tribes such as the Cherokees. Ancient Native Americans who’s culture was recorded as far back as 1000 BC understood the relationship between various points of the feet to the internal operations of the body. They massaged and wrapped the feet with cornmeal and herbs to bring balance back into the body, reconnect to the earth, and restore health. Even in the Bible we can find numerous references to tending to the feet for healing. The relationship between our feet and various parts of our internal systems was acknowledged by ancient civilizations throughout the world. This knowledge has been utilized by our ancestors for treating illness and imbalances within the body for thousands of years.
Reflexology is a science based on hundreds of years of physiological and neurological research completed throughout the world. In Europe reflexology was known to be practiced as far back as the fourteenth century. Dr. Adamus and Dr. A’tatis published a book on Zone Therapy in 1582. The scientific study of the reflexes in neurological pathways was conducted by Sir Henry Head of London in the 1890’s. Russian psychologists who founded Leningrad’s Brain Institute studied the problems of psychology through the reflexes under Vladimir Bekhterev in the late 1800’s. These founding fathers facilitated the basis of ongoing research still being utilized today.
Modern reflexology in America today is accredited to several individuals. Dr. William Fitzgerald being the first, was born in Connecticut in 1872 is commonly known as the founder of Zone Therapy. In his book entitled Zone Therapy, Fitzgerald describes how he accidentally discovered that exerting pressure on specific parts of the body created an analgesic effect on other parts of the body and generally relieved many conditions. Dr. Fitzgerald divided the body into ten equal longitudinal zones from head to toe and front to back, where he believed that parts of the body within a certain zone were linked to one another by the energy flow and could therefore effect one another. Eunice Ingham was an assistant who studied under Dr. Fitzgerald and used Zone Therapy in her work but felt that the feet should be designated as a specific target area for therapy due to their high sensitivity. She charted the feet in relation to the zones until she had mapped out the entire anatomy of the human body onto the feet. Eunice Ingham became known as the Mother of Modern Reflexology. She was the first person to discuss the compression technique. Next, Kevin and Barbara Kunz became well known for their theories and information regarding proprioceptors in the brain and how reflexology works. They have written several books and brought forth the knowledge that the nervous system has receptors in the hands and feet that communicate throughout the rest of the body. And last but not least was Inge Dougans, who brought acupressure to reflexology by applying the Chinese meridian system. She states in her book The Art of Reflexology that at the time of Dr. Fitzgerald’s research on zone therapy the west was ignorant to the Eastern concept of the meridian system . The Chinese had divided the body into 12 longitudinal zones or meridians by approximately 2500 BC whereas the Western idea of zones came as late as the 1900’s. Inge Dougans became famous for her work of combining the most modern reflexology techniques with the ancient Eastern meridian system in order to balance energy flow and stimulate the body’s own healing potential to restore a state of health and well being. The groundwork of our ancestors combined with the diligence and research of our founding forefathers has created what is known as reflexology today.