More than a foot massage, reflexology stimulates pressure points in the foot that correspond with specific areas of the body. Stress reduction is one of its many benefits.
Our feet are home to over 7,000 nerve endings and work very hard on our behalf. They bear the weight of our body, allow us to move through our world, and give us a physical connection to Mother Earth. Too often ignored, they deserve some special pampering on occasion.
Roots of reflexology
One way to pamper your feet is through reflexology, a form of foot massage with roots in many ancient cultures. Evidence of this practice is thought to be depicted in wall paintings in the tomb of Ankhmahor at Saqqara in Egypt (circa 2300 BCE) and in Chinese medical texts dating back to 3000 BCE.
Native Americans such as the Cherokee have embraced the value of this healing touch therapy for generations. The modern form of reflexology (sometimes referred to as zone therapy) was developed initially in Europe and Russia in the 1800s and early 1900s as a form of anaesthetic for surgical procedures.
In North America, William H. Fitzgerald, MD (1872 to 1942) and Eunice D. Ingham (1889 to 1974), a nurse and physiotherapist, continued the study of influencing body systems by the use of pressure on reflex points. Through Ingham’s work in mapping the entire body’s reflexes on the feet, the concept of zone therapy was renamed reflexology.
A foot reflexology chart shows the plantar (the soles) view of the feet with a map overlaid on them fixing the position of major organs and body systems. Certain organ reflexes may appear more on the right foot (the liver) or left foot (the spleen) according to their position in the body.
How reflexology works
Reflexology is a wonderfully portable therapy. It can be performed almost anywhere and requires no special equipment or tools.
A typical reflexology session lasts about an hour and is designed to work all areas of the feet. Methods may include moving the thumbs in a walking motion, sliding the thumb and fingers across the foot’s surface and exerting pressure with thumb and fingers on specific points.
The intent is not to cause pain but instead to stimulate the area being worked. Benefits can include increased blood circulation, stimulation of the central nervous system through the release of endorphins, and supporting homeostasis (balanced health) in the body.
Recent research has indicated that massage works on the cellular level to reduce the inflammatory process and promote energy production and tissue healing. This mirrors the actions of many pain medications without their potential side effects.
Certified reflexologists do not treat clients for specific ailments or conditions and do not prescribe. A reflexology session is not an alternative to your health care practitioner’s treatment but should instead be regarded as a complementary therapy to help support your well-being.
Reflexology as stress buster
How often in our busy lives do we take the time to lie back for an hour, relax, and drift away from all the tension we carry? Stress can interfere with normal body functions such as digestion and sleep cycles, often leading to health complications.
A reflexology treatment is a wonderfully relaxing experience and often leads to a restorative nap. Humans are physical beings and are very responsive to touch, yet our modern lives are leading us away from this valuable interaction.
Even something as basic as a hug or holding hands creates a wonderful physical connection that lifts the spirits and banishes loneliness. When we combine positive energy and intent with the influence of healing touch we create a powerful tool for healing.
Reflexology at home
1. Start with a warm footbath to help you relax.
2. Add a few drops of essential oils such as lavender or mint to invigorate and stimulate your senses.
3. Towel your feet dry, sit in a comfortable position, and rest the right foot on top of the left knee.
4. Begin by rubbing the sole of the foot, then the sides and top as well. Hold the foot steady with one hand and use the other hand to work with.
5. Flexing your thumb at the first knuckle as you slide it over the skin creates a motion that allows you to move it evenly as you exert pressure. This is called thumb walking and is an effective basic technique to master. Your thumb will look like a caterpillar as it moves.
6. Starting with the big toe, gently but firmly pull it upward then use your thumb and fingers to work it from its base to its tip, covering all sides. Repeat with each toe.
7. To work the top of the head and brain reflexes, press down on the centre of the top of each toe with the tip of your thumb and gently rotate on that point.
8. On the top of the foot, run your thumb in between the big toe and its neighbour. Find the spot near the base of the toes that feels like a small hollow and press firmly on this point. This is a release point for the lymphatic glands; our lymphatic system filters toxins from the blood and helps eliminate them from the body.
9. To work the spinal reflexes, hold your foot steady with one hand and with the other slowly thumb walk on the inside of the foot from the heel to the big toe. Follow the line where the skin colour changes as it moves from the side of the foot to the sole.
Reflexology maps of the feet and hands are easily downloadable from the Internet. Keep one beside you to help you learn the different reflex locations. For best results try to set aside at least a half hour and make sure to work both feet from top to bottom. If you make this a regular part of your daily routine your feet will love you for it!