Discovering reflexology

Ever come home at the end of a long day of standing on your feet in tight uncomfortable or heavy work shoes and begged your spouse for a foot massage-- or soaked your feet then rubbed them yourself? Your feet felt better but so did your entire body. It may seem strange to you, but for the reflexologist or bodyworker, making you feel better by working with your feet is all in a day's work.

The origins of reflexology as a healing technique are probably as old or older than acupuncture - with which it has many similarities. Variations of reflexology have long been practiced in Egypt, India, Africa, China and Japan. Like most eastern healing arts, it is based on the concept of a life energy known to the Chinese as qi, or Indian as prana, flowing through the body along pathways called zones or meridians. According to these ancient theories, illness results in the body if the energy flow becomes blocked or otherwise impeded.

While much of how reflexology works in the body remains a mystery, practitioners of this healing art agree that the technique relieves tension and clears blockages in the body's flow of vital force or energy. The two most common theories have many similarities. One theory suggests that a reflexology treatment stimulates sensory receptors in the nerve fibers of the foot. This produces energy that quickly travels to the spinal cord, where it is dispersed throughout the entire nervous system. Another theory postulates that the treatment relaxes the body, thereby reducing any constriction of the blood vessels and improves circulation.

The 20th Century postulation of reflexology by an American ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr William Fitzgerald established the theory of ''zone therapy,'' which is still taught and used today in physical therapy and pain management. He divided the body into ten vertical zones of communication, five on a side, each of which extended from the head to the fingertips and toes. By applying pressure to various parts of the body-- most commonly the hands and feet, he claimed that the functioning of different organs could be improved and pain eased. Dr Fitzgeralds' theories were further refined in the 1930s by Eunice Ingham, a physical therapist, who discovered that the ten zones could be best accessed through the feet. She then worked out detailed maps showing which areas of the feet corresponded to which organs and parts of the body. Many reflexologists still use the Ingham method of reflexology today.

Want to learn? No problem! Reflexology is a simple non-invasive therapy that most everyone will enjoy-- yes even those of you with the most ticklish of feet! Or, work on your own feet. Of course, it's always nice to get a clean pair of feet-- hint hint. You can use lotion or baby powder to make the strokes flow; aromatherapy oils are nice too, or just skin to skin. Whatever you prefer. Plan a 10-15 minute session and begin with a gentle massage of the feet. Then use your thumbs and index fingers and begin applying sustained pressure to the soles of each foot. Add stretching by flexing and bending the foot at the ankle; stretch and bend each toe as well. Continue adding different strokes such as wringing which consists of twisting the hands in opposite directions, as if wringing out a towel. Or foot boogie, a sawing of the hands back and forth so each foot is lightly slapped from side to side. Don't worry about hurting someone; believe me they will tell you if it hurts. If you find an area of the foot that is especially tender, move away from that spot, coming back to that area later.

Encourage your partner to drink plenty of water following a reflexology session. Reflexology is one of many ''manual medicines,'' it needs water to work best. Plan the next session depending on the feedback of your partner. If their feet are particularly sore the next day, or they have what may seem like other unrelated symptoms, anything from headache to diarrhea to tiredness, rest a few days, then try again. A schedule of twice a week will usually be enough to help energize the body and not cause soreness in the feet.

Personally, in my practice of massage I find it interesting the number of ''sore spots'' on the hands and feet that seem to correspond with my clients' current condition or diagnosis. They may respond verbally to me with just a simple ''that hurts'' or, '' when you were rubbing my big toe I got a headache behind my eye.'' I've come to the conclusion that as hungry as my very analytical mind is for knowledge, I will never fully understand how or why reflexology works, nor do I care-- that I know. The body knows, that's what counts!

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online October 20, 1999

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