Based on the premise that there are reflex points in the hands and especiallythe feet that correspond to every part of the body, reflexology is the practice of applying pressure to these points in order to stimulate the body's natural healing powers.
Although reflexology does not treat specific diseases, its practitioners believe that stimulation of the proper reflex point in the foot will affect a particular organ, gland, or body part and can alleviate many health problems. Most use it to relieve stress and tension and to promote deep relaxation. Reflexologists also say that the overall health of a person benefits as the circulation is improved.
Reflexology employs no instruments or devices and involves only the application of pressure by hand on certain spots on the sides, soles, and tops of thefeet. It is therefore safe for everyone when performed by a qualified therapist. There may be pain during the treatment when pressure is applied to specific points. It should, however, not be painful once the pressure is lifted.
Reflexology has its roots in the ancient civilizations of several different non-Western cultures. It first appeared in the West in the early 20th centuryas the "zone therapy" of American physician, William Fitzgerald, who dividedthe body into ten vertical zones. In the 1930s, the physiotherapist Eunice Ingham used this therapy on her patients and found that their feet were by farthe most responsive areas to work, so she created a map of the entire body onthe feet. Viewing the soles of the feet as a miniature representation of thebody, she charted the toes as reflecting the head and neck; the soft balls of the feet, the shoulders and chest; the upper arch, the area from the diaphragm to the waist; the lower arch, the waist and pelvic area; and the heels, the sciatic nerve. The inside and outside curves of the feet as well as the ankles also corresponded to certain body areas.
Reflexology employs the principle that these "reflex points" on the feet, when worked by hand pressure, will reflexively stimulate energy to a related muscle or organ and promote healing. Although reflexology is medically unprovenand no one really knows exactly how it works, it is known that the thousandsof nerve endings in the feet have extensive interconnections through the spinal cord and can send messages via the brain to all areas of the body. Reflexologists claim that communication is essential to good health and that pressure on reflex points can release and clear blockages, improving the body's internal message-sending system. This, in turn, improves circulation and makes the body able to transport oxygen and nutrients more efficiently while eliminating toxins easily.
During the first session, the reflexologist will ask the patient about medical history and health conditions, as well as habits, work, and lifestyle. Patients need only to remove their shoes and socks, have their feet wiped, and cream or powder applied. The practitioner then "works" the reflex areas using several manual techniques, but always employing the thumbs or fingers. Blockedareas or blocked energy is often felt as deposits under the skin, and the practitioner will target these areas for breakup by manipulation and pressure.This can be slightly painful, although most people report feeling more relaxed after treatment. The number of treatments is variable, but most find that the best results are achieved over four to six sessions. As of 1993, there were nearly 25,000 certified practitioners around the world. In certain countries, like Thailand, people can get a reflexology treatment on the street, and in Denmark, it is the number one alternative health treatment.
When administered by a qualified therapist, there are virtually no risks involved in reflexology for people of all ages. However, it should not be used incases of a serious illness or in place of traditional treatment for conditions that require medical attention.
Since the goal of reflexology is to normalize body functions rather than to cure any particular condition, it should be considered primarily a "whole system" kind of therapy. Many people do find however, that it works especially well on conditions that need to be regulated or cleared up, such as stress andfatigue, skin conditions, and menstrual or digestive irregularities. At a minimum, treatment is relaxing and can help relieve stress.