The first time I had reflexology, I fell asleep. The gentle pressure of the therapist’s hands kneading at my feet felt so soothing that I just nodded off. Reflexology, however, is much more than a foot massage. This therapeutic healing modality dates back to ancient Egypt, India and Babylonia. Evidence of the therapy dating from 2330 B.C. was found in the Egyptian pyramids, and it was also practiced in China as early as 5,000 years ago.
Reflexology is based on the theory that different points on the feet and hands correspond with various parts of the body, and that pressure applied to these “reflex points” can relieve stress and tension. It’s a natural therapy that is believed to help balance the entire body and get energy flowing in a healthy direction.
“We all know that when our feet hurt, we often feel bad all over,” says Kathy Schauber, LMT, a certified reflexologist and owner of Tranquil Spirit in Bear. “The feet are mirrors of the body; reflex points on the hands and feet correspond to every organ, gland and part of the body.” Reflexologists use their thumbs and fingers to work these reflex points to bring the body back into balance, she explains. “Once balance is restored, the body can begin to nurture and repair itself.”
In Western medicine, reflexology dates back to the early 1900s, when Dr. William Fitzgerald, M.D., wrote a book describing his success in relieving pain by using various devices on the fingers and toes. His practice became known as “zone therapy.”
Physiotherapist Eunice Ingham mapped out all of the body’s reflex areas, highlighting 10 imaginary zones—five on the right side of the body, five on the left—from the toes to the head. Each zone corresponds with a different body part. Applying pressure to the big toe, for instance, impacts the sinuses and the head; the ball of the foot between the toes and the arch relates to the lungs, chest and heart; and the heel of the foot relates to the intestines.
“Zone therapy is similar to the meridian lines found in acupuncture,” explains Greer Thompson, LMT, owner and director of HeartWish Healing Center in Rehoboth Beach. “In reflexology, we refer to what’s known as ‘marma points,’ or sensitive or vulnerable areas that can be stimulated to relieve energy blockages and improve energy flow throughout the body.”
While the physical impact of reflexology is similar to massage, there are also several other health benefits.
“Reflexology can be used to alleviate a variety of conditions,” explains Nickole Visan, MSOL/LMT, owner of Rehoboth’s Visan Massage & Bodywork. “When people experience agitation, stress, anxiety or persistent worry, reflexology can help bring them back into balance. … It calms the mind, improves circulation, relieves stress and tension, alleviates foot pain and boosts the immune system.”
When seeking out a reflexologist, it’s important to look for a licensed massage therapist (LMT) with experience in reflexology as a complementary therapy. The International Institute of Reflexology in St. Petersburg, Florida, run by Dwight Byers, the nephew of Eunice Ingham, and the American Reflexology Certification Board, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, can help you find a certified reflexologist in your area. Visit reflexology-usa.net/referrals.htm or arcb.net for more information.