By massaging what they call ‘reflex areas found in the feet, reflexology treat diseases in parts of the body they claim to be related to those areas. Exactly what happens when the reflex areas are massaged is not fully understood, and cannot be explained scientifically. But it is thought that illness occurs when ‘energy channels’ in the body are blocked, causing damage to one area or another. Massage is aimed at destroying these blocks, allowing the energy to flow freely again and so heal the damage.
What is the purpose of reflexology?
Reflexologists regard the feet as a ‘mirror’ of the body, with the left foot representing the left-hand side, and the right foot the right-hand side. Different parts of the sole connect in some way to such organs as the bladder, kidneys and lungs; the big toe to the head and brain; and the little toe to the sinuses. The massage alone is said to prompt the body to heal itself -no drugs or instruments are used.
What is reflexology massage?
Reflexology is said to have originated in China some 5000 years ago, when pressure therapies were used to correct energy fields in the body (see ACUPRESSURE; ACUPUNCTURE; SHIATSU). The ancient Egyptians also used a form of reflexology, as shown in a wall-painting in a tomb dating about 2330BC at Saqqara, south of Cairo.
But it was not until around 1913 that the therapy was introduced to the West by an American ear, nose and throat consultant, Dr William Fitzgerald. He devised a method termed ZONE THERAPY, which involved applying healing pressure either with the hands or with special instruments to certain parts of the body.
Major reflex areas on the soles of the feet
Reflexologists use charts like the one below to show how zones of the feet are thought to mirror various parts of the body. They believe that illnesses show up as tender spots on the reflex areas of affected organs, and that by applying special foot massage techniques to the correct points they can treat almost any organ or area of the body. Most but not all parts of the body have corresponding (though not necessarily identical) points on each foot.
He divided the body into ten zones, or channels, through which, he said, flowed the person’s vital energy. The zones extended from the toes, up through the body to the head, and back down again to the hands. Each of the zones was of equal width, covering each organ and part of the body.
By applying pressure to, say, an area in the same zone as the ear, he produced an anesthetic effect which deadened any pain that might be there. It is similar to someone automatically gritting their teeth when in pain, or gripping the sides of the chair at the dentist’s. Unwittingly, they are using a form of reflexology to deal with discomfort in an everyday situation.
In the early 1930s Dr Fitzgerald’s work was taken up by another American therapist, Mrs. Eunice Ingham, who published two popular books on reflexology called Stories the Feet Can Tell and Stories the Feet Have Told. Unlike Dr Fitzgerald, however, she did not work on different parts of the zones, but treated the body by concentrating on the feet.
In turn, the therapy was introduced to Britain by a student of Mrs. Ingham’s, Mrs. Doreen Bayly, who set up her own practice and training courses in 1960.
Who it can help
While not claiming to be a ‘cure-all’, reflexology has been used to treat a host of common ailments, including BACK PAIN, DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS, MIGRAINE, PERIOD PROBLEMS, SINUS PROBLEMS and STRESS. It has also reportedly helped patients with more serious conditions, such as HEART DISORDERS, MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS and strokes.
In addition, reflexologists claim that they can sometimes detect an impending or potential illness, then give preventive treatment, if appropriate, or advise the patient to see a specialist. By having treatment every month or two, good health may be maintained – and early warning signs spotted.
The often-powerful effects of the therapy may mean it is not always suitable during PREGNANCY or for anyone suffering from ARTHRITIS in the feet, DIABETES, certain heart disorders, OSTEOPOROSIS (thinning bones). phlebitis (vein inflammation), or THYROID DISORDERS. In such cases, treatment will begiven with extra care- or not at all.
Finding a reflexologist
Whenever possible. treatment should be carried out by a fully trained practitioner – especially for patients with more complicated or serious disorders. A list of qualified private practitioners can be obtained by sending £1.50 to the Secretary, British Reflexology Association, Monks Orchard, Whitbourne, Worcester WR6 5RB. Members of the association have the letters MBRA after their name.
Consulting a therapist
At your first visit you are asked for a full medical history. You are then asked to lie comfortably in a reclining chair, with feet raised. Shoes and socks are removed and the feet quickly examined for CORNS or calluses, which can interfere with blood supply, or infections which could indicate disease such as ATHLETE’S FOOT or poor nutrition. Before starting treatment, the therapist, will gently massage talcum onto your feet to get you used to the ‘feel’ of the reflexology technique.
Basic reflexology techniques
Stimulating a reflex point
The therapist applies pressure with the side and end of the thumb- in this case to a point on the side of the foot. Either the right or left thumb may be used, whichever is most comfortable, while the fingers gently hold the foot in place and the other hand provides support. The thumb joint is kept bent.
Kneading’ the foot
This involves pressing the arch area of the sole of the foot with the flat side of a clenched fist, while applying pressure from the top with the other hand. The hands are moved around the whole arch area in a kneading motion to give a generally stimulating and toning effect.
Locating treatment points
Pressing with her thumbs, the therapist probes the reflex areas on each foot in turn, looking for spots of special sensitivity. The points are no bigger than a pinhead so movements have to be precise. To move from one point to another the thumb is eased back from the first point and then slid forwards to the next one, keeping in contact with the skin all the time but not exerting pressure while moving.