'Our feet are our contact with the earth and the energies that flow through it.'
Jenny Wallace, Bear Clan, Cherokee Indian Tribe
People who do not use alternative, complementary or integrative health modalities are sometimes unfamiliar with the term reflexology. When describing this therapy to mainstream readership, reflexology is sometimes referred to as reflexology foot massage. The clarity the term gains by expanding its definition to include the term foot massage is insufficient in conveying the therapeutic nature of the art of reflexology. This centuries old therapy derives its benefits by manipulating in sequence a complex map of specific reflexes on the feet to encourage healing in corresponding parts of the body.
When thinking of reflexology as foot massage it leads some to the assumption that it is something just about anyone can do without any particular training or knowledge. After all, couldn't just about anyone rub someone else's or their own feet? Or why would you pay someone to rub your feet?
Yes, just about anyone can rub someone else's foot and the receiver of the massage would most likely have a pleasurable experience if the person giving the massage was sensitive enough to exert appropriate pressure and knew some basic massage techniques.
The difference in a pleasurable foot massage and professional reflexology treatment is like the difference between installing your own atrium door with no knowledge of carpentry and hiring a professional frame carpenter to install it.
The professional knows how to inspect the sight, order materials, possesses the proper tools and knows how to use them and has the experience to detect subtle issues that might require extra attention like installing shims to keep the door from leaking cold air when an opening is not perfectly squared.
Like other trained professional, the Reflexologist knows when referral to another specialist is appropriate. He or she has been trained in assessing foot health such as the location of corns or bunions in relationship to corresponding organs or parts of the body; the presence of the debilitating condition of plantar fasciitis and even nail fungus. When referral to another practitioner such as a podiatrist or chiropractor is appropriate, the Reflexologist will respond to the client's specific needs by doing so.
When a natural health modality can be used to ease discomfort related to a medical condition like in the case of procedures to ease plantar fasciitis related symptoms of tendon stiffness and heel tissue swelling, the Reflexologist can often suggest some self-care procedures clients can use to ease pain, swelling and stiffness to alleviate pain between sessions.
Until the last decade little scientifically accepted reflexology research was documented in North America although a substantial amount of reflexology research exists worldwide specifically in Denmark, Australia, Switzerland and China.
But in the December 1993 of issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, research findings were published which showed how reflexology reduced women's P.M.S. symptoms by 46 percent during the eight weeks during the study and sustained the reductions of symptoms for eight weeks following the study.
In a less formal study conducted at the 1987 California Police Olympics, the Sacramento Valley Reflexology Association documented that reflexology normalized systolic blood pressure in 75 percent and diastolic blood pressure in 61 percent of cases.
In other countries, reflexology is often considered a more mainstream healthcare modality. In fact, it so highly respected in Denmark that 3,500 Danish reflexologists outnumber its 3,000 medical doctors, according to a report from Natural Life Magazine. Some of these reflexologists work in traditional medical settings including hospitals or contract with corporations to provide wellness services for its employees to reduce sick leave and improve productivity.
Danish research studies are often the most prolific in which findings indicate reflexology producing positive results for poor circulation, kidney stones, constipation and supporting women during childbirth.
A research study conducted in Australia to evaluate reflexology’s benefit for people suffering from pain – arthritic pain, unexplained internal pain and tension headaches – also reported positive results. Similarly, in Switzerland, a research study evaluated the benefits of reflexology for persons with terminal cancer, all suffering from pain. The results showed that reflexology not only relieved their pain, but also added quality to the dying person's life. In China, a Beijing Medical University study found foot reflexology an effective therapy for type II diabetes mellitus.
For those interested in highly detailed research data concerning the efficacy of reflexology, the following site offers a bevy of statistics from all over the globe: http://www.reflexology-research.com/research.html
Origins of Modern Reflexology
Eunice Ingham is called the Mother of Modern Reflexology and is best known for her exhaustive research on establishing the specific reflex map of the feet. She worked closely with Dr. William Fitzgerald who founded the premise of Zone Therapy in which the feet were seen as parts of ten zones of the body that could be manipulated to help the body return to a healthier balance.
Ingham expounded upon the zone theory by concentrating specifically on manipulation of the feet in relationship to all parts of the body. Ingham trained her nephew Dwight Byers who now runs the International Institute of Reflexology in St. Petersburg, Fla., a world-renowned training academy for reflexologists.
Leonardo da Vinci called the feet "a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art."
While today's anthropologists marvel at the changes in man's footprints over the ages as he evolved from walking on all fours to walking upright, the footprints of reflexology are not as clear.
Some experts in the field say reflexology dates back 5,000 years to China's Hwang Dynasty. Others claim it originated in Egypt where the cultures of Egypt and Babylon evolved before that of China. It was in Egypt where pictographs showing the manipulation of feet were found in the tomb of physician Ankmahor dating about 2,300 B.C. These tomb drawings are the first officially documented proof of the practice of reflexology. But then there's always the possibility that the early Chinese reflexologists had an aversion to publicity.
There's the question about how reflexology got from Egypt clear over to North Carolina where the Cherokee tribe of North America arrived at its own method of manipulating the foot-part of a secret spiritual practice still used by the Bear Clan of the Cherokee tribe. Some theories link the Incas to bringing the art of reflexology to the Americas.
There the Cherokee Bear Clan picks reflexologists based on their intuitive inclinations as healers. The tribe honors the body, mind and spirit connection of the feet in relationship to being the physical manifestation of man's connection to Mother Earth.
"In my tribe working on the feet is a very important healing art and is part of a sacred ceremony that you don't have to be ill to participate in. The feet walk upon the earth and through this your spirit is connected to the universe," Jenny Wallace, a Cherokee Indian from the Bear Clan states in "The Art of Reflexology" by Inge Dougans with Suzanne Ellis.
Zone Vs. Meridian Theory
As in all health care disciplines, conflicting theories exist about the efficiency of one technique over another. Reflexology also possesses conflicting theories about the influence of one therapy over another on the practice of reflexology in today's healthcare field. Conflicting views exist about whether zone or meridian therapy has most profoundly influenced modern reflexology.
Ingham and her exhaustive research on the Zone Therapy and its relationship to reflexology have integrated many parts of that therapy into reflexology as it is practiced today.
Strong links between the similarities between modern reflexology and acupuncture, acupressure and shiatsu are beginning to be acknowledged more today than ever before as health practices of the East are being integrated into Western medical practices.
All are considered to be meridian therapies based on the premise that energy flows through the body in pathways called meridians-with twelve major meridians traveling the length of the body. Interruption of the flow of this energy causes imbalances that result in illness or pain.
To restore the free flow of energy through the meridians, reflexology concentrates chiefly on working reflexes that correspond to the six major meridians that are located on the feet and intersect the other six meridians in other parts of the body. Other meridian therapies use needles, massage or pressure to restore the flow of energy to the meridians.
Scientists in Russia have used a variety of studies involving the measurement of electrical impulses on the skin at acupuncture points and these have included X-rays, encephalography and electrocardiography.
When you get past the theoretical rhetoric, the most basic definition of reflexology is manipulation of foot reflexes. It usually involves a specific technique of applying compression or pressure with hands or implements. Whether that manipulation restores the flow of energy along meridians or zones, it really does not matter. The end result is that the recipient of reflexology gets relief from stress, improved well-being and support for their body to return to its own internal healthful harmony.
By gently working reflexes on the feet, head, hands and body that correspond to major body organs, limbs and glands you can achieve a state of deep relaxation that in the end is the key to how the process works. That deeply relaxed state stimulates the body's own innate ability to heal or return to homeostasis or balance.
The state of deep relaxation also releases those feel-good body chemicals called endorphins-the body's natural opiates that are as much as ten times more powerful than morphine. This allows the nervous system to return to normal function and the body to once again find its inner equilibrium.
Sensitive, trained hands can detect tiny deposits and imbalances in the feet, and by working on these points the Reflexologist can also release blockages in organs and areas of the body to restore the free flow of energy to the whole body system.
Reflexology endeavors to treat the body, mind and spirit as a cohesive system by getting to the cause of dis-ease not its symptoms.
Some of the common benefits of reflexology include: alleviates stress and its accompanying symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and depression; increases circulation; promotes detoxification of body systems and tissues; alleviates chronic pain; releases congestion in crystallized deposits of calcium on the foot; and can stabilize blood pressure.
Reflexology is a great therapy for people who have an aversion to removing their clothing for typical massage therapy and for others who have physical restrictions that prohibit other types of massage. You remove only your shoes and socks-just about anyone can do that.
Thomacine Haywood, certified reflexologist, teacher and writer has operated Restore Bodywork, Indianapolis, since 2002 specializing in reflexology, massage therapy and vibrational medicine. This article is exerpted from a book she is writing. See more at www.restore-inc.com