Updated: Aug 18
One afternoon, I was at my friend’s home visiting her and her newborn son, Jackson. She was excited and anxious about being a new mom and concerned about a skin reaction he was having, which she believed was from the laundry detergent she was using. As I peered into the bundle of blankets, I saw a cute but pink-dotted little baby. I took his tiny, two-day-old foot between my fingers and rolled my thumb gently on the bottom of his sole. I then took my fingers and held what I like to refer to as the “Spock Point” at the tip of his ears to counter allergic reactions. To both my friend’s, my, and surely Jackson’s delight, we watched his little pink dots completely disappear from his skin. What Jackson experienced was his first reflexology session.
You don’t need to be a polka-dotted infant to reap the benefits of reflexology. Whether you are young or old, in good health or weathering the effects of stress, trauma, or disease, reflexology can benefit almost everyone. It can assist people dealing with issues ranging from chronic stress and pains to digestive disorders and hormonal imbalances. In addition, reflexology is a safe, natural, and non-intrusive form of therapy that can be learned easily and self-applied whenever needed. Besides that, it feels great!
So what exactly is reflexology?
For thousands of years the feet, hands, and ears have been used to facilitate healing. Within the last century, reflexology has been redefined into what we recognize it as today. It is based on the premise that the human body is completely reflected, as reflex maps, on the feet, hands, and outer ears. In essence, these areas serve as a mirror to our state of health, as well as to adjust the body’s natural processes, physiologically and psychologically, to help us regain and maintain a normal equilibrium and sense of health and well-being. In practice, if a client complains of neck pain, the points relating to the neck, or “neck reflexes,” would be stimulated. These areas would include the base of the toes and fingers and the lower part of the helix and antihelix on the ears. With all holistic work, the entire body reflexes are always included in a session, as the body system works as a whole entity in harmony.
What can reflexology do?
People seek reflexology for a wide range of issues including stress and tension, aches and pains, digestive disorders, hormonal imbalances, infertility, certain types of paralysis, repetitive stress symptoms, injuries, and much more. It has a balancing effect that helps to calm what is overactive and stimulates that which is underactive, giving a feeling of overall wellness while enhancing current health issues.
I’ve worked with several women regarding infertility issues, and am happy to say many of them are now proud mothers. One client came in to find relief from her excruciating migraines she received like clockwork two days before her menstrual cycle, every month for five years. After her first session, the headaches were gone. With routine visits, she is able to keep them away. Another client was able to quit taking his pain medicine for his back. I’ve seen a few a clients gain improvement from certain types of paralysis, and countless clients have found relief from their aches, pains, and tension.
It is important to remember that every body is unique. The results people receive vary as much as their individual constitutions do. I have no doubt that the people I have worked with who have had such positive results are individuals who have healed themselves. Reflexology facilitates them in their healing process. I believe a person’s health cannot improve until they have the desire to change and believe that their health can improve. For some, who have chronic ailments that accumulated in their bodies over a long period of time, it may take longer to restore balance.
How does reflexology work?
As a holistic therapy, reflexology is theorized to work on many levels as it affects the biomechanics of the foot structure, neural circuitry, vascular circulation, holographic microsystems, the meridian system, emotional networks, and much more. Let’s take a look at a few of these in more depth.
Structurally, reflexology directly works on the biomechanics of the feet. If any part of the foot structure deviates from normalcy, postural integrity of the body is compromised; which affects not only the skeletal structure but the inner organ systems as well. By relaxing the tissues of the feet, reflexology enables the body to have a solid foundation that can promote good posture and overall health.
Within the circuitry of the body, reflexology is believed to aid in unblocking congested nerve endings. The extremities of the body — being the feet, hands, and ears — have a rich supply of nerve endings. Stress, tension, chemical imbalances, injuries, or an acidic pH can cause the nerve endings to become clogged and congested. By palpating these areas with a reflexology technique, the nerves are stimulated, congestion disperses and circulation (both neural and vascular) improves. This brings both increased vitality and health to the reflex area, the corresponding body area, and the entire body as a whole.
On a more subtle level, as Eastern thought theorizes, when the foot is being palpated, or reflexed, acupressure points are being stimulated, affecting the body through meridian pathways. There are over seventy-five acupressure points found on the feet and hands alone, not to mention the hundreds of auricular microsystem points found on the ears. While reflexology differs from acupressure with its mapping of points, they both overlap and integrate with one another well.
The results of reflexology have also been attributed to the theories of laying on of hands and the emotional power of touch, the power of love, the healing effects of rest, and even the placebo effect. Although there is not one definitive explanation of how reflexology works, the answer most likely rests in the combination of many.
Why choose reflexology?
Reflexology, in most cases, brings about a deep relaxation. This in itself reduces the stress that creates many of our ailments today. It is safe, therapeutic, and feels wonderful. Don’t be fooled by the myth that it must be painful to benefit you. I have clients that rave about how pampered they feel during a session. Reflexology is also non-intrusive. If you don’t like to disrobe, don’t like needles, don’t like to take medicines or remedies, don’t worry! Reflexology only requires that you expose your feet, hands, and ears.
The main reason for choosing reflexology, however, should be for its health benefits. Reflexology is beneficial in both gaining and maintaining a healthier constitution. It works the body on a deep level, affecting the organs and body systems as well as the outer structures promoting a sense of balance, health, and well-being.
What to expect during a session
A reflexology session usually begins with a brief intake of your health background and current issues. Before the session starts, shoes and socks are removed and you are either seated in a reclining chair or asked to lie on a reflexology table (usually pillows and blankets are offered for comfort). At that point, an initial scan of the reflexes are viewed and the reflexologist begins to palpate your feet and hands. As a general rule, only the practitioner’s hands will give the pressure to the reflexes. Pressure should be deep enough so that your tissues are thoroughly worked, but gentle enough to keep you comfortable and relaxed. Relaxation is the key here, without it our body cannot heal. The ear points are worked with lighter pressure, and in most cases, points are held as well as palpated. Some sessions utilize a combination of the feet, hands and ears, while others are a lesser combination of the three according to the practitioner’s experience and your current needs.
After the session, you will most likely feel very relaxed and possibly sleepy. However, sometimes clients leave feeling instantly energized. It really depends on your body’s constitution and overall health needs. Give yourself some time to rest. As reflexology stimulates your entire body, it is important to drink plenty of water following the session to flush out any impurities and to re-hydrate your body.
It is hard not to enjoy the day or evening after a good reflexology session. A client once told me, “there is nothing more heavenly than having my feet rubbed.” So whether you go to a reflexologist, share a foot rub on the couch with your sweetheart, or work your own feet routinely you are benefiting from the wellness reflexology can bring.
The article below was published in the March/April 2004 San Francisco Bay Area’s ShareGuide Magazine. © Laura Lee Ostrowski, 2004. All Rights Reserved.