I’ve been an ITEC Certified Reflexologist for ten years. The modality is a treat for anyone but especially perfect if you are in recovery from illness or surgery or simply have difficulty navigating the climb onto a massage table. Reflexology can be done in your home from the comfort of your favorite chair. A version of this article was published in Yoga Living Magazine in 2010. Over the past few weeks I’ve been delighted to accept new Reflexology clients and for them I happily re-post this article.
My Feet Are Killing Me!
Really? Maybe it’s the other way around. Let’s face it. Our feet are underappreciated. They carry the weight of our bodies with nary a complaint. We smoosh them into poorly fitted shoes that force our little phalanges into unnatural shapes. And then we stand on them for hours. We depend on our feet to keep us moving from home to work and then, at the end of the day, we increase the massive force of each footfall by slipping on a pair of running shoes and going for a jog on hard concrete.
And what thanks do they get?
If they’re lucky we’ll give our toes a wee wiggle before bed. Our feet deserve more. Pedicures are pretty, but I’m talking about deep healing. I’m talking about maintaining the health of our feet while supporting health and healing throughout the entire body. I’m talking Reflexology.
Reflexology to the Rescue
Reflexology is a massage and pressure point technique applied to the sole of the foot similar in theory to acupressure massage and acupuncture.
I know – I bet you think you’re too ticklish. Who hasn’t suffered under the hands of an older sibling who, at some point during our childhood, took cruel delight in torturing us by tickling our toes, home to thousands of nerve endings?
But stimulating these nerve endings – with a firm and not ticklish touch – sends messages to corresponding areas of the body. Reflexology calms the nervous system and supports our body in a way that restores equilibrium by stimulating sluggish energetic pathways while settling pathways that are overactive, thus providing an opportunity for the body to begin the healing process. Reflexology builds and sustains our reserves and enables us to cope with day-to-day stress triggers. Regular reflexology treatments may also shorten our recovery time from major life upsets or illness.
A Brief History
Eastern cultures noticed the link between the health of our feet and general wellness thousands of years ago. They didn’t call their work reflexology, and they hadn’t mapped out the foot reflexes, but they knew that regular massage and an appreciation for the feet supported overall vitality.
Reflexology as we know it today arrived more recently in the West – during the early part of the twentieth century – when Eunice Ingham developed the reflex ‘maps’ therapists are familiar with today.
The popularity of reflexology is on the rise as therapists and clients discover the intense effects working on the soles of the feet have on the rest of the body. Reflexology is a gentle way for clients who are not comfortable disrobing for a full-body massage to receive the stress relieving benefits of touch therapy.
In the Zone
Reflexology divides the foot into ten vertical zones and three horizontal zones. The zones act like a guide for the reflexologist – a ‘foot map’ of sorts. In theory a blockage in one part of a zone correlates to a particular organ but also influences everything else in that zone. Working the appropriate and specific foot reflex within the zone will stimulate subtle muscular contraction or release throughout the zone.
The zones of the feet are similar to the meridians used in acupuncture and acupressure.
As with acupuncture and acupressure, reflexology is a therapy that demonstrates the interrelationship between the different physiological systems as well as the mind, body and spirit.
Tell Me More…
A reflexology treatment lasts between forty-five minutes and an hour. Unlike a full-body massage you’ll remain – except for your feet of course – fully clothed. The therapist will begin by ‘greeting’ both feet, looking for any abnormalities, calluses or injuries. It’s better to skip the toenail polish on the day of your treatment – your therapist will want to note any discoloration in the nail bed. Finally, she’ll take a whiff. An odor coming from the feet may point to a kidney or liver imbalance – but remember, reflexology is not a diagnostic tool. An imbalance could indicate a temporary increase in life stress, an immune response to a virus or bacterium, or even a simple lack of attention to the diet.
So Far So Good – Then What Happens?
After several minutes of warming up, when you’re therapist has you floating in that wonderful place between sleep and bliss the real work begins.
Most reflexologists work one foot at a time, beginning with the right, although techniques will vary. Some therapists have a light touch; others work more deeply. Both techniques are effective.
The reflexologist divides the foot into regions and systematically ‘thumb walks’ over each section. The technique, where the outer edge of the thumb pad presses on the surface of the foot, allows the therapist to feel one small area at a time. The therapist can be very specific with her touch, stimulating reflex points with precision.
During this time she may feel a change in texture. Sometimes areas that need work are indicated by small nodules beneath the skin that feel a little bit like grains of sand. These are not harbingers of doom – they simply reflect a possible weakness. Your therapist will note these areas and either work on them immediately or go back to them toward the end of the treatment.
For example, if your immune system is compromised – if you’re coming down with a cold – your spleen reflex may feel a bit spongy or rough. She may work the area with more pressure or press additional ‘helper’ reflexes in order to soften or break up the nodule before moving on to another area of the foot. She might also suggest aftercare – possibly including yoga asana – to strengthen a depleted immune system.
What Does it Feel Like?
The opening sequence of a treatment will feel very much like a typical foot massage. Your therapist may incorporate a few gentle stretches and joint manipulations that are beneficial to the circulatory system and conducive to relaxation. When the more specific aspects of the reflexology treatment begin you’ll feel the light pressure of thumb walking along a specific pathway on the foot. When your therapist finds an area of imbalance you may experience tenderness or irritation at that reflex point.
Some therapists will prefer to keep your head elevated. This allows them to watch for the subtle changes in your expression as you respond to the treatment. It’s important to communicate with your therapist – to tell her if something hurts, or if her touch is too strong – but sometimes during the treatment you’ll be too relaxed to speak. Keeping your head elevated is the therapist’s way of keeping the lines of communication open.
You will be encouraged to rest and relax following your treatment. Find a quiet, still environment and sip water or herbal tea. Allow the transition between your treatment and the return to ‘real’ life to be as gentle and easy as possible.
Reflexology is profoundly relaxing. It soothes the nervous system and relieves stress. While it does not offer a cure or a diagnosis, you can consider reflexology a conduit for greater healing.
While most treatments support general well being, a good therapist will be able to design a program that addresses specific concerns and conditions. For instance, reflexology is excellent for digestive issues and sleep disturbances. It can also be of benefit for anyone suffering from chronic headaches and has been shown to provide relief from fibromyalgia. The truth is, reflexology has a positive effect on many chronic problems. And while it isn’t a substitute for medical treatment, it is a powerful complement to an allopathic approach to illness.
A Home Treatment for Feet:
Use a golf ball to stimulate meridians and reflex points in the soles of the feet. Soaking the feet in warm, scented water only adds to the treatment.
- Place the golf ball on a folded towel (this will help keep it from rolling away from you).
- Begin by resting the right foot on the ball at your diaphragm/solar plexus reflex. This point is just below the ball of the foot, close to the midline.
- Curling the toes down will stretch the top of the foot.
- Hold this position for a few breaths.
- When that feels complete, begin running the ball slowly up and down the foot, from the inside to the out. Use firm but not painful pressure. Linger at any areas that may feel sensitive. You can repeat this pattern as often as you like.
- And then run the ball from side to side, working from the toes to the heel. Again, stop and linger at any sensitive areas.
- Repeat with the left foot.
Relieving Stress on the Road:
A simple trick for calming down when stress attacks is finding the diaphragm/solar plexus point on the palm of your hand and applying a light pressure. To find the point:
- Relax the hand
- Allow your left hand to fold gently and observe the creases in the palm.
- They become well-defined and move towards one another.
- The point where they are closest – just above the pad of the thumb and just below the space between the index and middle finger – that’s the general area of the solar plexus/diaphragm point.
- Press into that spot gently with the pad of your right thumb.
- Breathe in as you press. Breathe out as you release.
- Repeat several times, slowly and with self-awareness.
- Repeat on the right side.
For more information about reflexology, or to find a reflexologist in your area visit these websites:
Reflexology Association of America: http://www.reflexology-usa.org/
American Reflexology Certification Board: www.arcb.net