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What is Reflexology?

By Amanda Kondra, DNM RCRT Cl.H

Reflexology has a history going back over 5000 years with foot work illustrations, texts and artifacts being discovered more recently. The basis of our historical understanding is that the Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian, Russian, East Indian and Indigenous cultures promoted foot work as a way of encouraging good health. These practices were often passed on by oral tradition or by travelling monks. In the early parts of the 20th century a few key people were responsible for the development of modern day Reflexology. Dr. William Fitzgerald, Dr. Edwin Bowers and Eunice Ingham were all advocates of the zone theory, Eunice being the person to eventually map out the entire body on the foot and sharing her findings with the public, lending the most insight into what Reflexology is today.

There are several theories surrounding Reflexology and its method of function. One is based on the body being divided into energy zones. Each zone extends from the head to the hands and feet, allowing the stimulation of these focal areas to elicit a response throughout these energetic pathways. Reflexology points are believed to be best represented in the hands, feet and ears. These main centers are mapped out with each section corresponding to a different part of the body.

Every area of the body has an ability to communicate with the brain through nervous impulses. One theory is that the body's inability to metabolize certain wastes can encourage sediment in the feet. These sentiments, consisting mainly of calcium deposits, uric acid and lactic acid can crystallize and interrupt nervous impulses from the feet to the brain and its various organs, glands and parts, altering optimal function. The massaging of these crystallized areas can help to improve circulation and nerve impulses, thus restoring a sense of health.

Meaningful touch and its positive impact on the nervous system can lend to another theory of how Reflexology can encourage a body to restore function. An enjoyable Reflexology and Self-Reflexology session can communicate to the nervous system that it is safe. This sense of "safe" over a usual sense of "threat" can allow the nervous system to relax. Keep in mind that what triggers a sense of "threat" for modern humans is no longer being chased by a cheetah, but instead deadlines, fear of job loss, marital difficulty, etc. This sensation of relaxation is a switching of our autonomic nervous system from the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-repair-digest-breed response). Each foot has over 7000 nerve endings and the purposeful massaging of various areas in the feet is how Reflexology can be best described. References: Norman, Laura. Feet First: a guide to foot reflexology. New York: Fireside Books, 1988.


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