Reflexology uses the foot or the hands as maps of the entire body. According to the technique, pressing specific parts of the foot or hands helps heal problems in related, distant area of the body. These pressure points are known as reflex points.
Reflexology is not to be confused with a massage. The practitioner's thumb, fingers and palms apply specific pressure to specific reflex points related to the problem organ or ailment.
The ancient healing art of reflexology has been known for many thousands of years. It was first believed to be practiced by the early Indian, Chinese and Egyptian people.
In 1913, Dr. William Fitzgerald, an American ear, nose and throat surgeon, introduced this therapy to the West. He noted that pressure on specific parts of the body could have an relaxing effect on a related area. Developing this theory, he divided the body into ten equal and vertical zones, ending in the fingers and toes. He concluded that pressure on one part of a zone could affect everything else within that zone. Thus, it was concluded that reflex areas on the feet and hands are linked to other areas and organs of the body within the same zone.
In the 1930's, Eunice Ingham, a therapist and a nurse, further developed and refined the zone therapy into what is now known as reflexology. She observed that congestion or tension in any part of the foot mirrors tension in a corresponding part of the body. Thus, when you treat the big toes there is a related effect in the head, and treating the whole foot can have a relaxing and healing effect on the whole body.
The reasons for the effectiveness of Reflexology remain unclear, its proponents have advocated several possible explanations. One explaination put forward is that the body contains an invisible life force, or subtle energy, similar to the concept of "qi" in traditional Chinese medicine. When this energy is blocked, illness can result. The nervous system is the key to access, control, and release these subtle energy patterns. It is thought that stimulating some of the more than 7,000 nerve endings on the foot can unblock and increase the flow of this vital energy to various parts of the body and thus promote healing.
The reflexology theory is consistent with the theory behind acupuncture and acupressure, in which mapped points on body parts such as the ear or hand are treated to affect corresponding remote organs or body zones.
A more conventional medical theory suggests that the pressure exerted by reflexologists releases nerve transmitter chemicals such as endorphins and monoamines, compounds that control pain.
Reflexologist will probably begin with a conversation about your general health and lifestyle. The practitioner may inquire about chronic health problems or any issues that are currently concerning you. The reflexologist may show you a map of the foot that pinpoint specific areas called reflex points that relate to other parts of the body. Initially, the practitioner will rub your feet lightly for a few minutes to warm them up and feel for tense or congested areas. A sensitive or taut area of the foot is usually considered by practitioners as a sign that the corresponding body part has an energy blockage.
The reflexologist will then focus on these tense areas for the duration of the session, which may last from 30 to 60 minutes. As a particular area of the foot is pressed, you may feel a tingling sensation in the part of your body being treated. The practitioner may use significant pressure, but the therapy should never get painful. Any discomfort you feel should ease as the tension dissipates under the practitioner's touch.
Treatments may be given once a week initially and then taper off to an occasional basis. Once you learn where the appropriate points are for your condition, you can learn to perform reflexology on yourself or have it done by a friend.