Healing with reflexology
The ancient art of reflexology is more than just a simple foot massage – it can boost energy, ease stress, and heal many health problems. Here's how to put your best foot forward.
Egyptian scrolls dating back to 2500 BC show healers treating patients with a form of reflexology. However, it was not until the early 1900s that an ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr William Fitzgerald, discovered that applying pressure to certain parts of the body had an anaesthetising effect on other areas. He called this ‘zone therapy’; it was further refined by his protégé Eunice Ingham in the 1930s, who created a map of the body connected to points on the feet.
Reflexology today is based on the principle that reflex points at certain parts of the body – the feet, but also the hands, face, and ears – correspond to the body’s major organs and systems. When pressed, these points stimulate natural healing processes.
How does it work?
Different areas of the feet and toes correspond to different body systems: for example, the big toe relates to the head and brain. “The body is divided into 10 longitudinal zones, ending in the fingers and toes,” explains Sydney reflexologist Cathy Holt. “If you imagine these zones on the feet and hands, there are five longitudinal zones in each foot, with zone one running from the thumb to the big toe, and zone five running from little finger to little toe. These zones create energy channels, and all the systems and organs lying within the channels are reflected in miniature on the hands and feet.”
When pressure is applied within a zone, it is possible to identify energy congestion or blockages. “These blockages can be physical – such as a build-up of waste products - or metaphysical, perhaps a build-up of toxic energy” says James Flaxman, South Australian director of the Reflexology Association of Australia. “Some practitioners work on one level, others on both.”
What can it help?
Reflexology’s benefits are myriad. Flaxman specialises in musculoskeletal problems, while other reflexologies target everything from infertility to ADHD. It may also help stress and fatigue, menstrual and menopausal symptoms, migraines and skin conditions; plus, it stimulates blood and lymph circulation, boosting energy and toxin removal. Holt has used it to treat digestive and respiratory problems, while Flaxman has found it helpful for patients with depression. “A particular benefit is that you can treat an area with a major injury without actually touching that area,” he adds.
Reflexologist Cathy Holt worked with cancer patients at London’s Royal Free Hospital and says the benefits were obvious. “Feedback from patients highlighted for me how important therapeutic touch is,” she explains. “The gift of a nurturing and loving touch is fundamental to healing. The body is still such a powerful physical and energetic force, even when it is nearing the end.”
While reflexology cannot legally be used to diagnose medical conditions, Holt says an experienced reflexologist will often pinpoint a problem. “It can be spot on,” she says. “For example, one regular client was surprised by an unusual reaction while I was working on her feet – she said it felt like an electric shock and her foot actually jumped off the bed. When I told her I was working on her eye and ear point, she told me her sinuses had been blocked for days. I worked to relieve the blockage and she told me at her next treatment that she hadn’t had to take any medication at all.”
A treatment takes 30-60 minutes – no longer, as it is possible to over-stimulate reflex points. Depending on the issue, a short course of weekly treatments may suffice, but some people find monthly ‘maintenance’ treatments helpful.
A healing crisis?
As with any bodywork treatment, people new to reflexology may feel worse before they feel better. “You could feel energised but you could also feel wiped out for two to three days after,” says Flaxman. “The toxins released into the system can make you feel like you’re coming down with something. It varies according to each person.” Other possible effects are increased urination or sweating, which are both signs of elimination.
Need more info? To find a practitioner near you, visit www.reflexology.org.au
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