WHAT IS REFLEXOLOGY?
Reflexology is a holistic treatment based on the principle that there are areas and points on the feet, hands, and ears that map via the nervous system to corresponding parts of the body. When pressure is applied to these areas and points it stimulates the movement of energy along the nerve channels, and helps to restore homeostasis (balance) in the whole body. Reflexology is known as Zone Therapy in countries other than the UK.
Our bodies are very complex and are capable of healing themselves, anything from a small cut or bruise to a major injury or emotional trauma. One of the most amazing things I have experienced was my body’s ability to knit together my Achilles tendon on its own, after it had snapped. I simply had the foot set in various positions and my body did the rest of the work. Systems and organs in the body are constantly working together to heal and repair. Examples could be the brain and rest of the nervous system, which is in control of much of our activity, and the circulatory system, which transports oxygen and nutrients to body cells to be converted into energy. Energy is essential for our well-being and indeed to keep going.
All the systems need to be working together well to maintain a healthy balance. Stress, injury, or illness can cause the balance to be disrupted when component parts are less effective. Problems can then be compounded by the fact that the rest of the body works harder to compensate, potentially causing problems in other components.
There are 7,000-7,200 nerve endings in the human foot, and each of these is a reflex point that corresponds to a body part. Reflexology uses special finger/thumb manipulations to stimulate reflex points, which will stimulate the flow of energy to the corresponding body part. This gradually helps to restore homeostasis and stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself, physically and emotionally. As reflex points are minute, the movements are quite precise and care must be taken to cover all of them to ensure that the treatment is comprehensive and therefore a holistic treatment for the whole body. However, there is no reason why a specific reflex point (or points) can’t be worked on more if an imbalance is detected. Imbalances manifest themselves through crystals at the affected reflex point, which vary from being slightly crunchy like sugar to lumps of varying sizes. Dispersing these crystals is what unblocks energy channels, and this is done by applying firm pressure with the thumb (or fingers depending on where on the foot the reflex point is). Visible signs of imbalance could be hard skin, discolouration of skin (e.g. yellowing), marks on the foot (red marks can indicate acute problems), and bunions. The odour, temperature, and moistness of a foot also play a part in assessing it. It will often take several treatments to awaken the reflexes and start to see some effect.
Reflexologists know which area of the foot corresponds to which body part by learning maps of the feet, plantar view, dorsal view, and medial and lateral views. There are 5 longitudinal zones on each foot that run from each of the toes directly up through the body to the top of the head. Zone 1 runs from the big toe up through the centre of the body to the top of the head, zone 2 from the next toe, and so on ending with zone 5 running from the little toe up the outside of the body to the shoulders and neck. There are then horizontal zones that map out which cross-section of the body corresponds to reflex points in that zone.
THE HISTORY OF REFLEXOLOGY
Modern reflexology is based on an ancient form of therapy. There is evidence of some form of foot and hand therapy being practised in China as long ago as 4,000 B.C. and also at the same time in Egypt, as depicted in the tomb of Ankmahor. The North American tribes of Indians are known to have practised a form of foot therapy for hundreds of years.
There is some confusion about the true origin of this powerful therapy, sufficient to say that it has stood the test of time and has helped thousands of people to better health.
The dictionary definition of a “Reflex” is “an involuntary or instinctive movement in response to a stimulus” or in the sense of reflection or mirror image.
The reflexes on our feet and hands act as mirror images of the body.
Zone Therapy was used as far back as AD1500. The American president, James Abram Garfield was said to apply pressure to his feet to relieve pain.
During the 16th Century a number of books were published on Zone Therapy, one was written by Dr Adamus and Dr A’tatis and another by Dr Ball in Leipzig.
The re-discovery of some form of systemised foot treatment is accredited to Dr William Fitzgerald who called it Zone Therapy and drew it to the attention of the medical world between 1915 and 1917. It was in 1915 that an article entitled “To stop that toothache, squeeze your toe” was published in “Everybody’s Magazine”, written by Edwin Bowers, which first brought Dr Fitzgerald’s work on Zone Therapy before the public.
In 1917, Dr Fitzgerald wrote “Zone Therapy or Relieving Pain in the Home”. Two years later, they enlarged this book and published it under a second title “Zone Therapy or Curing Pain and Disease”.
Dr William Fitzgerald (1872 – 1942) received his medical degree from the University of Vermont in 1895. He practised in Boston City Hospital for two and a half years before going to London. He spent two years at the Central London Nose and Throat hospital before taking up a position in Vienna as Assistant to Professors Politzer and Chiari, who were highly respected doctors.
Dr Ada Politzer (1835 – 1920) of the University of Vienna, was a well-known author of many medical books and made clinical contributions to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the ear. Dr Otto Chiari, again an established authority, wrote several books on diseases and surgery of the larynx and trachea.
Dr Fitzgerald never published the original sources for his own therapy, but it is likely that he was influenced during this time in Vienna, by the work of Dr d’Arsonval. In “Zone Therapy is Scientific” by Dr W D Chesney, it is stated that in Germany, Dr d’Arsonval was using physiotherapy and getting relief following the use of reflex knowledge which, in effect, was what was later termed Zone Therapy by Drs Fitzgerald and Bowers.
When Dr Fitzgerald returned to the United States, he became head of the Nose and Throat Department at St Francis Hospital, Hartford, Connecticut. Around 1909, Dr Fitzgerald discovered, or re-discovered Zone Therapy. Almost ten years later, he wrote his book, about how he had stumbled upon the concept of Zone Therapy:
“Six years ago I accidentally discovered that pressure with a cotton tipped probe on the muco-cutinous margin (where the skin joins the mucous membrane) of the nose gave an anaesthetic result as though a cocaine solution had been applied. I further found that there were many spots in the nose, mouth, throat and on both surfaces of the tongue, which, when pressed firmly, deadened definite areas of sensation. Also, that pressure exerted over any bony eminence of the hands, feet or over the joints, produces the same characteristic results in pain relief. I found also that when pain was relieved, the condition that produced the pain was most generally relieved. This led to my ‘mapping out’ these various areas and their associated connections and also to noting the conditions influenced through them. This science I have named “Zone Therapy”.
It is worth noting that the Chinese had, in acupuncture, divided the body into longitudinal meridians by approximately 2,500 B.C.
From 1915 and into the early 1930’s, the subject of zone therapy was controversial, although it met with a certain amount of success with osteopaths and dentists.
One physician who did believe in Fitzgerald’s work was Dr Joe Shelby Riley of Washington. He and his wife, Elizabeth, credit Dr Fitzgerald as one who, in modern times, brought this science (ie. Zone therapy) to the notice of the public.
The physiotherapist working with Dr Riley at St Petersburg, was Eunice Ingham (1889 – 1974). Eunice Ingham extended the work of Dr Fitzgerald and painstakingly mapped the feet with all the corresponding organs and glands of the body. She was a real pioneer who was determined to help people to help themselves, if their doctor was not using reflexology. In the early years, she worked with doctors to prove her findings and to demonstrate to them that reflexology was a useful diagnostic tool.
She lectured at a medical clinic headed by Dr Charles Epstein in May 1939. In his report, he acknowledged that reflexology worked. However, while they knew it worked, doctors were not interested in using it, because reflexology was too time consuming and they could not make as much money.
Eunice Ingham is still known as the pioneer of modern reflexology and she authored two well-known books “Stories the Feet Can Tell” and “Stories the Feet Have Told”. They have since been combined into one volume. In addition to her writing and lecturing, she, along with her nephew, Dwight Byers, founded the International Institute so that her work could be continued in perpetuity.
Dwight Byers is the current President of the Institute. He worked for many years with his Aunt and is equally keen that her work and that developed by the Institute more recently, should be passed on for the benefit of many people.
Throughout her forty years of experience treating many thousands of people, Eunice Ingham devised a system of techniques which enable the practitioner to contact the reflexes in the most effective and economic way. This system is known as the “Original Ingham Method” and though this method has been refined still further through research by Dwight Byers and staff at the Institute, her legacy is still thoroughly entwined in the practical techniques that we teach.
The years of World War II interrupted Eunice Ingham’s travelling for a time, but in 1947 she was joined on her lecture tour by her nephew. Each of Eunice Ingham’s seminars was unique. Her method of instruction was to demonstrate and lecture as she worked on the health problems of those who attended. Over the years, Dwight Byers has contributed to his aunt’s work by organising the seminars into training workshops. These have been further developed to produce the Diploma course that we teach in the UK.
Eunice Ingham died in 1974, having devoted forty years of her life to reflexology. Today, her legacy continues and she would be proud to see how reflexology has been developed into a profession. So those of us associated with the International Institute of Reflexology are indeed fortunate that we have the opportunity to get so close to the originator of the techniques.
It is easy to be confused about the many different schools and methods of reflexology. It is worth remembering that the International Institute of Reflexology is the only organisation legally entitled to teach the Original Ingham Method®. It forms the foundation of the entire therapy.
Reflexology can benefit people of all ages and, depending on the length of time a condition has been present, can improve or eliminate many ailments during a course of four to six weekly treatments.
BENEFITS OF REFLEXOLOGY
Some of the benefits of reflexology include its ability to stimulate nerve function, increases energy, boosts circulation, induces a deep state of relaxation, eliminates toxins, stimulates the central nervous system, prevents migraines, cleans up urinary tract conditions, speeds recovery after injury or surgery, helps relieve sleep disorders, reduces depression, and relieves pain. Furthermore, it can help ease the treatment of various cancers and even helps to soothe the pains of pregnancy, even those occurring after the baby is born.
Many of us find ourselves on our feet all day at work. Whether you work in an office, a factory, a field, a hospital, or anything in between, there is a good chance that you put a lot of weight and stress on your feet every day. The thing is that stress can also manifest itself in the other parts of our body. It is a similar situation to back pain. For back pain, people often get massages, so it makes sense that there should also be foot massages, right? Reflexology is much more than a foot massage, but at its foundation, that’s the easiest way to describe the process. This specific area of massage therapy also includes the hands and ears, making it more of an extremity massage than a foot massage.
Reflexology is an alternative treatment for a wide variety of conditions, as mentioned above, and has been in use for thousands of years. The ancient Chinese and Egyptians have documented practices similar to reflexology as a treatment for certain afflictions. It involves the reflexologist applying pressure to specific areas in the hands, feet, and ears that affect certain reflex areas of the body. Imagine that there is a connection between zones of your feet and hands that represent certain areas of your body that can be adjusted or managed through these zones. A lot of the theory behind reflexology has to do with aligning your qi, but even for those who normally don’t invest much in this discipline of health, there are plenty of scientific studies that have supported the claims of reflexologist.
It is not widely accepted in the medical world, but thousands of alternative physicians around the world have been using reflexology for generations, with surprisingly positive results. If there are alternative treatments to treating more than a dozen health conditions affecting various parts of the body, isn’t it worth getting a foot massage or two? After that, you can decide for yourself. Now, let’s look a bit more into which benefits reflexology has been repeatedly linked to over the years. If you suffer from any of these health conditions, give it a shot! What do you have to lose?
As our bodies age, our nerve endings become less sensitive in parts of our body, particularly in our extremities. That being said, reflexology has been connected with stimulating more than 7,000 different nervous endings in a single session, thereby increasing their function and reactivity. Opening and cleaning out neural pathways can help improve functionality and flexibility of many areas around the body. Neural pathways are like muscles, so it is good to work them once in a while to keep them sharp!
By aligning the functioning of various organ and muscle systems, reflexology can increase metabolism and energy creation processes within the body. If you need a boost in energy or are always feeling sluggish, perhaps a reflexology session can help put some pep back in your step!
One of the most well-known and verified benefits of reflexology is an improvement in circulation throughout the body, which means that blood and oxygen are being cycled through the body more effectively. This means more oxygen reaches vital organ systems, thereby optimizing their functioning and further increasing the metabolism. This also results in faster healing and re-growth of damaged cells.
As mentioned above, reflexology has been known to open neural pathways, and this sort of free-flowing neural activity results in a more relaxed state in the body, one of reduced stress. For this reason, reflexology can flood your system with relaxation, inducing a state of calm throughout your body and mind. In this same vein, reflexology is commonly used to cure sleep disorders. Insomnia can be a very troubling condition to suffer through, but reflexology helps your body relax and get back to its normal, healthy Circadian rhythms.
Reflexology has been shown to improve bladder function and to reduce urinary tract issues. What this means in terms of toxicity is a more efficient system of eliminating toxins and other foreign substances, thereby protecting your body from the various diseases and health conditions that can often arise from a compromised urinary system.
Nervous System Stimulation:
The open neural pathways can benefit our central nervous system in a variety of ways. not only will our brain be able to handle the inputs more effectively, thereby speeding up our cognitive powers, but our physical reactions will be faster, our memory will be boosted, and generally, our entire brain will simply work better and faster.
Migraines and Headaches:
Reflexology is primarily used by many people as a method of eliminating pain. As an analgesic treatment, reflexology can reduce the severity of migraines and headaches, simply by relieving tension in the muscles that can often result in these conditions. Any headaches induced by stress can also be eliminated, since stress and psychological factors often manifest in the physical symptoms of a migraine. This is actually one of the most popular applications of reflexology.
The combination of increased nerve activity and circulation, as well as the more balanced functioning of the metabolism, means that cells re-grow faster and wounds are able to heal faster. Also, the pain-relieving qualities of reflexology mean that patients feel better faster, and are more willing to start physical recovery to get back into life!
Although reflexology isn’t connected directly to curing cancer, it has been known to ease the side effects of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. It helps these patients get to sleep, reduce anxiety, and also reduces the chances of vomiting or other indigestion issues that are commonly experienced. The more general effects of reflexology, such as clearing neural channels and increasing circulation, can help to slow the spread of cancer and can stimulate antioxidant activity to destroy cancer cells. Research is ongoing in this field.
Pregnancy and Menstruation:
Studies have shown that reflexology can be very beneficial for pregnant women, particularly in terms of labor lengths and their need for analgesics during labor and post-partum recovery time. Beyond that, due to many of the health benefits already outlined above, it can reduce the chances of post-partum depression and can also help a woman’s body heal itself faster and get back to its normal metabolic activity quickly.
Although much of the research on reflexology has been criticized or cited as unprovable, thousands of years of tradition and reports of success speak rather loudly. That being said, reflexology should be considered as a supplemental treatment to formal medical advice and treatment for the more serious conditions that have been touched on in this article. Kick Your Feet Up and Get Healthy!