Reflexology: "Sole Searching"
The feet are the mirrors reflecting physiological conditions throughout the body. Reflexology is a dynamic natural healing technique that activates the body's healing potential through the systematic application of pressure to points or "reflexes" on feet and/or hands. It is powerful yet easy to do, and it can help virtually every health problem because it de-stresses the individual, allowing the body to heal itself.
I had my first direct experience with reflexology in 1982. I was dating a massage therapist at the time. One evening, she told me that she wanted to do reflexology on my feet. I hadn't heard of that practice, so I asked her what it was. When she replied that points on the feet affect the entire body, I laughed. I was a state prosecutor who dealt in facts and logic, and the idea seemed preposterous. Reluctantly, I submitted to her request. As my friend proceeded to work on my feet, I was amazed; I could feel the energy traveling throughout my entire body. She moved her hands to work on the balls of my feet and asked me if I could feel the sensations anywhere else. When I told her I could feel them in my chest, she smiled and nodded. I was astounded when she showed me a foot chart that depicted that area as a chest reflex. We repeated that exercise some five or ten times and each time, without my knowing in advance where the corresponding reflexes were on the feet, I felt impulses in the body areas shown on the chart. I had to suspend my disbelief. It was an astonishing experience--and besides, her administrations felt wonderful and were tremendously relaxing.
That did it. I read every book on the subject that I could find. I practiced on my friends and girlfriends. I even had some embarrassing moments as I sat on the floor in my law offices, working on other attorneys and staff members. In 1983, I was at a summer camp when another camper fell down the stairs and hurt her back. She came to me for help. I was just beginning to learn the technique and I didn't know if I could help her, but I decided to work on her spinal reflex areas--and she left without pain.
Next, I worked on a childhood friend who had Meniere's syndrome, a disturbance of the inner ear. As I worked on the foot reflexes to his ear, I found and eliminated some mushy structures that didn't belong there. To my knowledge, he has never had another episode of that disorder. Now I was on my way.
Reflexology in Pain Relief
Reflexology is very effective at relieving pain. This is important since pain is what usually motivates a person to seek help. Indeed, reflexology is often a treatment of last resort, so it seems all the more remarkable that it is effective because other techniques have already failed.
One of the first proponents, Dr. William Fitzgerald, an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist who in 1917 wrote the book "Zone Therapy", used an early form of reflexology to anesthetize those areas of the body.
When I was in massage school, before my specialized training in reflexology, I worked only one time on the feet of a terminal cancer patient who had a tumor the size of a grapefruit protruding from her chest. After her death, her husband told me that the treatment gave her the only pain free day and the only good night's sleep that she had gotten in close to a year.
The medical community regards stress as being, if not a leading cause of disease, then certainly a factor that increases its severity. Consequently, it is no small matter that reflexology is such an effective stress reducer. It also helps the body to return to normal functioning and improves circulation. By normalizing the way the body functions, reflexology helps it to achieve a state of equilibrium.
The Law and Theory of Reflexology
I have formulated what I call the law of reflexology, which I have synthesized from a number of different sources, Oriental as well as Bioenergetics and Reflexology theories. It states that any blockage of blood, breath or energy, any disease, injury, illness or tension in the body is reflected on the corresponding reflex area on the foot. It is reflected as a tenderness, or a sensitivity, or as pain or a discomfort. If we injure ourselves, the corresponding area of the foot will reflect that with tenderness or discomfort. If we then work out the tenderness in the foot, we tend to heal the corresponding body area. When congested or blocked areas on the foot are cleared out, the healing process is hastened because the circulation--the blood and nerve supply and the energy flow to that body area--has been improved. Moreover, the body has a better opportunity to heal itself once some of the incidents of stress to the affected area have been reduced or removed.
Why is reflexology effective? In each foot, there are more than 7,200 nerve endings that have extensive interconnections with the central nervous system. These nerve endings are part of our sensory apparatus in that they sense pain and pressure, hot and cold, etc. The feet are also important for proprioception--sensing or determining our physical position or where we are in space. Essentially, reflexology stimulates or fine-tunes this sensory apparatus and its neural pathways. Further, stress patterns in the body also manifest on the feet. By disrupting those patterns on the feet, reflexology disrupts that pattern in the body as well.
Moreover, the practice of reflexology has been demonstrated to behave like a micro-acupuncture system. This means that it affects prana, or chi, the subtle or mystical energy forces that fuel our bodies. The effects of reflexology may not be limited just to the nervous and circulatory systems. According to classical Oriental medical theory, we have meridians or nadis which are channels that supply the energy for the cells, organs and systems of the body. Stagnation of this energy results in a diminished vitality and in disease. The proper flow of this energy translates into good health. Reflexology releases the blockage in those or similar channels to free up an increased supply of energy, thus improving health.
In reflexology theory, there is what is known as a zonal relationship between the body and the foot. There are ten vertical or longitudinal zones in the body that correspond to our ten toes. There are also horizontal zones on the foot corresponding to the shoulder and diaphragm areas, the waistline, and the pelvic area below it. Using zone theory, we are able to determine where on the foot the solutions to most of our aches and pains can be found.
A practitioner looks for sensitive areas and blockages in the foot. The sensitive areas are usually evident since the client will physically respond in some way. Apart from any pain response from the client, the practitioner is able to detect blockages. The tissue may be atonal, or somewhat squishy, or it might be hypertrophic or tough. Both of these situations suggest zonal imbalances. The reflexologist might encounter crystalline deposits, which feel like little grains of salt under the skin, or other related blockages which, when felt, should be crushed. As stated earlier, the removal of a blockage in the foot improves the blood and nerve supplies as well as the energy flow to the corresponding body area.
The correct amount of pressure to be employed is that which would elicit discomfort or pain in a sensitive area, but which is still relaxing and pleasurable. In other words, that which "hurts good." Enough pressure should be used to elicit sensitivity to ensure that blocked reflex areas have been located and sufficiently accessed, but not so much pressure as to make the client tense or cause him or her to dislike the treatment. Often, however, the more pressure that is used, the better it feels to the client because more endorphins are released into the bloodstream. (Endorphins are the body's pain killers or blockers. It is naturally produced "morphine".) Also of course, the amount of pressure that is comfortable will vary from client to client.
The actual technique or "stroke" used by the reflexologist is to use one hand to hold the foot back and straight, and use the other to do an inchworm-like motion on the foot. For the most part, the practitioner applies the inside or medial edge of the thumb at a 45 degree angle to the foot. The movement of the thumb is just like that of an inchworm. The thumb moves or slithers along, taking tiny bites or steps, burrowing along the entire foot. The thumb applies a fluid and continuous movement and pressure, and never leaves the surface of the foot.
Reflexology as a Holistic Healing Practice
Reflexology is a holistic practice in that it affects us on all levels; physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The feet are simply powerhouses. They have been regarded reverentially for a long time. For example, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples; people are anointed upon their feet; disciples kiss the feet of their gurus. Indeed, if the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the feet are reflections (read: reflexions) of it. Energy blockages on the feet tend to reveal which emotions are not being released. The feet also tend to reveal what issues our higher self or spirit is working through, thus permitting a simplistic emotional and spiritual assessment. Indeed, reflexologists work on our very soles (souls).
Moreover, reflexology grounds us. We tend to live in our heads and not in our bodies and with our feet, figuratively, not on the ground. Yet, we cannot feel secure unless we are solidly and securely connected to the earth. Reflexology restores our connection with the earth by energizing the feet and bringing our awareness into them.
The Body-Mind Interconnection
There are several body-centered therapies which recognize the body-mind interconnection and hold that many physiological problems are related to the somatization or holding in of emotions and various attitudes. That creates physical tension and energetic blockages that shape the structure and functioning of the body. Even though the practice of reflexology does help dissolve energetic blockages and thereby helps release or resolve withheld emotions and to foster spiritual growth, classical reflexology theory does not address the role of emotions as do other body-centered therapies. Moreover, none of those therapies, to my knowledge, adequately address the spiritual aspects of physiological disorders. For that reason, to expand the scope of reflexology, I am grafting the knowledge--along with my growing spiritual awareness and discoveries--onto the reflexology techniques that I use.
People often ask me how I can work on feet. The truth to tell, it is a labor of love. It is my predilection. I am meant to do it and I accept my task with joy.
©1995 Qi Journal. Ray Beck is a Reflexologist, freelance writer, and a lawyer, located in Chicago, IL. He conducts workshops on Reflexology and on the legality of natural healing at two holistic learning institutes He has appeared on several TV and radio programs including: CNN, the Jenney Jones Show, Cable NBC, and Medical TV.