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Reflexology: Ancient Mysteries of the Feet
Written by Shannon Abbott   

A gentle approach to whole-body wellness.

feet with a flower

Our feet support us every day of our lives as we walk, run and jump all over them. They bear the full weight of our bodies and the full impact of our every movement. And yet, they may be the secret to our whole-body health. If you’ve ever tried reflexology, you may have enjoyed a glimpse of the great mysteries buried within our feet.

Reflexology is a non-invasive healing method that involves applying pressure points and massage to specific parts of the feet, hands and ears to subtly access the rest of the body. The aim of reflexology is to restore balance and equalize the flow of Qi. The practice follows the belief that the feet and hands hold a map of the body on their surfaces. By manipulating specific points, one can access those corresponding areas in the body. Several cultures use their own unique techniques in the art of reflexology. The philosophy, however, is very much the same, based on the premise that manipulating the foot subtly manipulates the body.

An Ancient Practice

feet with hands massaging them

Reflexology is an ancient healing method that dates back thousands of years. Asia, India and Egypt have a long history of using reflexology techniques for a variety of health issues. Hieroglyphs have been discovered throughout Egypt depicting the use of reflexology as a means of healing over 3000 years ago. The western advancement of reflexology began in 1913 when ear, nose and throat Doctor William H. Fitzgerald began using it on his patients to relieve pain, restore certain organ function and settle the central nervous system. It was then known as “zone therapy,” wherein Fitzgerald divided the body into 10 zones, five on each foot, which travel through the entire body. By addressing each zone at its starting point, one could relieve and treat ailments within that zone. This therapy was further studied and modified by nurse and physiotherapist Eunice Ingham, who travelled across the United States giving seminars on the subject. She mapped out the reflex points on the hands and feet. Consequently, the practice was renamed reflexology and the term continues to be used throughout North America and Europe today.

Indications for Reflexology

The benefits of reflexology vary according to the individual. They include release of tension, regulation of blood pressure and improvement of organ function by restoring blood flow. It is often used as complementary care with cancer patients to relieve pain and vomiting and aid the central nervous system in dealing with anxiety and insomnia. It is also used as complementary care for post-surgery patients to restore the natural flow of Qi and revitalize energy levels. Reflexology has also been known to aid with pregnancy, delivery and post partum emotional and physical challenges. It is safe to use on individuals of any age, including newborns, for whom it is used to ease the development of the digestive system and encourage immune system strength by stimulating the lymphatic system. It is known to stimulate nerve function, thanks to the approximately 7,000 nerve endings in the feet, while increasing energy levels by stimulating energy pathways. Reflexology can be used as a preventative therapy by relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system, which then allows the body to relax and return to homeostasis.

Contraindications

Reflexology is generally a safe and effective practice. However, those with certain conditions are advised to avoid reflexology until they are treated or cleared by a physician or holistic practitioner. People with contagious skin diseases such as severe psoriasis or eczema should not undertake reflexology without consulting a doctor, to protect both the practitioner and client. Using reflexology on a client with phlebitis (inflammation of a vein, typically in the legs) may cause too much pressure in the veins. If you have phlebitis, consult your doctor before receiving treatment. Caution is also recommended for pregnant women in their first trimester. It is important to find a formally trained and certified reflexologist who understands all of the contraindications associated with reflexology and will assess each client properly before performing the treatment.

Over the years, many clinical trials have analyzed the effectiveness of reflexology as a medical treatment. So far, the results have been inconclusive within western medical research methodology. Though reflexology has received considerable criticism over the years, it has never been successfully proven that there are no benefits to this treatment. Many reflexologists hold the belief that reflexology is not a replacement for western medicine, but a complementary aid that can be used in conjunction with many other medical treatments. In an era of high heels, orthotics and constant stress, reflexology is a safe, effective way to allow recipients to feel relaxed, restored and grounded as they are reunited with their feet.

Shannon Abbott -

Shannon Abbott is the Wellness Coordinator and Holistic Therapist at Elements Wellness Centre where she practices Swedish massage, Aromatherapy, Reflexology, Thai massage and energy healing techniques. Through her practice at Elements, Shannon is able to access and learn from a wide range of clients on their healing journeys, which allows her to constantly evolve her practice and incorporate several modalities into each session based on the client’s needs. To learn more, visit www.elementswellnesscentre.com or email Shannon at holisicshannon@gmail.com.

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