Eastern Indian, Chinese, and Egyptian peoples originated the ancient art of reflexology around 2500 b.c. In fact, Cleopatra was said to have often worked on Marc Anthony’s feet. In the early 1900s, reflexology was introduced to the West.
Reflexology is the direct mapping of zones in the hands and feet to corresponding body parts. How can there be a link between two seemingly unrelated parts of the body? Reflexologists believe it’s possible because the body is linked by energy flowing along meridians that create pathways. Martha Conner, a reflexologist at Shapes Day Spa in Alt, Illinois, explains. “As energy flows down a particular line, it stimulates everything in its path. When body parts are healthy, this energy goes unblocked,” she says. “When a damaged area of the body is touched by this energy, the energy is blocked in an attempt to heal the damaged site. Imagine the force of a stream blocked by a fallen tree or collection of rocks. The force of the stream will build up in that blocked area until it manages to squeeze through. Gradually the stream will clear the congested area until an open pathway is created.”
Although much of reflexology is still a mystery, practitioners believe that there are reflexes in the feet and hands that are linked to the flow of energy throughout the body. Specifically, when pressure is applied to a particular part of the hand or foot, it produces an effect in another part of the body.
“Sometimes a client will come to me with aching feet and really it’s a sinus disorder or a digestive ailment,” Conner says. “It’s amazing how many other maladies are uncovered because of a reflexology session. After the treatment, a client will typically call saying their sinuses are now cleared or they no longer have heartburn.”
Who gets reflexology? “About half of the caseload are folks who seek stress reduction,” says Valerie Voner, founder of the Northeast Institute of Reflexology in Onset, Massachusetts. “By reducing stress, you increase immune function.”
How do you know you’re getting a quality reflexology session? “Reflexing, or the movements involved with the modality, is done with the thumb and index fingers almost exclusively,” Voner says. “Typically a reflexologist will try to do both the hands and feet to hit the reflex spots twice. Above all, reflexology should never be painful.”
To select a reflexologist, ask for credentials. “A minimum number of hours [of training] would be 200, and ask what the curriculum at their school included,” Voner says. “Look for sixty-four hours of classroom with anatomy and physiology as it relates to reflexology. Physiology is important because the therapist needs to understand how each of the human systems work,” she says.
Vera Krijn, president of the New York State Reflexology Association, thinks that reflexology has matured in the United States over the past decade. The scope of the work has expanded because medical facilities, spas, and sports centers have all accepted the art and science, she says.
“We have really seen an increase in demand for reflexology services in the medical setting,” says Krijn. “Oftentimes, cancer patients or even intensive-care patients want a soothing treatment like reflexology because they have been through so much trauma in other ways.” On many occasions, Krijn says she’s been a beacon of hope for patients. “It is a rewarding work that reinvents a sort of life force in those who need it. It is a preventive measure for one’s general health for those not in immediate medical harm,” she says.