Reflexology Strokes

Find out which massage techniques are most useful when treating different areas of the body.

| January 2019

 Massage-strokes
Photo courtesy of Getty Images/javi_indy

In reflexology, the techniques we use to massage are circling on the spot, cat’s stepping, pincer grasp, and the mobilization of joints. Let’s look at each in detail.

Circling on the Spot

This massage technique can be both investigative and therapeutic, and depending on the intensity it will have a stimulating, neutral, or calming effect. Fast, vigorous circles will concentrate energy into a zone, whereas slow and soft circles are soothing and energy dispersing. For this technique, circle around one point, always remaining in contact with the skin, without sliding. If using a crystal wand follow the same procedure. After about five to seven circles move to the next point, overlapping with the previous massage circle as you go.

This technique can be used to feel the structures of the connective tissue under the skin. It can also be used as a means to spread relaxation into the surrounding tissue after the basic unblocking procedure (described in the next section) or to tone the tissue. Please carry out these circling movements very slowly, in time with the breathing rhythm of your client.



If you follow your intuition the direction of movement of these circles is generally unimportant. However if you should sense an inner resistance to a direction, or sense tension, or you notice an autonomic reaction in your client, simply change directions. An autonomic nervous-system reaction in reflexology massage might involve goose bumps, light perspiration, spontaneous need to urinate, increased flow of saliva, or dryness of the mouth, to name a few. All these spontaneous sensations indicate that the nervous system is having “digestive problems” with the incoming impulses.

Circle Direction

With circles there is always the question of whether to massage clockwise or counterclockwise. Which is activating and which is relaxing? Which is correct and which should be avoided? The answer lies in your own intuition, in following your hands. And if you are unsure or in doubt, there is an easy test: Circle a few times in one direction and then in the other direction while holding your thumb against the client’s thumb and applying slight pressure. The direction of circling that yields good muscle strength is the correct direction. The direction where the thumb feels weak is wrong.

Cat’s Steps

This is a soft, rhythmic massage technique that uses alternating soft thumb pressure in a kind of movement that we know from cats before they snuggle into a place they like. This technique is especially useful for addressing the reflexology zones of the autonomic nervous system, the intestines, and the chakras. It calms and balances the whole energy situation of the body and the mind.

Pincer Grasp

When working on the head zones and shoulder zones of the feet and the hands, this grip is very useful. These reflexology zones are taken between the thumb and index finger. The zones are then massaged with circular movements, with a pumping action or with soft pulling. This technique allows us to directly influence the head and shoulders via reflexology. In this way we can massage the teeth, the organs of the senses, the lymphatic system, and the throat.

Holistic-Reflexology
Cover courtesy of Healing Arts Press

Mobilization of the Joints

When reflexology treatment is given with the heart and the hands as it should, the client will often dive in to a state of deep relaxation between being awake and asleep, like drifting away with the mind in outer space. Now at the end of a massage it is our task to guide the person smoothly back into reality, even if they like staying in this state. Holding one foot and then the other at the end of a treatment and gently moving all joints of the foot serves this purpose.

Start by holding the toes as a whole with one hand and the metatarsal bones of the forefoot with the other hand in a strong but gentle grip. Now, for about fifteen seconds, slowly move the hands in small movements against each other as you would move the pedals of a bicycle. Then repeat this procedure a little bit higher, between the forefoot and the anklebone (talus). The third grip is then between the anklebone and the heel bone.

There are receptors for our upright equilibrium in all the ligaments and joint capsules (the envelopes surrounding the synovial joints) of the feet. When walking over rough, uneven surfaces in everyday life these receptors are activated to become more attentive and alert. Gently mobilizing the joints of the feet conveys exactly these same messages to the brain. Slowly the person will open her eyes and return to her surroundings. Additionally, because this technique loosens the deep structures of the feet, by awakening her in this way she will leave the treatment feeling refreshed and joyful.

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Reprinted with permission from Holistic Reflexology by Ewald Kliegel and published by Healing Arts Press, 2018.

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