Reflexology: Your Questions Answered

What is Reflexology?

Reflexology is a method of stimulating reflex areas in the feet, hands, or ears that correspond to each and every gland, organ and part of the body. Correct stimulation of reflex areas relieves stress and tension, deeply relaxing the whole body from head to toe. This therapeutic relaxation serves to normalize the body's functioning, effectively facilitating the body's healing process, revitalizing and enhancing your total health. Reflexology is not new. Evidence shows that reflexology was practiced by ancient Egyptian physicians over 4000 years ago. It is also believed that reflexology was an integral part of ancient Indian, European, North American Native and Oriental folklore healing practices. Like many other recently revived forms of folklore knowledge, reflexology is a valuable contribution to the modern person's health care.

Reflexology is a Natural Healing Art
NATURAL means that reflexology enhances the normal functioning of the body. It does this without creating any damage. It is essentially benign -- harmless.

HEALING means that reflexology's effect is consistently observed to be beneficial to a person's health. Reflexology reduces physical, emotional and psychological stress and tension. This reduction of stress and tension results in a greater degree of relaxation in the body and a consequent revitalization and rejuvenation of the functioning of the body. Reflexology also increases the body's awareness of itself. The combination of therapeutic relaxation and increased awareness facilitate movement toward optimal healthy functioning. In this sense reflexology is healing.

ART means that the application of reflexology is most beneficial when the practitioner is bringing their intuitive senses into play with their practice of reflexology. Everyone who uses the techniques of reflexology will find that the results are beneficial. However, the practitioner that develops awareness of their intuitive senses and applies reflexology in accordance with their intuitive senses will have more effective results.

What can I expect in a Reflexology session?
As the reflex areas of your feet, hands or ears are stimulated, you may from time to time experience pin-prick-like sensations. These sensations result from sensitivity that frequently reflects the presence of tension in the corresponding part of the body. If it is not comfortable for you, you should ask the person who is doing the reflexology to decrease the amount of pressure that they are using. It is important that you are comfortable with the stimulation, as relaxation is the primary goal of reflexology, and you need to feel comfortable in order to relax in your session.

When you submit yourself for a reflexology session you can anticipate a very thorough massage of your feet, hands or your ears. For many years reflexology was practiced on the feet. Consequently, not all reflexologists are trained to work on the hands or ears. If you prefer a hand or ear reflexology session you should check that it is available before making an appointment.

Similarly, some reflexologists use a very heavy pressure and others a comparatively light pressure. Contrary to common belief, the amount of pressure does not determine the effectiveness of the session. Frequently, a very light touch will be far more effective than a heavy touch -- no, it does not have to hurt in order to be beneficial!

The cost of a reflexology session varies from practitioner to practitioner -- much like the cost of a haircut. Also, the length of a session will vary with different practitioners -- ranging from 20 to 90 minutes. Of course the duration of the session will affect the fee charged. Also, many practitioners are willing to provide their service in your home or office, and it is reasonable to expect to pay extra for this convenience.

In general, the more frequently that you receive reflexology the more beneficial it will be for a health condition. On rare occasions a single reflexology session provides remarkable results. However, generally, the longer that you have suffered from your condition, then the longer it will take for you to experience the desired benefits. If after receiving ten reflexology sessions you are not experiencing any improvement in your condition then you should look to other therapies to assist you--it seems probable that you are among the 20% - 25% people that do not benefit from reflexology.

Theories of How Reflexology Works
There are numerous theories of how reflexology works, among them:

I. Psychological --This theory proposes that the power of suggestion is the primary factor, and includes the claim that it is a placebo.

II. Lymph --Since the lymphatic system removes toxic or malignant products and includes the immune system, it is assumed that reflexology enhances its function and restores proper chemical balance in the body.

III. Electrical Potential --It is believed that a difference in electrical potential in various parts of the body constitutes a corresponding malfunction in another part of the body. Reflexology remedies this difference.

IV. Ki Energy --It is believed that foot reflexology works in the same way as acupuncture and shiatsu: by bringing balance to the flow of energy along the body's meridians.

V. Counter Irritation --The human body speeds up repair when it receives an insult to its equilibrium. Reflexology provides this insult.

VI. Nerve Endings/Crystals --It is believed that nerve endings are unable to transmit their impulses because of crystalline deposits that build up and block their pathway.

A variation of this theory is that the crystalline deposits impede the grounding connection of the foot with the earth. Reflexology is believed to clear these crystalline deposits.

VII. Proprioception --A foot reflexology session with its exertion of pressure, stimulation of muscles and re-angulation of joints, sends false reports of position and sensation to the brain. The brain responds to reposition the body that results in a relaxation of the muscles.

To date we do not know how reflexology works. All of these theories are based upon conjecture. What we do know is how it feels to the practitioner, and, the recipient's experience -- a deep relaxation of the body and mind.

What are the benefits of Reflexology?
Medical doctors agree that over three fourths of our health problems can be linked to nervous and physical tension. By reducing stress and tension, reflexology improves blood and lymph circulation, strengthens the functioning of the immune system, improves assimilation of nutrition and elimination of toxins, and calms the nervous system. In these ways, reflexology facilitates the body's natural healing processes and thereby enhances the body's health and vitality.

As reflexology gains wider acceptance as a therapy, it's effectiveness for specific conditions is being researched. In 1993, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a prestigious medical research journal, published an evaluation of the effectiveness of reflexology for women suffering with pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). This study, which evaluated 38 symptoms experienced by these women, reported that the symptoms were reduced by 46% during treatment, an improvement that was sustained at 41% for two months beyond the cessation of treatment. The journal concluded that reflexology should be considered an effective therapy for PMS.

Many other studies evaluating the effectiveness of reflexology for specific health conditions have been published in Denmark, England and China. In these countries, reflexology has been integrated into the national health care system -- which has made it easier to get research studies conducted. The health conditions focused on in these studies include: headaches, back pain, asthma and constipation--a wide variety of conditions for any one therapy to address. In general, the results of these studies report reflexology as effective for 75% to 80% of recipients. It appears that in reflexology we have an easy to learn, harmless technique that provides the recipient with a blissfully relaxing experience, and, is potentially powerful in its ability to assist the body to heal itself of a wide range of conditions.


By Christopher Shirley

Christopher Shirley is the Director of the Pacific Institute of Reflexology in Vancouver, BC. He has served as the President of the Reflexology Association of B.C. and succeeded in having "Reflexology" entered as a heading in the Yellow Pages. He has published "Reflexology Foot, Hand and Ear Charts," and an instructional video/DVD "Foot Reflexology: A Step-by-Step Guide." Currently, he is offering opportunities to purchase franchises.

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