The ancient Chinese practice of reflexology is not new to the United States, but many people only know it as that “thing the therapists do with the feet.” Reflexology, sometimes called reflex therapy or zone therapy, divides the body into ten vertical zones, similar to the meridians in Chinese medicine, and the organs, valves, muscles, and so on that reside within each zone are connected through the central nervous system to pressure points on the feet, hands, or ears. There is a neurological relationship between the skin and the internal organs, and putting pressure on certain specific reflex points on the feet and sometimes the hands and ears sends a calming message throughout the central nervous system.
Reflexology relies on small and intense movements on various parts of the feet, hands, or ears—addressing the reflex points that correspond to the pain or tension felt in the body. The touch and pressure movements are specifically designed to trigger a relaxing sensory message from the body’s extremities to the organs or muscles connected by the central nervous system. The body then adjusts to the tension level to optimize the functioning of muscles and internal organs and their systems. Because of reflexology’s ability to increase blood supply, additional oxygen and nutrients can travel to cells and help remove waste. As a result, reflexology can benefit the circulatory, respiratory, endocrine, immune, and neuropeptide systems.
Stress can be a leading cause of tension and muscle stiffness, and reflexology aims to alleviate the physical stress by also addressing the mind and spirit to help reduce the emotional stress. Stress can also send pain signals to the brain, even if there is no other “cause” for the pain. The brain responds to a sensory experience of pain, but it also creates a pain response as a result of emotional factors. Therefore, calming the body can ease the tension of the mind, thereby reducing pain.
There is also the theory of the body’s qi (“chee”), or its flow of vital energy. Sometimes the qi can become congested, creating inefficiencies. Stress can be one of these disruptions or “blockages,” which is why reflexology, which is designed to stimulate the passageways between the skin and the various organs and muscles, can help remove the blockages and restore the body’s natural flow.
Reflexology is less about healing, and reflexologists aren’t “healers.” The purpose of reflexology is to help the body regain its balance so that it can naturally repair and nurture itself. The body is a complex network of interconnected parts, often interdependent, and whether you want to call it balance or harmony or health, reflexology can provide a relaxing, regenerative treatment for ongoing comfort and well being.