What Is Reflexology?

Pressure points for stress and pain relief

Reflexology is an ancient healing art that uses the manipulation of points on the feet, hands and ears to treat pain and stress throughout the body.

The history of reflexology

The history of reflexology can be traced back to ancient times. Pictures, written records and artifacts show its presence in ancient Egypt, China, India, Japan and Russia. While various cultures preserved the teachings and practices of this healing art, it spread around the world through patients who were helped by this treatment. It was not called "reflexology" until 1917, when Vladimir Bekterev, a Russian neurologist and psychiatrist, coined the phrase.

Modern reflexology can be traced to the United States in the 20th century, with the introduction of "zone therapy" by William H. Fitzgerald, M.D.. Fitzgerald divided the body into 10 "zones," and maps of the reflexology points were created for the hands, feet and ears, linking the zones to pressure points. Reflexologists apply pressure to the correct point to relieve stress or tension in a particular area of the body. When pressure is applied to a reflexology point, it sends a message to the brain to release endorphins, which are the body's natural pain relievers.

Benefits of reflexology

Although there is no medical proof that reflexology can cure diseases, it is promoted as an alternative treatment. It is a great stress and pain reliever for the whole body. As the body releases tension and stress, it opens up to relaxation.

Reflexology points in the feet

In reflexology, the feet contain dozens of pressure points. The points on each foot are slightly different, with the right foot corresponding to the right side of the body and the left foot to the left. Here are examples of the most common, along with their associated areas:

  • Tips of toes (both feet) – Brain
  • Upper inner side of big toe (both feet) – Temples
  • Lower inner side of big toe (both feet) – Side of neck
  • Outer edge of foot, below the little toe (both feet) – Arm and shoulder
  • Center of foot, top of arch (left foot) – Liver
  • Center of foot, top of arch (right foot) – Stomach
  • Back of calf (both feet) – Sciatic nerve

Reflexology points in the hands

Here are a few examples of pressure points in the hand:

  • Tops of fingers (above first joint; both hands) – Head/face/sinus
  • Middle of fingers (around second joint; both hands) – Neck
  • Lower part of fingers (near base; both hands) – Tops of shoulders
  • Center part of back of hand (both hands) – Upper back
  • Center of thumb pad (both hands) – Pituitary gland
  • Center of palm (left hand) – Stomach
  • Center of palm (right hand) - Liver

Reflexology points in the ears

Pressure points for the ear include:

  • Bottom of earlobe (both ears) – Lips, tonsils
  • Center of earlobe (both ears) – Eyes
  • Upper outer edge of earlobe (both ears) – Jaw
  • Upper inner edge of earlobe (both ears) – Teeth
  • Edge of outer ear (both ears) – Wrist/elbow/shoulder

Reflexology charts are essential guides

The above points are just to give you an idea of the types of pressure points you'll find in reflexology. If you're going to give a good reflexology massage, detailed reflexology charts are indispensable. They are available as posters as well as small diagrams, and you can even find sculptural models.

What you'll need for a reflexology massage

Besides a detailed reflexology map, you will need a comfortable chair, table or mat. Some practitioners also use foot powder.

Differences between reflexology and massage

There is often confusion between reflexology and massage and what each can provide. The power of touch is important to both, and both involve the use of the hands, although reflexology uses the thumbs and fingers, instead of the entire hand. Massage focuses on the muscular system and working muscles, while reflexology concentrates on the nervous system, working the nerve endings in the feet, ears and hands.

Dr. Mehmet Oz and his contribution to reflexology

Dr. Oz, a well-respected and accomplished cardiothoracic surgeon in the United States, has promoted the benefits of reflexology on the Oprah Winfrey Show many times. His demonstrations have helped expose the treatment to a wider audience. Dr. Oz is well known in the medical world, and believes in the benefits of reflexology, even though it is not yet recognized as a medical treatment.

What should you expect during a reflexology session?

A session with your reflexologist could last between 30 minutes and one hour. During your first session, be prepared to discuss your full medical history. The reflexologist will inspect your hands, feet and ears. During the session, you will receive a thorough massage of your hands or feet. After a session, drink lots of fluids to remain adequately hydrated.

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