It comes as no surprise that alternative therapies are experiencing a renaissance among those who want to focus on their health through natural means. For many, this search has led to reflexology.
Born in the ancient cultures of Asia, Africa and Europe, reflexology is a holistic therapy that uses pressure points on the feet, hands and outer ears to centre the energy of the body and improve organ function.
In ancient China, a doctor named Yu Fu healed his patients of illness through therapeutic foot massage. In Egypt, a painting on the wall of a pharaoh’s tomb depicts physicians applying pressure to the feet and hands, while in the Middle Ages in Europe, pressure therapy was a common medical treatment.
Today’s reflexology can be traced to the work of Dr William Fitzgerald, an ear, nose and throat physician who in 1913 developed the Zone Theory. The theory claims that applying pressure to points of the body improves organ function. Two decades later, Eugene Ingham, a nurse, furthered this research, discovering a connection between the body’s anatomy and these pressure points. Reflexology, in its modern state, was born.
Reflexology is based on the principle that the body’s energy flows through channels known as meridian pathways, which make up the nervous system. These pathways have their endings in the feet and hands. When this energy is unobstructed, the body is in a state of well-being. Once these pathways become blocked, the body becomes sluggish and unhealthy. It is believed the left foot and hand correspond to the left side of the body, while the right foot and hand correspond to the right side of the body.
Reflexology has become a common practice across the world with devoted followers who swear by the emotional and physical results. But, for many, the alternative therapy remains shrouded in mystery.
So, how can reflexology benefit the body and the mind?
The Association of Reflexologists says the practice can help with stress-related problems, digestion, sleep disorders, fertility, migraines, circulation, back, neck and shoulder pain and skin problems. Reflexology unblocks the energy in the body to allow it to flow freely. The pressure varies with each client.
Luciana De Oliveira Carvalho, beauty therapist and trained reflexologist at Touch of Thai Day Spa and Salon, believes anyone can benefit from reflexology. But those who prefer a gentle massage are in for a shock.
“Everyone can try reflexology,” Luciana says. “It’s not a relaxing massage though because it can be very hard and hit the nerves. People can feel a bit dizzy after reflexology, especially if it has released a lot of toxins.”
The effect of the therapy differs from client to client, but most people experience a state of relaxation and well-being. Some people may feel sluggish or queasy, however, this is believed to be part of the healing process.
Luciana has been a reflexologist for five years and says she loves helping clients to identify health concerns.
“I’ve been told I have magic hands,” she laughs. “It’s really great for people who have pain. It can help detect any underlying problems with the body, such as tightness in the shoulders and neck. I help people to feel better.”
The most common ailments Luciana sees are related to the stomach, as “people just don’t eat well these days”, and the back, neck and shoulders. She says people do not look after their feet as well as they should, which she believes could help to prevent numerous health problems.
Enormous pressure is placed on the feet each day, which, despite being one of the smallest parts of the body, absorb approximately 50 per cent more than a person’s weight. On an average day, most people take around 10,000 steps. As such, the feet are required to support up to several hundred tons every day.
“People need to take care of their feet more, because it is one of the most important parts of the body. All the body should be taken care of, but feet are particularly important because you walk on them,” Luciana says.
“The quality of shoes [most people wear] is not good. A lot of women get pedicures that are cheap, but may not be sterilized properly and they get bacteria. When they start to have problems with their feet, it’s usually too late.”
Luciana says reflexology should be undertaken twice a week for optimal results as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. She believes it is an ideal way for people to focus on their mental and physical well-being.
After all, with so much personal and environmental stress these days, that can only be a good thing.