Reflexology is not a foot massage; instead, it is considered a holistic science that uses nerve endings in the feet, hands and sometimes the ears to bring balance to internal organs and systems in the body.
“There’s a belief that there is a neurological relationship between the feet, hands, ears and internal organs,” says Mary Beth Kealy, MSN, APNC, CCIT, E-RYT, an American Reflexology Certification Board reflexologist and yoga instructor at Cancer Wellness. “The idea is to use reflexology to calm internal organs and body systems to bring them into a state of balance.”
How does reflexology work?
Reflexology is the process of alternately applying and releasing pressure, most commonly on the soles of the feet because they contain more than 7,200 nerve endings.
“All of those nerve endings go right into the spinal column and the brain, and the belief is all that stimulation and release helps bring the body into balance,” she says.
Nerve endings in various parts of the feet correspond to organs and systems in the body. For example:
The big toe, or hallux, corresponds to the head and neck.
The curved, inner edge of the foot corresponds to the entire spine.
The arch of the foot corresponds to the digestive system.
“Often I’ll be working on a client and they’ll say, ‘I felt tingling in my lower back,’ and that’s exactly the area I’m working on in the foot – it’s amazing,” she says. “Or I’ll be working on the arch of their foot and their stomach will start to rumble. This feedback really helps you have faith in the whole system.”
Reflexology is not a replacement for medical therapy, Kealy emphasizes, but rather an addition to a medical regimen.
“We are not replacing a prescription or doctor’s orders, but reflexology can help people decrease stress and anxiety, and improve circulation, which can help the body more efficiently remove toxins,” she says. “When you have less stress and anxiety, your immune system can function better and the body can heal itself and become whole again.”
The process is so relaxing, Kealy says her clients often fall asleep during their appointments.
How to find a reputable reflexologist
“You can certainly do some basic reflexology on yourself, but you’ll get the best results if you go to a certified reflexologist,” she says. “Our training is in-depth and includes about 200 hours of study. The American Reflexology Certification Board (ARCB) exam is not mandatory, but it shows that the reflexologist has studied in-depth to be recognized as an expert in their field.”
The ARCB also offers a listing of local certified reflexologists to contact.
How to practice reflexology at home
You can reap some of reflexology’s benefits at home by applying light pressure to your foot with your thumb, gently “inch-worming” your way along the foot, says Kealy. She recommends watching a few YouTube videos or researching reflexology foot maps for more guidance.
If you can’t reach your feet, try rolling your feet on a tennis ball, golf ball or in a water basin filled with marbles, she suggests.
“It’s important to note that reflexology shouldn’t hurt your feet – it’s a means to stimulate the body systems,” she adds.
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