Reflexology stimulates nerves to optimize blood circulation. It is also believed to strengthen the immune system as well as revitalize and maintain a healthy equilibrium between the mind and body.
Directly under the skin there is a network of nerve endings which receive and pass impulses to and from the body organs. The feet are considered an intricate map to the entire body. Reflexology is performed by using intense thumb and finger pressure to the various reflex points on the foot.
Ancient links to Reflexology
China. The most common theory is that the earliest form of reflexology originated in China some 5000 years ago. The Chinese concept of meridians is an important part in the foundation of reflexology.
475-221 BC. In China, the Yellow Emperors of Internal Medicine identified 14 channels (meridians) within the human body, six of which travel to the foot. Meridians are energy pathways all over the body that link our internal organs with the other parts of our body. These energy channels are the pathways for the circulation of the vital life force, which the Chinese call chi. Chi is also referred to as “life force,” “vital force,” and “vital energy.”
Japan. Traditional Asian foot reflexology is called Zoku Shin Do. This is the foot portion of the Japanese massage technique. The roots of Zoku Shin Do go back to ancient China.
North America. The Cherokee tribes of North America to this day practice a form of reflexology that they continue to pass from generation to generation.
Egypt. A pictograph dating between 2500 - 2330 BC taken from the physician’s tomb, the tomb of Ankhmahor in Saqqara indicates Egyptian roots of Reflexology. In the pictograph you will notice that the therapist is holding a tool in his hand for working on the feet. Underneath the picture it is written, “Make these give strength, reply, ‘I will do thy pleasure,’ reply, ‘Do not cause pain to these.’ ”
60 BC. Mark Anthony is noted in historical works to have worked on Egyptian ruler Cleopatra’s feet at dinner parties.
Even today ancient footwork practice can be found in some remote Egyptian villages which is very similar to a reflexology treatment session.
Development of Neuroscience and Modern Reflexology
1771. Johann August Unzer, a German physiologist, in his published work is the first to use the word “reflex” with reference to the body’s motor reactions.
1833. Marshall Hall, an English physiologist, in a study on the reflex function of the medulla oblongata and the spinal cord, uses the term “reflex action” and demonstrates the difference between unconscious reflexes and volitional acts.
1834. The Swedish doctor Pehr Henrik Ling notices that pains emanating from certain organs are reflected in certain areas of the skin, but with no direct relation to these organs. Other students followed this line of thought, including the English neurologist Sir Henry Head. Therapeutic anesthesia was born.
1870. Russian psychologists begin researching zone therapy. These include Ivan Pavlov and Vladimir Bektev, founder of the Russian Brain Institute.
1890. Sir Henry Head publishes his discoveries that the sensitive areas of the skin are connected through nerves to a diseased organ. “The bladder,” he wrote, “can be excited into action by stimulating the soles of the feet.” The treatment zones that he discovered came to be known as “Head's zones”.
Birth of Modern Reflexology
1913. Dr. William Fitzgerald (b.1872 – d.1942) is known as the “Father of Zone Therapy.” He was a medical man, who became a natural healer through the art of using pressure therapy to benefit and heal the human body.
A graduate of the University of Vermont, he was for many years senior Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon at St. Francis Hospital, Hartford, Connecticut. While working at his specialty, he observed that by applying pressure to certain parts of the body the patient would feel no pain, and he was able to do minor operations without using cocaine or any other local analgesic.
Dr. Fitzgerald is responsible for what we call reflex zone therapy today. He devised the system of mapping the body into five zones on each side of a median line. These zones run the length of the body from the head to the feet.
It is by using this map of the body on the feet that we are now able to find the reflex points that mirror our entire body. Dr. Fitzgerald called these lines the “ten invisible currents of energy” through the body, and he demonstrated the correlation between the reflex points on the feet and areas in distant parts of the body. He showed how a pressure of between 2 and 10 pounds on a given finger or toe could alleviate pain anywhere in a corresponding zone in the body.
Dr. Fitzgerald showed that the upper and lower surfaces of the joints and side areas could all be pressed with good results. He also showed that each zone could be worked on a client’s hand or foot, because the zones run to both extremities. The zones pass through the body from front to back. Each zone represents or includes all the organs, muscles, and bones through which the respective zone line passes.
The distance between the area treated and the corresponding organ was of no importance, since the entire zone was being treated. When pain was relieved, the condition that produced the pain was generally relieved as well, and this led to the mapping out of these various areas and associated connections, and also to the conditions influenced through them.
Dr. Fitzgerald would use rubber erasers for therapy bites, metal combs, elastic bands, pegs and percussion motors, and surgical clamps on reflex areas. He applied pressure over some bony eminences or upon the zones corresponding to the location of the injury.