What is Body Reflexology?

PJP Schroeder

Body reflexology, sometimes referred to as zone therapy, is a system of acupressure. A holistic, alternative health practice, it has gained in popularity in the early 21st century, along with other wellness movements. It is based on the idea that manipulating specific points on the body can have therapeutic effects on other parts of the body. By pressing, pulling, and massaging on these reflex points, the reflexologist aims to promote the body's natural healing power.

Each organ is represented as a pressure point on people's hands and feet.
Each organ is represented as a pressure point on people's hands and feet.

In a body reflexology session, the therapist assesses the client's situation. The reflexologist sees ten longitudinal zones — five on each side of the body. Each organ and body part is represented by a spot on the hands or feet. The therapist diagnoses problems by feeling those spots, then, he or she applies pressure to affect change and bring the body's energies into balance. Treatment times range widely, lasting from ten minutes to over an hour.

Baby reflexology treatments are typically performed on the feet.
Baby reflexology treatments are typically performed on the feet.

Some reflexologists claim that reflexology techniques flush lactic acid and toxins away through the lymph system. This, in turn, releases endorphins that act on nerve impulses and reduce pain. Other positive benefits may include relieving tension and improving circulation. Reflexology has been used to treat everything from earaches and bedwetting to heart disease and cataracts.

While there is no scientific proof of the benefits of body reflexology, even medical professionals believe that it can reduce stress and that less stress can improve overall health. Some nurses and physical therapists are learning body reflexology to add to therapies that they can offer their clients. No formal training is required to practice reflexology, but some courses are accredited for continuing education for these professionals.

Forms of reflexology have been around for thousands of years. The practice is believed to have started in ancient China in the early Taoist tradition. Russian physicians of the early 1900s helped build the modern foundations of the practice and coined the term "reflexology." It was introduced to the United States at the same time by Dr. William H. Fitzgerald, an ear, nose, and throat surgeon. In fact, he developed one of the first charts defining the longitudinal zones of the body.

Since then, several types of reflexology have evolved. Most focus on a particular part of the body: foot, hand, and auricular (ear), for example. There is also precision reflexology, which includes a technique called energy linking. Microreflexology, which concerns itself with compact parts of the body, encompasses aspects of all the other types of reflexology.

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