Holistic reflexology is a form of healing and relaxation therapy that involves manipulating certain areas of the body to produce relaxation responses in corresponding areas. Using various techniques touch and interaction, the holistic practitioner applies pressure to specific areas of the body where the bulk of nerve endings are found — primarily the hands, feet or ears — to benefit other specific areas, including the glands and organs. For example, pressure on certain parts of the feet and hands can help relieve symptoms of migraine headaches. Meant to work with the body’s natural healing process, this form of therapy is generally used to promote relaxation and improve health in the body as a whole. The approach is similar in concept to acupuncture, homeopathy and many other complementary and alternative medicines (CAM’s).
Not merely a foot massage, holistic reflexology uses many different techniques to help relax and heal various areas of the body. For example, a trained professional can tell much about a client’s physical condition and medical history from the structure and condition of his or her feet. Different kinds of pressure are applied to activate specific physical and psychological responses in the corresponding areas. For example, stimulating the arc in the sole of the foot can produce a response in the abdominal area. Various kinds of pressure to the toes and fingers can affect a patient's head area as well — holistic reflexology is often used to help relieve chronic stress and tension headaches, for instance.
The patient is usually encouraged to participate by practicing breathing techniques, focusing awareness on what they are feeling, drinking lots of water, and practicing the techniques used at home. Reflexology is not intended to diagnose or treat specific diseases or syndromes, although it may help alleviate many of the symptoms. It also is not meant to replace traditional medicine. A holistic approach may include various nontraditional methods of diagnosis and therapy in combination with traditional medicine. Many also use it as a type of preventative medicine.
Many patients who suffer from chronic pain or stress believe that reflexology provides significant relief without the unwanted side effects of medication. Alleviating stress on the body is also thought to promote better natural healing. It has been recommended for many chronic conditions, such as migraine headaches, menstrual pain, digestive disorders, back pain, and insomnia. Holistic reflexology has been used to assist in eliminating toxins from the body, induce a state of relaxation, and increase circulation as well.
There may also be psychological benefits to the practice. Many patients have stated that it makes them feel better cared for and more secure. It may also help recipients get in touch with their body and emotions, enabling them to make positive changes that benefit their physical and emotional health.
Forms of reflexology date back to the ancient Egyptians. In the early 1900s, much of the footwork in the development of modern reflexology can be attributed to such researchers as Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Ivan Pavlov; Dr. William H. Fitzgerald, MD; Dr. Edwin Bowers, MD; and Dr. Shelby Riley, MD. In the 1930s Eunice D. Ingham, a physical therapist, developed the theory that the reflexes of the feet mirrored the organs of the body. She created a map of the foot and the corresponding reflexes, which is widely used today. She also was one of the founders of the International Institute of Reflexology.
Holistic reflexology has become more mainstream and many physicians and hospitals are integrating this and other forms of holistic medicine into their regular routines. Numerous research studies are being conducted to determine if reflexology and other alternative therapies provide significant relaxation or effective pain control. The studies also try to determine which patient populations are most likely to respond to such treatments and if they help to reduce hospital costs. It is hoped that integrating it with traditional pain management during hospital stays will result in shorter stays and greater patient satisfaction.