Ancestral reflexology: healing through the hands and feet

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Reflexology is a traditional Chinese medical practice to help us relax and feel better.

Did you know that by stimulating a particular point of the foot we can relieve a toothache? At least that is the claim of reflexology, a practice based on massaging the extremities (feet and hands), nose or ears to achieve beneficial effects in other parts of the body.

Reflexology was already practised as early as the year 2300 BC. It was in Egypt where this technique was started, but it has not been not confirmed whether the Egyptians tried to cure internal problems with these limb massages. In China, on the other hand, reflexology understood as a therapeutic method dates back 5,000 years, and did not reach Europe until the 16th century.

“The reflexology practised today is an adaptation of the traditional Chinese medicine, which was launched at the beginning of the 20th century”

The first scientific study that adapted this practice to modern life came at the beginning of the last century at the hands of Doctor William Fitzgerald. This American doctor in 1915 published the provocative article entitled Squeeze your toe to stop your teeth hurting. In this article he used the term “area therapy” for the practice of understanding hands and feet as “reflexes” of our body.

Fitzgerald later held a post at the University of Vienna. Amongst his baggage he brought Europe the usefulness of reflexology to relieve pain and relax patients before certain medical interventions.

It would be another doctor, Eunice Ingham, who would shape the modern reflexology practised in Europe today with her conscientious maps of the feet that took her more than three decades of research. Ingham, along with her nephew, made a full tour of the United States to spread reflexology in extravagant lectures where she showed the benefits of the discipline in situ.

Let the chi flow

And the logic behind this practice, in traditional Chinese medicine and its western transliteration, is the fact that in our feet, hands and ears we can find points that connect with different organs and systems of our body. With a correct massage, we can alleviate pain and significantly improve the health of certain parts or organs of our body, for example:

  • The big toe connects with the nerve endings of the head
  • The central part of the left palm is connected with the nerve endings of the stomach
  • The tip of the nose has connections to the heart

In traditional Chinese medicine, reflexology shares its principles with acupuncture. That is to say, our body hosts an energy, chi, which must circulate through channels, the meridians. In them we find points of reflection (hence the name of the discipline) that regulate their circulation, thus recovering balance and, therefore, health.

Although it will not cure a serious condition, it is an efficient tool to fight against stress, anxiety and depression, while relaxing and improving the quality of sleep. Also a recent study by the National Institutes of Health pointed out certain benefits in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy such as increased general well-being, and less nausea and dizziness.

“Reflexology is an effective aid in the fight against stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia without contraindications or side effects”

Sitting or lying down, a therapist will rub or press certain points of the feet, on the sole, but also on toes, heels or insteps. Pain or tenderness in certain areas of the feet is generally related to energy blockages, or certain ailments or discomfort in other parts of the body.

Whether or not it has effects beyond the limbs, it is clear that it is a pleasant and relaxing experience that improves the circulation and probably the mood of those who receive it. This would explain why it has been done for more than 5,000 years.

By Helena Almanza

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