While many believe we hold the whole world in our hands, it might be more accurate to say the world is at your feet. Reflexology, a modality in which pressure is applied to the soles of the feet, asserts that in the in the very least, our feet function as a roadmap for our entire body. Any imbalance in our skeletal structure, for example, will impact our feet. A bad back will translate into an altered gait. Our feet take the brunt of all of our physical activity.
But during a reflexology session, expect more than a fancy foot rub. It’s a fairly sophisticated treatment that understands areas of the foot as corresponding to organs and systems of the body. Reflexologists use foot charts to guide them as they address specific areas of the body.
Pressing these targeted reflex points creates real benefits for the person’s health—especially as a way to alleviate stress.
An article on the Mayo Clinic’s website states “Several studies funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health indicate that reflexology also may reduce pain, anxiety and depression, and enhance relaxation and sleep.” It’s low risk too, which means it doesn’t do harm but can offer a lot of good.
How does reflexology work?
Reflexology works with the central nervous system through nerve endings of the peripheral nerves. Different points on the feet help stimulate and transmit energy to organs throughout the rest of the body.
The practitioner targets the nerve centers related to specific organs in the body. For example, points on the tip of the toes relate to the brain and head, providing headache relief, while the ball of your foot is connected to the heart and chest.
A session, or a series of sessions, can result in improved blood circulation, better digestion, and balanced energy levels, all of which can mitigate a surfeit of stress or anxiety.
What to expect
A typical reflexology session usually lasts between 45 to 60 minutes. Usually, the client lies down or sits in a reclining chair during the treatment. Many people report that reflexology feels relaxing and soothing, like a foot rub done by a master.
However, a reflexology session is not the same thing as a getting a feel-good massage treatment. The focused, intense pressure on some areas of the foot may feel uncomfortable or slightly painful. The discomfort can stem from blockages in energy flow in a specific part of your body.
Reflexology for stress and anxiety
While studies on reflexology are still somewhat scant, a 2014 study found that researchers gave people undergoing heart surgery a 20-minute foot reflexology treatment once a day for four days reported significantly lower levels of anxiety than those who didn’t. Also, pain levels seem to be connected to stress levels, and as such reflexology may also be useful for mitigating the experience of physical pain.
In a review 17 studies of the psychological benefits of reflexology, researchers found that reflexology enhanced feelings of well-being. This in turn made it easier for people to manage their pain.
How to find a reflexologist
Look for a properly trained reflexologist who has registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, American Reflexology Certification Board, or Reflexology Association of America.