What is Reflexology?

A year ago in this space, I shared the documented benefits of reflexology, a popular modality. Originally trained as a scientist, for the past 10 years I have been practicing and teaching reflexology.

I was always interested in how it works. There are several theories and more than 50 books written on the subject.

irina breslav reflexologist

A reflex is involuntary response to stimulus, more accurately it is the reflex action of an organ, gland or muscle reached by energy current initiated by a stimulus. Reflexes are specific, predictable and purposeful.

Russian Dr. Vladimir Bekhterev introduced the word reflexology to the medical community in 1907. This ancient art can be traced back to Egypt, China and India. A lot of detailed information can be found on the subject in "Reflexology: Art, Science & History" written by Christine Issel, world-renowned reflexology advocate who is also a colleague and friend.

Dr. William Fitzgerald, a Connecticut physician and head of the nose and throat department of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford in 1909, made significant inroads into the modern application of reflexology. He mapped out various areas on the hands and feet and over joints, which upon pressure would provide the pain relief at distant points. In 1917, he wrote, "This science I have named zone therapy."

At the International Council of Reflexologists' conference in Australia last year, Issel said: "Reflexology is a holistic, energy-based discipline within complementary medicine, which works through energies of the nervous, chemical, electrical and magnetic systems of the body by application of pressure to reflexes found on the feet, hands and ears."

Medical studies dating back to the 18th century conclusively proved a neurological relationship between internal organs through neurological pathways on the skin to the brain. In 1932, Sir Charles Sherrington and Edgar Adrian won the Nobel Prize for their work on the physiology of the nervous system. Adrian also discovered that electrical intensity of the nerve impulse depends on the size of the nerve. Our feet are particularly abundant with nerve endings. Studies have shown that hormones and endorphins are released to the blood when pressure is applied to specific points on the body. Traditional Chinese medicine that originated 5,000 years ago is based on the belief that our body is a complex energy system that uses energy channels, called meridians, to move body fluids, blood and qi. The feet and hands contain starting and ending points of these meridians.

The final concept I would like to introduce is the bio-holographic theory, a new branch of biology that studies the correlation in biological properties between the parts and the whole, for example every cell contains the DNA blueprint of the entire body. Similarly, we can apply that feet, hands and ears are microcosms of the whole body.

Discussing the mechanism of action in any touch therapy dictates the recognition of the effect on all aspects of human beings - body, mind, soul and spirit. The healing process in this regard remains a mystery, no matter how much we have already learned and proved through scientific experiments and findings. Reflexology is a holistic healing technology, a valuable part of the emerging dynamic energy medicine field. I invite you to experience it yourself.

*Reprint from article written in November, 2008 by Irina Breslav. © 2008, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc