Reflexology is not just foot massage, but therapy for the body and spirit, trainers say

Anyone who thinks reflexology is simply a foot massage may as well keep his shoes on, say those who know the real thing.

The alternative therapy is a practice old enough to be traced back to 2500 B.C., yet modern enough to be one of the fastest-growing fields in alternative healing therapies today. Those who request it, practice it or teach it believe in its health benefits.

“Reflexology deals with the principle that there are reflexes on the hands and feet that correspond to all of our organs, glands and parts of the body,” says Laurie Azzarella, a certified reflexologist and trainer with the International Institute of Reflexology.

People have turned to reflexology not only for relaxation and improved circulation, but also as a supplement to the traditional medical treatment of such ailments as sinus pain, joint pain, back pain, headaches and circulatory and digestive issues.

“By using a unique thumb-and-finger technique on these reflex areas (on the hands or feet), the body releases stress and tension, improves blood supply and unlocks nerve impulses, which promotes homeostasis and helps one achieve greater health and well-being,” says Azzarella, who is also a licensed massage therapist with a private practice in Daphne, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla.

“Reflexology is not a diagnostic tool,” she adds. “It is a way for people to feel what is going on inside their bodies and to take charge of their health. It is a great complement to any other treatment they may be receiving, and it doesn’t interfere with medications.”

A typical reflexology session lasts about 45 to 60 minutes, and the recipient, who has removed both shoes and socks, will either recline on a massage table or sit in a chair. The feet are often soaked in warm water, but can also be warmed by the reflexologist’s hands.

Moving from toes to heel on the sole of the foot, the reflexologist applies and releases pressure with “thumb and finger walking” along the reflex areas of the foot. The recipient may feel nothing or slight tenderness or may fall asleep.

If “crystals” (tiny granules) on the bottom of the feet are detected, the reflexologist will work in that area until they are dissolved.

“Reflexology balances the body, relaxes the body and, therefore, improves blood flow, unblocking nerve endings. When you do all that, the body has its own way of balancing things out,” says Azzarella. “Reflexology empowers you to participate in your own healing.”