Calm Under Pressure


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These wooden reflexology tools can add more concentrated pressure to specific points to stimulate a variety of areas and relieve tension.

Foot reflexology is much more than a foot rub. It is a 6,000-year-old healing art based on stimulating reflex points on the feet that correspond to different parts of the body.

The human foot is an evolutionary marvel made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 tendons, muscles and ligaments. More specifically, on each foot there are over 7,000 nerve endings that connect to all parts of the body.

Based on the principle that your feet can be charted into “reflex zones” that correspond to specific body parts, reflexologists believe they can relieve stress and pain in corresponding areas by applying deep pressure to these re- flexes on the feet using specific thumb, finger and hand techniques. One theory is that the reflex reaction from the pressure stimulates the nerve endings that relate to specific body parts.

Although not used to diagnose or cure disease, the benefits of foot massage and reflexology are many, including helping you relax and sleep better, boosting your blood circulation and energy, relieving aches and pains, easing anxiety, helping the body eliminate toxins and much more.

“Reflexology is quite effective at breaking down knots and toxins that build up in the feet because of gravity,” says Tomoko Nakane, owner of Oasis Spa Foot Reflexology, the first reflexology spa in Honolulu. “Reflexology also balances the chi, or energy, in the body.”

According to Moana Zhang, owner of Zudao Foot Massage Center, the largest reflexology spa in Honolulu with 20 seats, “We stand up all day so the blood goes down to the feet. Reflexology improves circulation in the feet and that affects the entire body.”

Reflexologists use foot maps to guide their work. The left foot corresponds to the organs found on the left side of the body below the neck and the right foot to the organs on the right side below the neck. The toes correspond to areas above the neck on the opposite side of the body. The foot maps reflect an image of the body on the feet with your head at your big toes and your sciatic nerve at your heals. Examples are the base of the little toe representing the ear, or the ball of the foot representing the lung.

A typical reflexology session runs 60 minutes. Shoes and socks are re- moved, and you sit or lie back in a soft, comfortable foot massage chair. At Oasis Spa, the session starts with an aromatherapy footbath and a detoxifying tea. At Zudao Foot Reflexology Center, the session begins with a foot- bath, while the therapist massages the areas where most people hold their tension—head, neck, shoulders, and upper back—to encourage relaxation.

Foot reflexology has it own massage technique. Pressure is applied in thumb-and-finger “walking” patterns resulting in gentle stretching and massaging of every point in each foot. The pressure may feel mild in some areas and intense in others that have knots or are sensitive. If the pressure is too painful, simply make the therapist aware.

Reflexology therapists are trained to feel the subtle knots and blockages. Zhang says, “We work on the points that feel stuck until they soften.” To get the most from a reflex- ology session, Nakame suggests, “Don’t eat just before or after reflexology so the energy flow doesn’t get slowed down in digestion, drink plenty of water after to flush out toxins, do not have reflexology when pregnant, and make the therapist aware of health problems or surgery.”

Practices resembling reflexology have been documented in the histories of China and Egypt. Ancient Egyptian tombs have markings portraying physicians apparently massaging their patients’ feet. North American tribes dating to pre-Columbian times also used foot massage. The Roman Empire gained their reflexology knowledge from Egypt, and the practice spread throughout the world in the course of several hundred years.

In 1913, William FitzGerald, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist introduced reflexology to the United States. He claimed that applying pressure had an anesthetic effect on other areas of the body. In the 1930s, Eunice Ingham, a nurse and physiotherapist claimed that the feet and hands were especially sensitive, and mapped the entire body into “reflexes” on the feet and hands, coining the name “reflexology.”

Although there are few scientific or medical studies on the connection between reflexology and health improvements, you have to agree that having your feet rubbed is relaxing, especially after a workout, a long walk or a day of shopping. Your feet bear the weight of your entire body. A foot massage can keep them strong and flexible. Perhaps a reflexology session can even help put some pep back in your step.

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