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What is reflexology?

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I have to say I began to write this piece without the slightest inkling of what reflexology might be.

So now I know it’s about feet, and other bodily parts – mostly extremities – and how they have zones which correspond to internal organs. Presumably applying pressure to these zones cures things. Very big in Denmark, apparently. It’s generally promoted by its adherents and practitioners as an ancient healing system, but little seems to be known of its origins, though this quote  from one Aulus Cornelius Celsus, a follower of Hippocrates, is suggestive:

Much more often, however, some other part is to be rubbed than that which is the seat of the pain; and especially when we want to withdraw material from the head or trunk, and therefore rub the arms and legs.

So how can rubbing these zones have an effect on ‘corresponding’ organs? Well it seems there’s a lot of dissension and just plain vagueness about all that, but one common theme is that qi, the Chinese life force, provides the connection. As to the existence of qi, that’s another question, but needless to say it’s an empirical question, for it could only exist in a real sense, not in some supernatural, unlocatable and unmeasurable sense.

However, we needn’t worry about any dodginess, because the Reflexology Association of Australia [RAoA] has a website, with a link to the independent research done to prove its bona fides as a treatment.

Well actually, no, the link only takes you to the email address of the same RAoA. The website also has a left sidebar of links, including one to research, but that one’s greyed out, and doesn’t link to anything. Interesting. You’d think reflexologists would want to be promoting research into their practice, considering how effective they claim it to be. One of the other links is to ‘reflexology articles’, and it takes us to seven linked essay titles. The first is a very brief piece called ‘Importance of A&P [Anatomy & Physiology] and Clinical Medicine for Reflexologists’. Here’s how it begins:

As with any evolving profession, in the beginning, there were very few practitioners who had much knowledge of how the human body worked as the ‘hands on’ practise of working the feet was passed on by family members and anyone else who was interested in learning for their own benefit.  As long as they knew where the points were on the feet for specific parts of the body this was considered sufficient at the time.  Besides, there were very few avenues and incentives available for people to learn Anatomy & Physiology for their own continuing knowledge.

So we learn that reflexology, in spite of claims to its antiquity, is ‘an evolving profession’, though presumably we could say the same about medicine generally, so there’s not much meaning n the phrase. The Biblical phrase ‘in the beginning’ doesn’t cast much light either. Could be a generation ago, or several thousand years ago. What we do learn is that family knowledge has been passed down as to ‘where the points are on the feet for specific parts of the body’, though sadly we get no details as to these points. Why not throw in an example or two. I mean, it’s not a secret – is it?

In any case, nowadays, there’s a clear avenue for the study of anatomy and physiology. It’s called a medical degree. But that’s not what this article’s author has in mind. She simply claims that it would be a good idea for reflexologists to be up on modern clinical terminology, and even writes about a high standard of knowledge, but nowhere does she explain how this standard is to be achieved. The ‘Certificate of Clinical Reflexology’, unit descriptors of which are downloadable from this website, is made up of some 20 units, of which only three or four actually deal with reflexology as an application of medical knowledge. The others deal with business and admin matters, or such general subjects as ‘Personal Wellness and Self-care’ or ‘Work effectively in the health industry’. I’ve carefully perused those few essential units, and they provide no training in general anatomy and physiology whatsoever. Considering that the central claim of reflexology – that certain pressure points in the foot and elsewhere correspond to the organs of the body – is a clear claim about physiology, this omission is more than slightly disturbing.

But let me return to the article quoted above, to seek enlightenment. Here’s another little quote:

Even though, in most circles, Reflexology is considered to be working with body energy, it is extremely important to have a very sound knowledge of the human body to improve the practitioner’s ability to understand client problems and therefore fit the pattern of working to fit the problem.

Now do you get it? What we have here is an enunciation of the principal of complementarity. You see, another term for naturopathy is complementary medicine. That’s because these alternative treatments are complementary to mainstream treatments. It’s essential to understand  mainstream anatomy and physiology so that you can ‘fit your pattern of working to fit the problem’ as defined by mainstream medicine. Not that reflexologists are riding on the coat-tails of mainstream medical practitioners – heaven forfend. After all, they’re working with ‘body energy’, not with just bodies, as anatomists and physiologists do.

So what is this body energy? Well, that may depend on the philosophical approach that guides your reflexological practice. And there are plenty of approaches to choose from. The unit entitled ‘Reflexology framework practice’ has this:

Philosophies relating to reflexology may include:
• TCM Five Element Theory
• Yin / Yang
• Indian chakra system
• Interaction of mind-body systems
• Holographic Theory
• Quantum Mechanics of Healing
• Polarity

And presumably they may also include much else. Clearly reflexology is deeply philosophical, possibly impenetrably so. In fact, I really feel too over-awed to continue.

Written by stewart henderson

October 17, 2012 at 11:30 pm

One Response

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  1. realy like this artical.. quite informative


    October 18, 2012 at 12:32 am

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