What Is Reflexology? An Expert Gives Us the Scoop

Updated 10/18/17
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When learning about the body in fourth grade science class, we're taught that everything is connected: Our joints connect different parts of our body to each other, and we can't do anything without functioning organs. When we're a little older, we're told that some physical pains can be healed (or made worse) by bettering our mental state. All of this comes together with the practice of reflexology.

While some might consider reflexology a fancy word for massage, it's actually much more than that. To learn more about this practice, we asked Laura Norman, founder of the Laura Norman Wellness center and author of Feet First: A Guide to Foot Reflexology, to break it down for us. She walks us through what it is, how it works, and what to expect at the end of a session.

Scroll down to learn more about what reflexology is.

What Is It?

"The classical definition of reflexology is that it's a science and an art based on the principle that there are reflex areas in your feet, your hands, your face, and your ears that correspond to each and every part of your body, organ, and glands," says Norman. Essentially, reflexologists use their hands to massage certain pressure points to treat physical pains and aches. Her method, however, is more holistic. "It's more than working with the feet, hands, face, and ears, and working with pressure points. It's working with the whole person—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually," she says.

How Does It Work?

It can be easy to confuse reflexology with a simple massage. While you are still dealing with pressure points for both, reflexology deals with different techniques. "It's very distinct techniques that are used and points that work very specific reflex areas," says Norman. "It's using thumb and finger techniques. For example, there's something called thumb walking, where we press in with our thumbs and walk up the foot. It's very specific movements that are working the specific pressure points and also soothing the nerves." By putting pressure on certain parts, such as the toes, which helps with sinus problems, it makes for better blood circulation to strengthen your entire body. 

What Are The Benefits?

According to Norman, one of the major benefits is reducing stress. Because of the mind-body connection, reducing stress will inevitably help with any physical pains you might have.  "You have thousands of nerves in your feet (nearly 15,000 of them), hands, face, and ears. It's very soothing for the nervous system to have reflexology to help really deeply relax," she says. "When people relax and just take time to themselves, everything in the body can function at a more optimal level."

She explains that when you're relaxed, it reduces the vascular constriction so that the blood and nerve supply can flow more freely. If you improve your circulation, it helps cleanse the body of toxins. She is also a big believer that relaxation helps with your emotional state. "When you rest and relax so deeply from the reflexology, then you can be more in a place of allowing for yourself to receive whatever it is that you would like and to be more focused and grounded," she says. "It also helps the energy flow, so that you have more energy and are at a happier or peaceful place to create whatever it is that you would like for yourself."

Who Should Get It?

"If you want to have a healthier, happier, more peaceful life, have reflexology. If you have any specific health issues that you want to balance and strengthen your immune system, your bodies, mind, and spirit, reflexology is for you," says Norman.

Unlike a massage, reflexology is non-invasive; you'll only need to take your shoes and socks off if you want to focus on your feet. It's also ideal for most injuries because you won't put your body in more strain.

"If somebody has an issue, say with the neck, shoulder, or back, sometimes massaging it can aggravate it," she says. "Whereas it's safe to work through the feet, hands, face, and ears to help that neck or shoulder—it won't be aggravating anything or working directly on it."

So if you're interested in both physical and mental healing, reflexology may just be for you.

Next up, learn about the benefits to an Ayurvedic breast massage. 

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