A Hands-On Approach to Your Feet

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A Hands-On Approach to Your Feet

Press the tips of your toes and your headache will disappear. Apply pressure on the sides of your little toes to relieve tension in your shoulders. Sound like some wild claims by a quack?

Although it may sound far-fetched, many ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians, Chinese and Indians, believed the feet to be the key to the body. These people manipulated the feet to treat many complaints.

Today, foot reflexologists say that various reflex points on the feet correspond to other body parts, and that pressing these reflex points can relieve symptoms elsewhere. Press the tips of toes that correspond to the head and your headache will be relieved, reflexologists say.

Wall charts in reflexologists' rooms show the parts of the body that correspond to various parts of the feet. Toes correspond to the head and neck, the ball of the foot to the chest and lungs, the arch to the internal organs, the heel to the sciatic nerve and the pelvic area, and the bone along the curving arch of the foot to the spine. The right side of the body is reflected in the right foot, the left side in the left foot.

Although reflexology cannot treat the underlying causes, practitioners say the technique can alleviate a wide range of stress-related problems, as well as headaches, premenstrual syndrome, asthma, digestive disorders, skin conditions, irritable bowl syndrome and chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis. The ultimate goal is to relax you while stimulating the body's healing mechanisms.

Although records show that ancient civilizations manipulated the feet to improve health, the present system linking various parts of the feet with specific parts of the body got its start when an American ear, nose and throat surgeon, William Fitzgerald, developed "zone therapy" in 1913. In the 1930s, the physiotherapist Eunice Ingham developed a map of the body after identifying especially sensitive areas she called reflex points.

In the early years, reflexology was thought to work in a similar way to acupuncture. Reflexologists believed a life force flowed along channels from the feet to all the organs and that any blockage would lead to an illness. Stimulating reflex points in the feet could break up blockages, they believed.

An ancient Chinese record indicates that various spots on the feet are connect to the whole body.

Current thought is that manipulating the feet reduces lactic acid in the tissue while releasing tiny calcium crystals. These crystals have accumulated in the nerve endings, holding back the free flow of energy to the corresponding organs.

Some people believe that pressure on the reflex points may trigger the release of endorphins, the brain chemicals that naturally block pain.

A simpler explanation says the benefits derive from a relaxation response that opens the blood vessels and improves circulation. Another theory is that manipulation dissolves uric acid crystals that settle in the feet.

No matter how the system works, the result can be complete bliss for those who get their feet massaged and pressed. The feet are not used to such pampering, so the result is like floating on clouds, adherents say. "It is completely relaxing and I find that my shoes are a size larger afterwards," says Kim Hyun-ju, 36, a lecturer, who is on her feet several hours a day.

Foot care consists of three parts, according to the head of the Korea Foot Reflexology Society Association, Kim Su-ja. The first part involves foot sanitation, meaning cleaning the feet to remove germs that often cause odor. After the feet have been thoroughly cleaned and dried, calluses and corns are removed.

The second part involves massaging veins in the feet and the legs with creams containing essential oils. "This returns to the heart the blood that has been pumped out by the heart," explains Ms. Kim.

Waste materials that have settled in the feet are also sent to the kidneys so the body can excrete the waste. As well as easing tired legs, vein massage helps prevent complications from diabetes, according to Ms. Kim.

The third part of foot care is reflex zone therapy, in which a blunt wooden instrument is usually used to press the reflex points thought to correspond to specific health problems.

"People suffering from poor circulation and those with chronic conditions find relief in foot reflexology," says Ms. Kim. She adds that for most young people in good health, vein massage is enough.

While there may be discomfort in some places, it is usually fleeting, and an indication of congestion or imbalance in the corresponding part of the body. For a person in relatively good health, the sensation is pleasant and soothing. "Pressing on the feet should not be painful," Ms. Kim says. "After all, our feet are meant to be able to walk on rough terrain." She says a lot pain indicates poor health.

Ms. Kim says that if reflexology tickles, it is a guarantee of good health. She says babies who giggle when their feet are tickled are a good example of this.

Although our feet are often the most neglected parts of our body, we should pay more attention to them because they reflect our general health, according to Ms. Kim. For example, she continues, our feet often show the first symptoms of such serious conditions as arthritis, diabetes and nerve and circulatory disorders.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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