What is Reflexology?


Reflexology as a therapy is both old and new. In ancient history, pressure therapies were recognized as preventive and therapeutic. Foot massage has been practiced by a variety of cultures and it is generally believed that its roots date as far back as 5 000 years ago in China. Because of the dedication of practitioners worldwide, reflexology has developed into a respected and effective healing therapy.

EgiptenareEvidence has been found to suggest the practice of reflexology in Egypt, North America, Japan, East India, Arabic and Grecian countries as well as in primitive African communities. The connection between the feet and wellness or harmony is, for example, suggested in:

• Buddha’s upturned foot, used to represent his entire being;

• symbols painted on the soles of the Hindu god, Lord Vishnu;

• pictographs in Egyptian tombs;

• and the belief of the Cherokee Indians in the significance of the feet connecting the earth and its energies to mankind.

Basis for reflexology

Ancient healers used various methodologies to strengthen and balance the energy flow in the body. They acknowledge that energy flows in zones or meridians throughout the body and that these pathways link organs and body parts. Zone therapy has a European (fourteenth century) and American (twentieth century) influence. The Chinese divided the body into meridians and the Western awareness thereof came as late as the 1900’s. These energy pathways are the primary basis for reflexology.

Zone Therapy

Dr William Fitzgerald

Dr William Fitzgerald

In the early years of the twentieth century Dr William Fitzgerald, known as the founder of Zone Therapy, divided the body into 10 longitudinal zones. Each zone runs from the head to the toes and fingers and therefore links parts of the body in that zone. He observed that the application of pressure to specific areas corresponded to pain relief in different areas of the body in that zone.

Although Dr Fitzgerald’s work was continued and further developed by a Dr Riley, it was his assistant, Eunice Ingham, who made the greatest contribution to modern reflexology.

Eunice Ingham

Eunice Ingham

Eunice Ingham, a physiotherapist, made a distinction between zone therapy and working specifically on the reflexes of the feet. She applied pressure to particular points across the soles of the feet and discovered that this technique stimulated and helped the body to heal, rather than to provide only pain relief. Through her work, Ingham developed a ‘map’ of the whole body on the feet. Out of this was born the teaching and practice of modern reflexology.Meridians

By approximately 2500 BC Chinese physicians divided the body into longitudinal meridians (now the basis of acupuncture). The working of pressure points on the feet to restore balance and energise the body was acknowledged as far back as 1017 AD by Dr Wang Wei – a physician who gave specific attention to the feet for these reasons. This is of particular current significance, with regards to the work of Inge Dougans, born in Denmark and qualified as a Reflexologist in Copenhagen.

In 1983 Inge Dougans started the International School of Reflexology and Meridian Therapy in South Africa (now known as the International Academy of Reflexology and Meridian Therapy). She is an author of many reflexology books and a world renowned lecturer. She is also a founder member of the South African Reflexology Society in 1985.

Inge Dougans

Inge Dougans

Inge Dougans’s technique acknowledges a strong link between acupuncture and reflexology. Both maintain that disease is caused by blockages in the meridians and treatment involves clearing out a blockage.

Acupuncture points are situated all over the body – needles are used to stimulate them.
Reflexology concentrates only on the reflex areas and sections of the meridians found on the feet – various hand and finger techniques are used to stimulate these areas.
The six main meridians that run through the feet have, consequently, been included in the theory and practice of reflexology. Through an understanding of the working of these energy pathways, the modern reflexologist can practice therapeutic reflexology more effectively.

Gall Bladder Meridian

meridianCopyright: Inge Dougans 2007

Chart – may not be reproduced in any form without the prior permission of Inge Dougans

Mapping of the Feet

The underlying theory behind reflexology is that there are “reflex” areas on the feet, hands and ears that correspond to specific organs, glands, and other parts of the body.

The Feet are mapped as follows:

• the tips of the toes – head and neck area i.e. ears, eyes, nose and mouth.
• the ball of the foot – thoracic area i.e. the lung, heart and thyroid.
• the arch of the foot – abdominal area i.e. the liver, stomach, pancreas and kidney
• the heel – pelvic area i.e. sciatic nerves, lower back and intestines
• the ankle – reproductive area
• the inner foot – the spine
• the outer foot – the outer body i.e. arms, knee and hip


Copyright: Inge Dougans 2007