Reflexology: Hands-On Healing At Your Fingertips
A brief overview of the history of reflexology as well as suggestions of simple self care techniques.

July 13th 2017 - Reflexology is an ancient hands-on healing technique known and used around the world to promote health. The practice is based on the principle that there are specific areas on the feet and hands which correspond to the organs, glands, skeletal system and other parts of the body.

The origins of reflexology can be found throughout a variety of indigenous cultures world wide. According to Inge Dougans, founder of the South African Reflexology Society and author of The Complete Illustrated Guide to Reflexology, “a widely held theory is that reflexology originated in China about 5000 years ago.” On page 49 of her book, she goes on to say “Many reputable reflexologists have stated their belief in this theory even though concrete proof is evasive.”

An on-line search will also produce references to the supposed Chinese roots of reflexology dating back as early as 4000 B.C. and involving a physician, Dr. Wang Wei, who used it in combination with acupuncture to relieve symptoms. However, the earliest documented proof of the technique stems from an ancient Egyptian pictograph, dating from around 2300 B.C. Unearthed from a sacred site known as the Physician’s Tomb, the scroll shows practitioners working with the hands and feet of receivers.

In western culture, reflexology was born out of Zone Analgesia which was discovered by Dr. William FitzGerald (1872-1929). In his research on oral pain relief, Dr. FitzGerald found teeth could be desensitized for dental operations by applying clothes pins to the tips of the fingers.

From this research, FitzGerald went on to discover 10 longitudinal reflex zones that traverse the body from head to toes. Zone Theory was later expanded by Dr. Shelby Riley who further specified the concept, discovering additional horizontal zones across the hands and feet.

Dr. Riley’s work with Zone Theory then caught the interest of a physical therapist, Eunice Ingham (1889-1974). Using Zone Theory in her treatment of patients, she documented dynamic relationships between hand and foot reflex areas and specific parts of the entire body.

Ingham also discovered that applying alternating pressure to these reflexes was a key to stimulating a healing response in the corresponding bodily locations. From this research, she created the copyrighted maps upon which all modern reflexology practice is now based.

Though professional reflexology takes training and certification, there are many self-care techniques with which anyone can experiment. Just try taking a few minutes to massage your thumbs or big toes when you have a headache. These aspects of the hands and feet relate specifically to the head.

So relax into some easy self care. You may find unexpected tender spots. If so, stop for a moment and apply a comfortable level of pressure. Then cycle through gently increasing and decreasing the depth of contact for a minute or so. Move on to another spot and repeat the process. Odds are that by simply working with thumbs or big toes in this way, your headache will abate or completely disappear.

This very distinct, energy-based relationship between the head, hands, and feet is not the only one of its kind. These connections abound in reflexology, making it possible to reduce or completely relieve symptoms throughout the body.

From ancient civilizations to modern practice, reflexology has emerged as a time-honored method of preventative health care. Though it may sound complicated, once you know the basics of theory, technique and safety, this therapeutic discipline is both straightforward and profoundly effective. So, if you find this article has sparked your interest, be sure to seek training or treatment from qualified professionals.

Professional Profile

Hallie Sawyers is the founder of Soul Song, a well known and respected educator with extensive training in energy work and body-centered therapies. Her mission highlights creating transformation on personal and professional levels through quality education in alternative approaches to prevention and wellness. She is a nationally and internationally trained Traditional Usui Reiki Master Teacher, certified in reflexology and polarity therapy, a Master Instructor of Integrated Energy Therapy, Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Holistic Aromatherapy, and an approved CEU provider for the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and New York State. She offers individual appointments, lectures and training in Reiki, Integrated Energy Therapy, Hot Stone Massage, Reflexology, and Aromatherapy in New York, Connecticut and other areas by request. To schedule an appointment, lecture or class, you can reach Hallie at 585.967.0009 or visit

Contact Member:
Hallie Sawyers, LMT APP BCTMB
Soul Song
United States
Other than specifically noted credits, the information in this article is derived from the reflexology curriculum of Hallie's class: Integrating Reflexology into Client and Patient Care.

To schedule a class, lecture, or individual reflexology appointment, contact Hallie at or visit her website:

This article was published in the June 2013 issue of the Natural Awakenings magazine for Central New York. You can view it by searching their on-line archived issues at