How Reflexology Works

Energy Flow, Reflexes, Zones and Relaxation

The feet contain nerve endings that travel to all organs of the body

Energy Flow

Reflexology rests on the ancient Chinese belief in qi (pronounced “chee”), or “vital energy.” According to this belief, qi flows through each person. When a person feels stressed, their body blocks qi. This can cause an imbalance in the body that leads to illness. Reflexology aims to keep qi flowing through the body, keeping it balanced and disease free. Strong negative emotions such as grief, anger, fear, bitterness and frustration can also block qi, restricting energy flow and causing illness. Certain organs are thought to harbour certain emotions. Click here to read more about ’emotional illnesses’.


Reflexology aims to move qi by stimulating the 7000+ nerve endings in the feet, or hands. These nerves group together in ‘bundles’ called ‘reflexes’. These nerve endings relate to every organ in the body. Additionally, the human body has ‘meridians’ – these conduct qi throughout the body, and every organ and system. It is thought that Reflexology improves the flow of energy through these nerve pathways and meridians, improving the health of the organs and systems they flow to. Meridians were recently confirmed by Western Science. You can read about it here.

Reflexology understands the body’s energy flows in channels, called ‘zones’.


In Reflexology, the body is divided into ‘zones’. These zones run the length of the feet, down from each toe to the heel, and up the body in a straight line. The zones help identify the reflex points. The foot is also divided transversely (across) into zones. These are defined by the bone structure. There are three main zones as shown below. Zone 1 is the neck and head. Zone 2 is the abdomen (lungs, liver, spleen, pancreas, heart, stomach, gall bladder, kidneys, transverse colon). Zone 3 is the Pelvis (ascending colon, descending colon, small intestine, rectum, anus, sexual organs, urethra, bladder).

Transverse zones of the feet in Reflexology.


By stimulating nerve endings (reflexes) the body’s nervous system moves from being in a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic state. A sympathetic states involves fight and flight (stress reactions) and the parasympathetic state involves rest and recuperation. You cannot be in both states at one time, so one must be dominant. Reflexology shifts the dominance towards parasympathetic. The Reflexologist acknowledges that he or she is a participant in the session, rather than “the healer.” This is an acknowledgement that Reflexology is offered to help bring the person back into balance so that the body can nurture and repair itself – the Reflexologist creates the right conditions for that healing to occur but is not a healer per se. As well as affecting the nervous system, Reflexology is thought to heal by inducing a deep state of relaxation in the brain, known as the alpha state and the theta state. Some people fall asleep during the treatment and this would be called delta state. Alpha and theta states refer to the kinds of brain waves a person is experiencing – and it is these two in particular that stimulate healing to occur in the body. Relaxation works alongside changes in qi flow to heal the body.

Ancient Reflexology

The sun temple of the sixth dynasty (Old Kingdom)Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Niuserre features depictions of the king enjoying a foot massage and scenes on the temple walls depict the preparation of oils. Another reference to massage therapy during the sixth dynasty of Ancient Egypt can be found in the tomb of Ankhmahor (also known as “The Tomb of the Physician”). In this tomb two men are depicted having work done on their feet and hands.

An early reference to massage and reflexology in Ancient Egypt can be found in the decorations of the tomb of Ptahhotep (a Vizier during the reign of Djedkare during the fifth dynasty in the Old Kingdom). Ptahhotep is depicted having a manicure and pedicure and having his legs massages by a servant. Some authorities consider this the earliest positive record of reflexology.

Read more here.

Research is ongoing

Research is ongoing to understand more about how Reflexology can do the things it does.

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