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Where does reflexology come from?

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

This is a very common question asked by new clients in clinic.  

The origins of reflexology are both ancient and modern. For instance, the term ‘reflexology’ (science of the reflexes) is relatively modern. However, many cultures around the world can claim sophisticated medicinal practices derived from nature, including ‘reflexology’, over thousands of years, being passed down through rituals and stories. 

It is in the inquisitive nature of humans to explore, be curious and seek answers to solve problems through trial and error. This leads to understanding how we work, and also how to heal, nurture and overcome physical and mental injury. The healing practices that developed over millennia turns in to folklore and remedies past down generation to generation. Constantly being added to or modified in accordance with new discoveries. It is no different for today’s medical theory and practices, the building of knowledge is a continuum that links back in time to the ancients through experience.

Reflexology’s Ancient Origins

Origin stories act as foundation learning for future people and so with reflexology it has history claims dating back in time. The first visual representation is in Egypt 2500BC as Hieroglyphs’ on temple walls. But that’s not the origin, in fact it had travelled via the Silk and Spice roads across from east (modern day China and India) to west as artisan trades and skills found their way into new lands and civilisations.

In ancient China, Acupuncture and Herbal medicine was well developed, thanks to some ten thousand years of building knowledge through trial and error. They even achieved open surgery 700BC, the history tells us! India has Ayurveda as their cultural connection to the past. A philosophy of food, exercise and meditation practice that supports the whole being. Both of these had foot massage or pressure therapy as part of a therapeutic treatment regime, prescribed by healers and practitioners.

In Mayan (South America) culture, hands held the secrets to life. Being Sun worshipers, holding the hands towards the Sun connected their core selves with the source of all life. So hand reflex therapy had its place in their lives. Amazonian tribes developed Facial therapy, along with tribal cultural practices in Vietnam and Cambodia, using the face to diagnose and treat health issues.

So, you can see that we humans are ingenious and versatile in approaching our own self-care and healing practices. Regardless of our unique cultural context, we all still often end up at similar solutions to healing.

Contemporary Reflexology’s Founding Fathers

The contemporary therapy of reflexology comes from the west exploring the east, and learning how they treated and administered this therapy to illness. Around the 1920’s, professionals like Dr William Fitzgerald (USA Ear, Nose and Throat specialist) travelled to India and came away with a therapy method he named Zone Therapy. This method formed the basis of modern reflexology in the USA and Europe. Built upon his early work a Physiotherapist, Eunice Ingham (USA) and Inge Dougans, an exercise physiologist from Denmark advanced the theory and practice of Dr Fitzgerald’s Zone Therapy and individually expanded it to more broader based reflexology principles. As a consequence of these two therapists on either sides of the Atlantic, modern reflexology became the fully developed and theorised version it is today.

As each therapist or person uses reflexology it continues to expand and find connections with other therapy approaches, which in turn impacts its flexibility and versatility. A story that reflects this is about Father (Fr) Josef, a Franciscan Monk from Serena Italy. In 1975 he travelled to Taiwan with basic reflexology knowledge learned from Maria Dougans while on sabbatical in Denmark. Once in Taiwan, he was influenced by a5000 year oldChinese text from the Han Dynasty. The author Twang Tee’s main thesis 'Hua Tuo Mi Ji' or Examing Foot Method lead him to apply these therapy principles to congregation. In only a few years developed a style called Rwo Shur Health Method, referred to today as Chinese Reflexology. It’s now the most recognised foot reflexology method throughout Asia - how remarkable!

Reflex 2 Health’s Very Own Unique Method

And like others, I too have taken these reflexology principles, added techniques from successful therapies and applied some lateral thinking while addressing specific health and therapy outcomes. My own unique method is called Structural Release Technique (SRT), and is applied in every reflexology session at the Reflex 2 Health clinic. Combining complimentary theoretical approaches into a singular method delivery that delivers results is all a therapist can ask for.

Like Father Josef, others have travelled and investigated various cultural foot, hand and face therapies around the world. Expanding on these and modernising their protocols provides us here in these modern times a direct link to ancient civilisations and their stories of life lived. What an incredible aspect of reflexology!


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