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How Reflexology Evolved

by Mary Martin(more info)

listed in reflexology, originally published in issue 118 - December 2005

The Chinese Connection

Reflexology evolved (and is still evolving) from the ancient technique of acupressure. Buddhists monks from India are believed to have introduced this technique to China. The surviving source of all Chinese Medicine theory is the Nei Jing (the Yellow Emperor¡¦s Classic of Internal Medicine), compiled by several authors between 2596BC and 2679BC. A form of reflexology can be traced to the text Examining The Foot Method.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) covers a range of disciplines, tailored to suit the individual. Its underlying philosophy (shaped by Taoism) sees the individual as a microcosm within the universal macrocosm. Similarly the feet can be viewed as an unseen mirror of the whole (person). A major concept of Chinese Medicine is that all life forms are animated by a vital energy called Qi (Chi). Maintaining the body¡¦s natural balance of energy is seen as the key to optimum health.

A form of Reflexology called the Rwo Shur method involves an extremely strong pressure on the feet with fingers, thumbs and knuckles, or even small sticks. The Institute for Rwo Shur Health have traced this particular method to China 4,000 years ago.

Buddhism and Hinduism

Two dominant religions in Asia ¡V Buddhism and Hinduism were instrumental in spreading the knowledge of this technique to Japan and Tibet and beyond. Various ancient cultures have utilized feet for therapeutic purposes. A pictograph dated 2500 BC, found in the tomb of Ankmahor who was an influential Egyptian physician, appears to indicate that a form of Reflexology was practised in ancient Egypt.

The European Connection

The Venetian traveller and writer, Marco Polo (1254-1324), spent many years in China when very few Europeans had visited the country. He provided much information about Chinese culture. Catholic missionaries also travelled to China at this time. It is suggested that massage techniques were introduced to the West via these links.

A method of indirect treatment, Zone Therapy, was practised in central Europe in the 16th century. Drs Adamus and A¡¦tasis wrote a book on this subject in 1582. Shortly afterwards Dr Ball from Leipzig in Germany published a book on the same subject.

Head Zones

Sir Henry Head (1861-1940), an eminent neurologist, first described the reflex signs of dysfunction. He proved that internal dysfunction is reflected on the outside of the body ¡V via the neurological relationship between spinal nerve fibres and the skin. Head divided the whole body into segments or zones that are called dermatomes.

He observed that the internal organs are not well supplied with pain receptors. Due to this impairment, impulses are not easily transmitted to the brain. Urgent messages are sent to the dermatomes. Reflex signs of dysfunction can register in any dermatome. For example, signs of angina are felt in the neck, left shoulder and/or arm.

Afferent nerves carry impulses from the surface of the body to the internal organs through touch, heat, massage, etc. In one of his papers Head recorded that stimulating the sole of the foot could excite the bladder. This is proven in Reflexology practice.

The American Connection

Early in the 20th century an American ENT specialist, Dr William Fitzgerald, experimented with pressure points. He concentrated mainly on the head, nose, throat and hands. He found that by applying pressure to the skin he could alleviate symptoms elsewhere in the body. Fitzgerald used gadgets such as clothes-pegs or elastic bands to apply pressure!

He divided the body into 10 imaginary longitudinal zones running through the length of the body. Pressure applied to one part of a zone affected the entire zone. Years later Hanne Marquardt, a German teacher and practitioner, added three transverse zones. These zones form an invisible grid on the feet and are useful in locating reflex points accurately.

An American, Eunice Ingham was an assistant to Dr Joseph Riley who studied and promoted Fitzgerald¡¦s work. She made a tremendous contribution to reflexology. Her attention was concentrated on the feet because of their sensitivity. She mapped their reflex points, equating them with the body¡¦s anatomy. She described her technique (an alternating pressure) as compression massage. Eunice also coined the term ¡V Reflexology. One of her English students, Doreen Bayley introduced it to the UK in 1966.


In 1970 a Swiss Priest, Father Joseph Eugster, went to Taiwan as a missionary. Delighted at having his arthritis relieved through Reflexology he was eager to learn the technique. He studied the book Good Health For The Future written by a Swiss nurse, Heidi Masafret, on her return from working in China. Reflexology¡¦s ancient links were never broken. Skilful application of the technique and a holistic approach creates a powerful healing force.


Issel C. Reflexology: Art, Science and History. New Frontier Publishing. ISBN 0-9625448-1-7.


  1. Amy Chan said..

    I am looking for this book by Hedi Masafret - Good health for the future through foot reflexology. Do you know where to buy this book? Thanks, Amy

  2. Florine byrd said..

    I am looking for the book good health for the future through foot reflexology in English. where can i find it?

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About Mary Martin

A qualified teacher, Mary Martin established her School of Reflexology in 1987. She founded the Association of Reflexologists in 1984 and is an Honorary Life Member. Previously she practised as a Gerson therapist. Mary belongs to a network of therapists attached to the cancer centre at Mount Vernon Hospital. She has had a busy practice in Ruislip since 1983. She may be contacted on Tel: 01895 635621;

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