An edited version of the following article appeared in the AoR magazine “Reflexions” March 2014

An EXTRA Dimension in Reflexology

The Missing Links in Reflexology?


I have no doubt that most readers will agree that reflexology has undergone a remarkable transformation in the last few decades. Eunice Ingham would barely recognise the therapy that many practitioners currently perform and refer to as reflexology, with the array of specialities, different techniques and approaches now in use. However, one common thread appears to run through the majority of techniques and that is ENERGY WORK. There is a definite growing awareness of and belief that reflexology is accessing the “energy system” of the body, regardless of whether the practitioner chooses to work with the Ayurvedic chakra principles, the Traditional Chinese Medicine meridian theory, or something else; the general consensus is that ENERGY appears to be the key to understanding how this remarkable therapy benefits our clients.


As well as being classically trained at The Scottish School of Reflexology I also hold a diploma in Chi-Reflexology from the Australian College of Chi-Reflexology. Studying Chi-Reflexology sparked my interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and was effectively the starting point for a very interesting personal journey that has ultimately enabled me to develop a completely new approach to reflexology – Zu Qigong.

 Qi–translates as Energy, Vitality or Life

 Gong – translates as Working With, Developing or Cultivating

 Qigong can therefore be interpreted as       – Working with energy

      (Pronounced Chee Kong)                         Developing vitality

                                                                  Cultivating life

 Zu (pronounced zoo) is the Chinese word for FOOT / FEETtzu

(Also sometimes written as Tzu)


Working with the energy network or meridians reflected in the feet is the basis for this technique, hence – Zu Qigong


Keen to learn more about the underlying philosophy and theories of TCM, in 2008 I began attending regular Tai Chi and Qigong classes, the exercise disciplines of TCM. Studying Qigong and reading around the subject, I made the rather startling discovery that the meridian system theory as taught and used in Chi-Reflexology and indeed all of the other meridian based therapies I have encountered, is in fact only part of the story.


The meridian system, rather than simply consisting of the 12 or 14 meridians that we are normally taught about, is actually a complex network comprising 71 interconnecting pathways, providing an energy transport system effectively linking the tissues and organs of the entire body in a similar way to the circulatory and neural networks. Of the 71 pathways, there are 20 pathways that form the main energy transport routes through the body. The 20 main pathways consist of the 12 Regular Meridians that we are all familiar with and 8 Extraordinary Vessels.The 8 Extraordinary Vessels are believed to represent the body’s deepest energy structures and are thought to be involved in regulating energy flow within the Regular Meridians. They function as deep reservoirs from which the 12 Regular Meridians can be replenished, or alternatively have the ability to absorb any excess energy from the Regular Meridians. Many reflexologists will be familiar with 2 of the Extraordinary Vessels – the Governing Vessel and the Conception Vessel, but the remaining 6 Extraordinary Vessels are likely to be a bit of a mystery. Why then is our knowledge of the meridian system so limited? The simple fact is that in the West our understanding of the meridian system is generally based upon the information available for the study and practice of acupuncture. We are therefore only familiar with those meridians used in acupuncture i.e. the meridians that possess acupoints.


There is little information readily available about the Extraordinary Vessels in Western literature and it has taken some considerable time for me to clarify their locations, pathways, functions etc. Why then, if there is such limited information available and most of these vessels are often ignored in the practice of acupuncture, should the reflexologist be trying to work with them?


Firstly, as described above, these Vessels operate as Qi reservoirs for the Regular Meridians and play a significant role in regulating the Regular Meridians; therefore, it stands to reason that if there is an imbalance within the Regular Meridians, the underlying support of the Extraordinary Vessels is essential in correcting the balance of Qi and maintaining homeostasis. To that end, we should therefore be aiming to encourage balance and the correct flow within the Extraordinary Vessels.


Additionally and perhaps somewhat controversially, the Extraordinary Vessels are indicated to have a significant influence at the psychological and emotional level and as therapists we aim to work holistically (i.e. at all levels of existence – the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual); therefore, incorporating these Extraordinary Vessels in a therapeutic routine offers the opportunity to provide additional holistic support.

 Despite the apparent complexity of the theories applied in developing this approach to reflexology, the actual Zu Qigongtechnique is deceptively simple. The whole aim of Zu Qigong is quite simply to work with the natural flow of Qi around the body, encouraging the body to restore and maintain its own natural equilibrium. There is no “diagnosing” or analysing of the symptoms a client presents with and no deliberate sedation or stimulating of reflexes; there are many other reflexology techniques available to the practitioner if that is the approach they feel is appropriate. In many ways, Zu Qigong goes back to the simple holistic basics of reflexology as originally developed by Eunice Ingham, but instead of focusing on the physiology of the body, this technique is entirely focused on the energy delivery or meridian system.


“The therapist may offer assistance, only nature can heal.”


My therapeutic approach is based on the premise that if the anatomy is reflected in the feet, then so too must the supporting meridian network be similarly reflected. Through the development of Zu Qigong I have gradually come to realise that the meridian network of the body appears to be reflected as a 3 dimensional hologram on the feet and subsequently have developed foot charts of the meridian network by applying this theory.

The Zu Qigong technique is simple, a set routine that is designed to follow the underlying principles of a general qigong exercise routine, i.e. grounding and centring, raising the Qi, working sequentially through the Extraordinary Vessels and the Regular Meridians, balancing and closing off.


This technique works well as a stand alone therapy or can be adapted and incorporated into a standard reflexology or Chi-Reflexology session. The gentle touch used in Zu Qigong combined with its adaptability makes this approach to reflexology suitable for the majority of reflexology clients from the very young through to the elderly frail.


Zu Qigong is just one amongst the many techniques we can learn to enhance our treatments for our clients. Reflexology as a therapy is changing and developing all the time; we keep learning and changing with it. You must use the technique that is most appropriate to your client – for me, Zu Qigong has become a standard part of many of my treatments; perhaps it can bring the same deep relaxation to your clients as to mine.  



Elspeth Fare MAR


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