Reflexology Theory – Do the Facts Still Fit ?

Encouraged by the positive response I had to my previous blog post back in March, I have decided to put a few more of my thoughts about reflexology down “on paper”. I know that once again there will be those who strongly disagree with what I have to say but if it gets the reflexology world debating then in my opinion that is no bad thing! None of us have all the answers and many are afraid to ask the questions……! It is another long one folks – over 6000 words but if you get to the end I’d love to hear your feedback – good or bad


Reflexology – Do the Facts Still Fit the Theory?

Reflexology has been an important part of my life now for 15 years and having also trained in many other therapies throughout the intervening years, it is the one therapy I have felt truly connected to. As stated in my previous blog post, the scientist within me feels “driven” to try and unravel at least some of the mysteries involved in the efficacy of reflexology. Slowly but surely we appear, at least on the surface, to be unpicking the complexities of this therapy and yet in doing so I fear that we are creating an illusion of understanding, a great many well thought out theories and yet they are still theories, nothing is 100% proven. Whilst it is commendable that we continue to push the boundaries it would appear that we are, in the wake of these theoretical advancements, creating a generation of reflexologists who are anxious, fearful of following their intuition and quite frankly more than a little confused. There appears to be an increasing trend towards practitioners who are inclined to “diagnose”, or treat individual illnesses in a specific way. We see regular questions on social media about how to treat various symptoms or medical conditions, practitioners asking for advice on various physical aspects of the feet and the relevance to underlying health issues, and now there are increasing numbers of CPD courses being marketed aimed at treating specific client groups, and I have to ask what do we actually believe we are achieving with reflexology and are we slowly losing the connection to the holistic ethos that first attracted me to reflexology?

Is it perhaps time for a rethink, do we need to re-define reflexology? As we approach 100 years since the initial development of the classical reflexology model by Eunice Ingham, does the original theory still stand up to scrutiny in the wake of current knowledge and research? In an attempt to develop some clarity on the subject from a personal perspective, I have unravelled the theory that I now choose to apply and given considerable thought as to how I perceive my therapeutic intervention and its interaction with the client. I have no doubt that many readers will disagree with my interpretation of reflexology theory but hopefully I can at the very least encourage debate around the underlying theories of reflexology.

As Albert Einstein once quoted; “If the facts don’t fit the theory then change the facts”Perhaps the reflexology world should give this some thought? Is it time to re-write the reflexology text books?

What is Reflexology?
If we want to understand how reflexology affects the human body, then firstly we should perhaps ask the question what is the human body? My own definition would be that it is in effect, an energetic mass which maintains its function and integrity by utilising energy in all of its various forms, transforming one type of energy into another in order to maintain the homeostatic equilibrium and enable full function at all levels – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. However it is important to remember that no scientist can define exactly what energy is, currently it is only possible to identify what energy achieves and how it manifests, this is a conundrum that the physicists and mathematicians hope to solve at some point in the future with their ongoing work at the Large Hadron Collider.
If we therefore view the human body as being dependent on energy and the movement and transformation of this energy, we have to assume that injury and disease are either caused by or are the result of an interruption in this process at either the macroscopic or microscopic level – a malfunction of the hardware or the software.
I would therefore suggest that medicine, be it allopathic or complementary is aimed at re-establishing function and homeostasis within the body by adjusting the “flow of energy”. Allopathic medicine tends to look, by and large, at the symptoms and disease process, applying the use of drugs and surgery to relieve or repair the condition in order to re-establish homeostasis. The complementary approach is to work with and encourage the body’s natural ability to restore and maintain healthy function, working with the whole person/system, addressing the underlying imbalance within the system rather than focusing on the specific symptoms, ailment or disease.

If we consider the various modalities of complementary therapies then it becomes apparent that they can be broadly classified into 4 categories;

Physical exercise therapies such as yoga, Taiji, Qigong, Pilates etc.

Natural remedies that can be consumed or applied to the skin.

Talking and meditative practices.

Touch therapies, either simple human to human contact or those that incorporate the use of “tools” such as magnets, needles, rollers, crystals etc.

Often there is an overlap between the categories with practitioners using specific aspects of more than one modality to enhance the therapeutic experience and outcome for the client.

If we are considering reflexology, as generally practiced in Western society, then clearly it is a simple touch therapy.
Looking at the dictionary definition of “reflex”, we know that in reflexology the definition we are taught is – “a response in a part of the body to stimulation of a corresponding point on the feet, hands, or head”. However the wider definition is; a physical reaction to something that you cannot control, or an action that is performed without conscious thought as a response to a stimulus.
I would therefore suggest that any interaction be it physical, emotional, verbal etc. between humans is going to give rise to a reflex response somewhere in the body; a reflex response is not exclusive to touch.

Anatomical Reflection Theory

Returning to the reflexology definition of “reflex” as regards the corresponding points on the hands, feet and head; we are given to believe that there is a direct correlation between the feet, hands etc. and the whole body – the anatomical reflection theory. Now, although this is the foundation of classical reflexology as developed by Eunice Ingham, the scientist in me has always struggled with this concept, not least because there are so many anatomical inaccuracies present in the maps, but also the wide variation in maps. The feet and hands either reflect anatomically correctly or they don’t. There is such an array of errors and mixing up of the anterior and posterior aspects of the body it is not surprising that the scientists and clinicians are inclined to regard reflexology as utter nonsense. Added to which, during my initial reflexology training there was no logical explanation given as to why or how the feet and hands would represent the body and I have yet to see a basic reflexology book that gives a rational explanation of this theory, but perhaps I haven’t been reading the right text books? Yes zone theory is often regarded as giving a foundation to anatomical reflection but the mechanisms and reasoning behind this theoretical model are also very vague.

I do find it quite exasperating that there is a general awareness, within the reflexology community, of the inherent problems within the “maps” used in reflexology and yet the inaccuracies continue to be taught, there is an apparent reluctance to address this problem – the proverbial “elephant in the room.” Is this perhaps because by tackling this particular issue we may be undermining the foundation of current reflexology practice? Are the errors now too firmly embedded within the theory?

Apart from the fact that there are no “empty” areas within the body – and I refer here to the maps that show only the large intestinal tract being present within the plantar heel – correctly placed, organs are layered one over another not conveniently placed as individual organs filling separate spaces. Then there are the ever moving eyes and ears which roam around the toes, ovaries that vary between a location out on the reflected edge of the pelvis, to various locations on the plantar heel surface with the fallopian tubes apparently being located in an unrelated position on the dorsal surface of the foot? Similar problems exist with the mapping of the testes which can vary from the medial heel quadrant to the lateral heel quadrant, breast tissue can be found either on the plantar surface or the dorsal surface depending on the map, two pituitary reflex points which are excessively large for a single gland that is physically only 1.5 cm in length and anatomically located at the base of the hypothalamus – and the list continues……!
The most glaringly obvious error I would suggest and a good starting point in addressing this mapping problem is the so called “solar plexus” points on both feet. This reflex area is common to all classical reflexology maps. It is located in zones two and three either on or below the “diaphragm line”. Medically the solar plexus does not exist – correctly labelled it is the coeliac plexus, a nerve junction box situated behind the stomach and in front of the aorta. It is not particularly significant, certainly no more so than any other plexus in the body, so why is it such a significant part of the reflexology map?

The “solar plexus” is a label applied to one of the chakras from the Ayurvedic energy system, representing a crossover from one theoretical healing system to another. However the solar plexus chakra is situated on the mid-sagittal plane, and there are certainly not two plexus, one on either side of the body.


From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective there is no great mystery as to what this particular reflex point actually is. It is, in TCM, identified as the location of the first acupoint of the kidney meridian – K1. The acupoint K1 is highly important in meridian theory and in the practice of Qigong, in that it is the point of connection to the Earth (Yong Quan or Bubbling Well).
This incorrectly labelled reflex continues to be found on maps even where the practitioner has researched and developed a new approach – why?

Why is there such a reluctance to acknowledge the TCM label for this particular reflex? The cynic in me does wonder if this stems from the fact that there is a clear agenda from the regulatory bodies and those at the forefront of reflexology, to have reflexology recognised by the medical and scientific communities. When applying anatomical labels or using neuroscience based techniques and theories the reflexology world is effectively using a common language, acknowledged and recognised within the scientific community, thereby giving some credibility to our therapeutic approach. If however we begin to speculate about the theoretical models of TCM or Ayurvedic medicine and their relevance to reflexology, then inevitably we will encounter resistance from the scientific community, the approaches to health and wellbeing based on Eastern philosophies are generally regarded by the Western scientific community as being pseudoscience, sham modalities with no proven efficacy. It is interesting to note that as research into acupuncture, most notably the recent fMRI research, has indicated that there may well be some scientific basis to the effects of acupuncture, and we are now beginning to see a small but significantly growing interest in TCM based reflexology techniques, perhaps more specifically acupoint techniques, it could be speculated that these two factors are linked? Practitioners now feeling slightly more secure about referring to TCM models?
As we continue to push towards understanding the mechanisms of reflexology, applying various scientific theories, ponder over which neural pathways could be involved in the mechanisms, debate the pros and cons of various research models, should we not firstly be looking at the basics such as the maps? We need to develop a clear and united approach that is credible to the outside world, and give our students a logical and consistent foundation to work from. Perhaps the first questions we should really be asking are; why do all the various maps with all their errors and variations produce a similar outcome for the client regardless of which map the practitioner uses? Are we actually working with true anatomical reflection? And if so, is it the wider gross anatomy of the body i.e. head, thorax, abdomen, pelvis or do we see a genuine representation of the individual organs and structures?

It wasn’t until I began my own research during the development of Zu Qigong (Foot Energy Work) that I began to uncover some interesting and plausible theories that may hold some significance in understanding reflexology and the reflected anatomy model.
I began by exploring the bio-holographic theory and eventually stumbled upon the work of the late Professor Yingqing Zhang, a Chinese biologist who was based at Shandong University. In the 1970’s Professor Zhang discovered a new micro system of acupuncture located on the second metacarpal bone of the hand. This important discovery instigated the development of ECIWO biology, an area that he continued to research and develop until his death in 2004. Embryo Containing Information for the Whole Organism, (ECIWO). The premise for this theoretical model is that when the body begins to form during embryological development, every new organ, limb and section of a limb begins forming through the same process as the original embryo, therefore every one of these parts or ECIWOs, contains the information to form a whole new body. However under the control of the principal unit, the main body – although I am inclined to regard this control as being imposed by the genome of the individual – the tissue forms into the intended organ or limb. Therefore every organ, limb section, nose, ear, brain etc. contains all the information of the whole organism. This is an interesting theoretical model which may hold some valuable clues to understanding the mechanisms of reflexology and there is plenty of information available about this scientific discipline available on the internet. It was this model I chose to apply in the development of Zu Qigong.
Taking on board the principles of bio-holographic law and applying it to reflexology, I take the view that the feet provide us with individual ECIWOs for the left and right sides of the body. If we look at the human body as a complete operating unit we can see that it actually exists as two halves co-operating to function as an individual unit. A left and right side connected through a central axis – the spinal cord. Even the brain has two hemispheres with differing functions between the left and right sides. The feet, although theoretically containing information sufficient to replicate the entire body, in effect only reflect the physical function of half of the body, the left side or right side respectively, individual ECIWOs. It is important to be aware that this does not mean that there is a fully formed embryo within each foot, my interpretation of the ECIWO theory would be that there is a primitive embryonic structure embedded within the functioning foot, in other words microscopic clusters of cells representative of the principal structures / organs of the “parent embryo” i.e. the left or right side of the torso, not fully formed organ tissue. This therefore means that in order for the reflexologist to effectively be working on reflected organs and structures a high level of accuracy would be required to pinpoint these microscopic clusters of cells, and as already discussed our maps most definitely do not provide an accurate representation. This leads to the next question; what exactly are we working on and how does this translate to reflected anatomy?

The Potential Mechanisms of Reflexology

Undoubtedly reflexology does appear to operate via several mechanisms of action and there are some well thought out and logical neuroscience based models which provide widely accepted and acknowledged approaches to reflexology. However these models still leave significant gaps in explaining certain aspects of reflexology, for example neuroscience does not adequately account for the universal efficacy of the various different approaches to reflexology such as light touch techniques versus the techniques utilising very firm pressure, VRT where the practitioner is working primarily on the dorsal surface of the feet or hands, or Chi-Reflexology where only specific points of the feet are involved, there is no thumb walking over all surfaces of the foot, nor does it give us a logical answer to one of the more significant puzzles in reflexology – “pregnant feet”. In my practice I have never seen pregnant hands or ears but I can definitely track the progress of a pregnancy on the feet, why / how? There is most definitely not a developing foetus in the foot and yet its position, movement etc. are clearly visible to the trained reflexologist.
Once again I would like to encourage the reflexology community to take a step back and look at the wider communication network that is now being explored by the scientists – the fascia, or connective tissue. Although the nervous system must be implicated in the mechanisms of reflexology, it is not the only communication system and for those practitioners who are involved in research I would suggest that it is time to broaden the scope of your research in order to avoid missing some important components of physiological communication.
As described in my previous blog article the communication network provided by the fascia / connective tissue in the body may well hold a significant key to understanding the mechanisms of reflexology. The scientific definition of the fascia or connective tissue is now stated to be – all of the collagenous-based soft tissues in the body, including the extra-cellular matrix.
The fascia is composed of collagen, elastin and a viscous fluid; containing mucopolysaccharides and 70% water. As can be seen from the vast array of tissues now classified as forming the fascia, this tissue comes in a wide range of densities from a light open matrix structure similar to candy floss, such as the extra cellular matrix, through to dense fibrous sheets such as the plantar fascia. The fascia begins to develop within the first few days of embryonic development and is progressively folded by the process of gastrulation, gradually bringing about the complex layers present in the fascia – a continuous structure, forming layers and enclosed capsules. As a single network or indeed organ, the fascia directly connects with every other organ, bone, muscle, the cardiovascular system, nervous system and the lymphatic system. The fascia is effectively a single structure, creating a 3 dimensional, continuous, fully integrated network, connecting the tip of the toe to the top of the head, the fabric that holds us together, regulating the biomechanics of the body and responding to forces going through the body. We can therefore conclude that the fascia responds to and transmits mechanical energy i.e. pulls, pushes, twists, turns – enabling movement and maintaining postural stability, giving the body what is now referred to as “tensegrity”; tension and integrity. So if the fascia responds to and transmits force as mechanical energy what other forms of energy can be transmitted through this network? We know that chemical and electrical energy can be transmitted via the extra-cellular matrix as clearly shown in neural transmission and bio-chemical cell signalling. So this complex structure is undoubtedly involved in energetic communication and should therefore be recognised as the 4th energy communication system in the body; the nervous system providing electrical communication, the cardiovascular system providing chemical communication, lymphatic system involved in chemical communication and the fascia system providing mechanical, electrical and chemical communication. The laws of physics state that energy cannot be destroyed merely changed, therefore all energy in the body is in a constant state of flux, circulating between systems, organs etc, and it would appear that the fascia plays an important role in this process.

Does the fascia hold the key to understanding why we see “pregnant feet”? I would suggest that it may well do so. As outlined above the fascia transmits force throughout the body i.e. mechanical energy, in order to maintain postural integrity. Therefore if we consider the forces involved in carrying a developing pregnancy and the mechanical pressures imposed on the maternal fascial network then it becomes clear that this pressure will be transmitted into the network and the laws of gravity dictate that the majority of the force would be transmitted downwards through the legs towards the feet, the feet being the end point of the network. This force translates as tension within the fascial layers of the feet causing the transient changes that can be visualised and palpated during a reflexology treatment i.e. if the developing foetus is lying towards the right side of the uterus the greatest force will be exerted down the mother’s right leg, the response being the tensioning of the collagen fibres within the fascial layers of the right foot. Similarly the application of touch, pressure etc during reflexology will transmit energy from the foot back up the leg through the fascial network causing changes within the fascia around the uterus thereby leading to changes within the environment of the uterus, the foetus will therefore respond to these changes. Pregnant mothers usually comment that their babies move around during reflexology, this theoretical model could explain why.

If the human body is an energetic mass relying on the movement and transformation of energy then my first inclination is to look at how this “energy” is transported. For this reason my focus in recent years has been on the energy network of the body, exploring the significance to health and wellbeing of energy or Qi movement throughout the body leading to my interest and training in Qigong. Working with the theory that the meridian system, as defined in TCM i.e. the complete network of 71 meridians, delivers energy throughout the body, then logically I have to assume that in order to sustain the ECIWO that exists for example within the foot, there would also need to be a corresponding embryonic or micro-energetic system present in the foot – a meridian network on an appropriate scale embedded within the tissue of the foot which then communicates with or influences the meridian network present within the whole body. If the entire body is reflected in the feet then so too must the energetic system. It is reasonable to then conclude that when working on the feet we have access to both the physical meridian network and a reflected meridian network and it was this theory that gave rise to Zu Qigong. This then led me to realise that there is a significant correlation between the pathways described in the meridian network and the layering of the fascia; this was described in detail in my previous blog article.
Exploring further the similarities of the meridian network and the fascial network gives us additional evidence as to how reflexology may potentially be working and some interesting clues as to why the reflexology maps work regardless of their inherent errors.

If we return to the theories of ECIWO biology, then it is stated that as each limb begins to develop, the process begins in the same way as that of the initial embryo. From this we can assume that at the formation of the limb bud a similar process of cell division and gastrulation takes place. The growth of the long bone beginning in the same way as the development of the notochord in the main body / torso of the embryo thereby forming the spine, however within the limbs, this would provide either the femur or the humerus dependent on whether the bud is producing a leg or an arm. The formation of connective tissue would therefore also follow a similar pattern of development extending along the limb as the bone and tissue develop, producing a similar layered structure. The entire process repeating as each segment of the limb develops, ultimately providing a connected network of fascia, the layering and density being dependent on the function of the individual structures.

When developing Zu Qigong I looked at the potential development process of the 4 primary extraordinary vessels within the meridian network during embryonic development and produced a theoretical model of how these vessels could potentially develop and their significance within the embryo. The 4 primary extraordinary vessels are indicated in TCM as being the first channels formed during the initial stages of embryo development. Exploring the link between the fascia and the meridian network I would suggest that there is a possible correlation between these 4 primary extraordinary vessels and the initial gastrulation process that produces the folding of the fascia tissue in embryo development. This would suggest that the fascia layers developing around the long bones are of a similar nature / construction to those that develop around the spine, and if we extrapolate this theory to incorporate each of the ECIWO units as they grow to develop the leg and ultimately the foot then this would explain why pressure on the connective tissue surrounding the 1st metatarsal bone (a long bone) would have a similar effect to pressure on the tissue surrounding the spine. The same process being repeated in the development of the arms and hands. The applied pressure of reflexology – mechanical energy, is therefore effectively being transmitted through the specific layers of connective tissue associated with the long bones into the main network. If the touch applied is very light then we could assume that the energy being transmitted from practitioner to client is perhaps electrical, thermal or gentle vibration; we simply don’t understand this part of the equation. We know that there is a transfer of energy but science cannot yet define what or how.

(See the diagram below)

Theoretical Development Process of the 4 Primary Extraordinary Vessels.

Zygote – Fertilized ovum
Zygote – Fertilized ovum

First cell division – initial cleavage of the zygote. Splitting of the DNA double helix leading to the development of the Chong Mai. This would effectively provide an energetic link between the left and right sides of the developing morula – the earliest stage of embryonic development. The Chong Mai may therefore provide the energetic pathway to support the development of the spinal column and ultimately development of the brain.
Second cell division – continuing development of the morula. Formation of the Dai Mai providing an energetic link between the upper and lower halves of the morula. During continued development of the embryo the Dai Mai would expand to provide an energetic connection on the horizontal plane.

The developing morula exists as a three-dimensional structure (a ball of cells). Therefore an energetic link is required between the front and back. We know that the Du Mai and Ren Mai travel up the posterior and anterior of the body respectively, circulating on either side of the Chong Mai, travelling from base to crown. Development of the Du Mai and Ren Mai and would effectively  provide anterior and posterior energetic links as well as top to bottom orientation.

Potentially the 3 vertical energetic pathways could then support the development of the 3 germ layers of gastrulation? i.e. the ectoderm, endoderm and mesoderm. For example does the Chong Mai support the development of the ectoderm which initiates the development of the central nervous system? I find this potential theoretical link quite intriguing but I am not an embryologist and as things currently stand it is highly unlikely that this aspect of TCM theory is ever likely to be investigated thoroughly by the scientists – certainly not in my life time!

I am aware that there is considerable resistance within the scientific community to concede that there are definite correlations between the ancient descriptions of the meridian network and current understanding of the human fascia or connective tissue network but there are certain factors that I find totally fascinating.

The meridian network is said to be a continuous web of channels running throughout the body, linking the head to the feet, as does the fascia. The meridians are said to be arranged at varying depths, from the deepest channels to the superficial channels, providing a layered structure similar to the fascia.

If the fascia provides a continuous 3 dimensional network throughout the body, then the head, feet and hands are effectively representative of the furthest points in the network – end points, and could perhaps be described as points of convergence for the layering within the network? In TCM the crown or Bai Hui is described as the point of “The Hundred Convergences”, similarly we see points of energetic significance on the hands – Lao Gong, and the feet – Yong Quan. In reflexology we work on the head, hands and more commonly the feet, by working at the end points we could therefore potentially influence the entire network – is this simply a coincidence?

There are said to be 15 collateral channels in the meridian network which are the branches arising from the 12 regular meridians and the governing and conception vessels, plus the major collateral of the spleen. They are described as being distributed over the 4 limbs and in the anterior, posterior and lateral aspects of the body. The collaterals are themselves divided into many smaller branches and sub-branches called minute collaterals and superficial collaterals, very similar to the circulatory system. Do these pathways support the circulatory system, or are they perhaps representative of the lymphatic system?

New research has recently revealed the presence of lymphatic vessels in the brain; the pathways of these lymphatic vessels appear very similar to the TCM description of the Du Mai (governing vessel) pathway.

In TCM the meridians are described as pathways through which the Qi and blood of the human body are circulated, blood being described in TCM as the red fluid responsible for transporting anything that provides nourishment. Interestingly enough, blood is considered to be a type of connective tissue. Even though it has a different function in comparison to other connective tissues it does have an extra cellular matrix. The matrix consists of the plasma, while red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are suspended in the plasma.

Lymph is another type of fluid connective tissue. This clear fluid originates from blood plasma that exits blood vessels at capillary beds. A component of the lymphatic system, lymph contains immune system cells that protect the body against pathogens. Many of the meridians are described as having responsibility for protecting the body against “evil Qi” is this representative of the immune system?

There are many points of correlation between the ancient descriptions of the meridian network and the knowledge we now have as regards the fascia or connective tissue. If we are seeing a genuine correlation between the fascia network and the meridian network, then it is truly amazing that the ancient physicians actually appear to have had a better understanding of human anatomy and physiology than we do today despite all of our high tech advanced equipment!

The Reflexology Maps and the Fascia

So how do I perceive the relevance of the fascia to the reflexology maps? As already outlined I would interpret the feet as having multiple layers of connective tissue continuous with the fascia network of the entire body and embedded within these layers is a further embryonic layered fascia structure as defined by ECIWO theory. Interaction via touch, applied pressure, will cause a subsequent change within the connective tissue, a transmission of energy, which will pass through the network causing changes within the structure be it mechanical, electrical, thermal etc. Yes this will inevitably transmit electrical signals into the neural network as the nervous system is embedded within the structure of the fascia, however we must also take into account that the collagen fibres are themselves able to transmit electrical energy, this is not a function exclusive to the neural network, the collagen network provides at least part of the afferent pathways and indeed has the capacity to transmit force – mechanical energy – from one end of the body to the other. In reflexology I would suggest that the capacity of collagen to transmit, transform and even store energy is likely to play a significant role in the mechanisms of our therapeutic intervention.
Returning to the reflexology maps, I am of the opinion that what we are effectively working with is indeed the “collagenous network” call it what you like – fascia, connective tissue or indeed the meridian network. The feet, hands or head are effectively the end points of the network therefore working on these areas will inevitably influence the whole network. If there is “dis-ease” within the network then we can expect a disruption in energy flow resulting in tension, disrupted function, blockages etc within the layer of the network most affected and a knock on effect within the wider network and its associated organs, physiological structures – nothing functions in isolation! Bearing in mind that if we accept ECIWO theory then there is effectively a micro energy network i.e. a collagenous network of a similar structure to the main network present in the foot which will respond in a similar way to the “master” network of the body so for example if there is a problem within the collagen network surrounding the stomach this will be transmitted through the wider network and ultimately be felt within the foot in the corresponding area of the layered network – the end point of the network. Working on the foot then has the possibility of exchanging energy back into the network for the body to utilise in redressing the balance, re-establishing homeostasis?

Ironically if we apply this ECIWO model then we are effectively coming full circle back to Dr Fitzgerald’s original zone theory!
During the development of Zu Qigong when translating the reflected regular meridian network onto the plantar surface of the foot i.e. the pathways that the regular meridians follow as they pass through the torso, it became obvious that this does indeed give us 5 zones on the plantar surface.


Does this then give us reasonable evidence that the foot maps are actually only a rough guide to anatomical reflection, representative of the gross anatomy rather than accurate anatomical placement? If we are working with the fascia / connective tissue layers, then providing we are working with all the layers present in the foot we will influence the whole body, and if we choose to work with the individual layers, for example attempting to isolate a specific organ and its associated connective tissue, the exact position of the microscopic clusters of cells representative of that organ in embryonic development is irrelevant providing we apply touch to the relevant layer of the network? This would explain why the variation and errors in the foot maps used does not influence the overall outcome of a reflexology treatment.

A Personal Overview

Reflexology, in the most simplistic terms, I would nowadays interpret as being an energy exchange between the therapist and the client which in the first instance utilises the collagen network of the human body. Yes the neural network is most definitely involved in some of the afferent pathways of reflexology providing proprioceptive and touch sensation information, however the collagen network is the primary energy transmitter, relaying energy to and between the nervous system and all the other communication networks, organs and structures that it effectively connects to. As to the efferent pathways, I would assume that the neural network is the primary transmitter, with the circulatory, lymphatic and collagen / fascia networks responsible for the next level of response – no system works in isolation.

As a practitioner I have developed a theoretical model that works for me, I have no idea whether my interpretation is correct, but ultimately I am confident in my approach and my clients respond well to the treatment that I provide. I offer my therapy with care, compassion and positive intention; no tools are used, I don’t diagnose and I offer a gentle touch working on the feet and ankles which appears to have holistic beneficial outcomes, I am therefore confident that I fulfil the remit of reflexology.
Is what I do reflexology? It is definitely based on the underlying principles of reflexology in that I believe that the feet represent an extension of the body but I do not adhere to the original concept of anatomical reflection. Instead I view the feet as presenting a route of entry to the entire fascia network and use the nomenclature and pathways as devised by the ancient Chinese physicians describing the meridian network. I accept that the classical reflexologists will disagree with my theories and those involved in research will tell me that I am straying too far from the original concept of reflexology and perhaps feel that my theories are somewhat far fetched. In response I have to say that my approach to reflexology definitely works and at this point in time there are no other theoretical models that for me provide adequate evidence to explain reflexology.
Can we even truly define reflexology? Other than stating that we work on the feet, hands or head producing a reflex response in a corresponding area of the body there is little to actually separate reflexology from many other touch therapies. The boundaries between one touch therapy and another are very hazy, my interpretation suggests that all are effectively transferring energy between practitioner and client, and in many ways all that separates the individual therapies is the language & theories, the type of touch applied and where on the body we choose to work. For reflexology the boundaries are becoming much less defined as practitioners start to explore the benefits of working on other areas of the body and combine modalities.

Will we ever fully understand the mechanisms of reflexology? Unlikely, we may well learn more about the nature of energy, the complexities of fascia, how collagen transmits energy, neuroscience etc. however the science of human touch and interaction, the powers of thought and intent are likely to remain well beyond the realms of scientific understanding for a great many years to come. In truth I hope that there will always be an element of mystery to what I do as it is the unknown that keeps me enthralled. I view the science as providing the Yang element in reflexology, the esoteric aspects give us the Yin component; we need both sides of the equation to give us the whole.

” The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. it is the power of all true art and science.”

Albert Einstein

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