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Reflexology: how it works, the health benefits and incorporating it into your menu

The demand for reflexology treatments is on the rise, which is why there’s no better time to look at how reflexology could enhance your salon or spa business.

The Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT) states that reflexology is “based on the principle that reflex points on the soles, tops and sides of the feet correspond to different areas of the body – seen as a ‘map’. By applying specialised massage techniques to specific reflex points… it can help restore balance to the body naturally and improve clients’ general wellbeing”.

Reflexology expert Anna Wintle-Pike gives us the lowdown on the treatment, the health benefits and how to successfully incorporate it into your treatment menu.

What’s the origin of reflexology?

“The art of hand and foot therapy has been practised for thousands of years with the ancient Egyptians thought to have treated the feet daily for medicinal purposes. However, reflexology as we call it today only made its way to the UK in the ’60s,” says Wintle-Pike.

“Physiotherapist Eunice Ingham was studying the work of Dr William Fitzgerald on ‘zone therapy’ – an early form of reflexology – when she began to mark body parts and organs on the feet in a technique she termed ‘foot mapping’, and thus, modern reflexology was born.

“The treatment comprises of massage and stimulation of ‘reflex points’ found on the hands and feet, using special finger and thumb techniques, with the aim of relieving stress and promoting healing in the body.”

She adds: “The treatment was met with some scepticism when Doreen Bayley, a student of Ingham’s, began practicing it in the UK – a viewpoint some people still have today.”

How does reflexology work?

“While we certainly know reflexology does work, there is still some uncertainty regarding exactly how it works. One theory explains that it works by clearing blockages found along the meridians (energy pathways) that run longitudinally throughout the body,” explains Wintle-Pike.

“Blockages can feel spongy, poppy, gritty or crunchy on the feet and hands and are made up of calcium deposits. With each treatment these deposits get broken down into smaller parts and eventually get swept away.

“Clearing the blockages restores homeostasis (balance) in the body, giving the client more energy. I often use the analogy of servicing your car when explaining the protocol to clients – if you service your car regularly then it will perform better and be less likely to break down, and this is the same in terms of your body and reflexology.”

What are the health benefits of reflexology?

“After a reflexology treatment, clients often describe to me that they feel ‘cleansed’ and ‘lighter’,” says Wintle-Pike. “Aches and pains seem to ease and every client without exception feels a sense of calm.”

The treatment also offers many physiological benefits, claims Wintle-Pike, including:

  • Improved circulation, which in turn increases oxygen and promotes healing
  • A more efficient elimination of toxins
  • Reduction in stress and anxiety, therefore, boosting the body’s immunity and ability to heal
  • Improved sleep quality.

On a wellbeing level, she says clients can also see an improvement in:

  • Self-confidence
  • Productivity
  • Energy levels (due to a boost in metabolism).

She adds: “From new-born babies to individuals receiving end-of-life care, reflexology can provide an incredible experience with a multitude of benefits. We’ve seen increased interest in reflexology in the salon I work in, Beauty Time in Bristol, which is largely due to the stress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the current strain on the NHS means clients are seeking holistic alternatives to manage their symptoms.”

Should I offer reflexology in my salon?

“Under long-term stress we begin to live only in our heads and neglect our bodies. Reflexology brings about an awareness of our entire body and in a time of much needed self-love, it is the perfect treatment,” explains Wintle-Pike.

“The treatment can be performed on the feet or hands if the client wishes, and each session lasts approximately one hour. Clients would certainly feel the benefit from a one-off session, but a course of treatment will offer the best results.

“Clients can remain fully clothed for reflexology with only the feet exposed and it can also be performed anywhere, providing that the customer is in a comfortable position. It doesn’t require equipment and minimal product is needed, making it a profitable treatment to add to your menu.

“I fell in love with reflexology 15 years ago when I received my first treatment and it’s a passion that has grown ever since. I’m thrilled that the therapy is growing in popularity, and I look forward to helping many more people in the future.”