Reflexology proposes that you can soothe nerve endings, loosen tight muscles, improve blood circulation, reduce stress, and remove toxins by stimulating areas on the feet that correspond to different parts of the anatomy. Think of each sole as a miniature model of your entire body, says Bill Flocco, founder and director of the American Academy of Reflexology.
Tension, stress, illness, and pain cause a chemical called substance P to build up around the nerve endings at our extremities, he explains. Applying nurturing pressure to targeted spots breaks it down and initiates the natural healing process.
Does this work? A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women with PMS who underwent 30-minute reflexology treatments for two months experienced a 46 percent reduction in symptoms, and maintained the benefits for two months following treatment.
To try it yourself, move your thumb in a small circular pattern around each area of the sole. Press firmly, using a pulsing, on/off pressure. To promote relaxation, start just below the balls of the feet; this corresponds with the solar plexus, says Burbank, Calif.-based reflexologist Helena Vind. When it's time to move on, inch your thumb to the next area you want to treat. Proceed slowly and be patient, experimenting to find a comfortable pressure. Painful places may indicate an imbalance or ailment in the related organ or body system.
Plan to spend five to 10 minutes working on each foot, concentrating on tender areas and trouble spots. Reflexology can be done any time of the day, but it's best when afterward you can relax--and put your feet up.