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  • Writer's pictureJan Johnson

Where Does Reflexology Come From?

Therapist holding the feet in foot reflexology

During my consultation appointments, when explaining about reflexology, clients often ask me,

“Where does reflexology come from?”

Ancient Egypt

Tomb of Ankhmahor, hieroglyphic with figures receiving therapy on feet and hands
Possible origins of reflexology

The term ‘reflexology’ is relatively new but the practice of offering ‘healing’ via the feet is extremely ancient. The oldest evidence can be seen in Saqqara, Egypt, in the form of a hieroglyphic on the tomb of a physician named Ankhmahor. The scene has been dated to 2500 BCE and shows two figures receiving therapy via the feet and hands.

Ayurvedic Tradition of India

Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest medical systems. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means ‘The Science of Life’. This knowledge originated in India more than 5000 years ago. Modern reflexology mirrors the basic principles of Ayurveda, encouraging the maintenance of health by creating balance in mind and body. Padabhyanga or ‘foot massage’ is a traditional Ayurvedic treatment.

Chinese Traditional Medicine

China has another ancient medical structure which includes acupuncture, herbalism and massage. It is based on the prevention of disease by restoring or maintaining yin/yang equilibrium. The earliest known record of Chinese medicine can be found in ‘The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine’, estimated to have been written around 300 BCE. It has a chapter on ‘Examining Foot Method’ and discusses the connection of life force and points on the feet.

Zone Therapy

Zone Therapy body and foot chart
Zone Therapy Body and Foot Chart

Reflexology as we know it today began within the medical profession. In 1913 an American physician, Dr William Fitzgerald, was looking for an alternative to traditional anaesthetics. In his research he discovered that North American Indian tribes used pressure on the feet as one of the sources of the healing process. Fitzgerald developed a system of ten zones running vertically down the body. He found that direct pressure upon any part of a zone can have an effect on another part of the same zone. He mapped the areas on the feet and hands calling it ‘Zone Therapy’.

Dr Joe Shelby Riley further developed Zone Therapy by adding eight horizontal divisions of the feet and hands. His work forms the beginning of modern reflexology.

Eunice Ingham the ‘Mother of Reflexology’

Eunice Ingham, an American physiotherapist, was taught Zone Therapy by Dr Riley. Her major contribution was in working with reflexes using alternating pressure techniques to stimulate healing. She mapped the feet with all the corresponding organs and glands of the body, creating what is now known as Reflexology. Eunice published her first book ‘Stories the Feet Can Tell’ in 1938. She travelled the World attending health seminars speaking about the benefits of reflexology.

Doreen Bayly trained with Eunice Ingham and is regarded as the first practitioner to bring reflexology to the UK in the 1960s and she opened her training school in 1978.

Reflexology Today

Reflexology continues to be developed and refined by many eminent contributors. It has become one of the most frequently used therapies within complementary medicine and is now available in many hospitals and GP surgeries. I, along with all qualified reflexologists, continually update my practice by learning new techniques and methods.

Reflexology is a constantly growing and endlessly fascinating journey, with one foot rooted in the ancient past, and the other foot stepping boldly into an exciting future.

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