Our feet can take us anywhere, provided we have the right map. Some believe there's a map on the bottom of our feet that leads to better health.
Reflexology has become a standard in spa treatments and a complement to more traditional health care.
The practice is rooted in the belief that our bodies are mirrored - or reflected - in our feet, hands and even ears.
By applying pressure to these areas, the body is able to relax and heal itself.
Reflexology also increases circulation, delivering nutrients and oxygen to the body's cells.
"You just create a stimulus response that goes through your body," says Brenda Haugstad, licensed massage therapist and reflexologist with the Peace and Harmony Center in Fargo.
"By stimulating those reflex areas, hopefully that can help with that partof the body."
All the areas of the body are represented on the soles of our feet and palms of our hands. For example, the toes and fingertips are linked to the head, including the brain, the eyes and the sinuses.
Rather than kneading, reflexologists deliberately deliver pressure to all areas at a time, one thumbprint at a time.
Brandi Gehrke with Touch of Grace Massage in Fargo describes it as an "inching" technique.
"Take your thumb and inch along in different areas," she says, "whatever pressure feels really good to you ... just enough so you feel the deposits on your feet."
Deposits, also known as crystals or congestion, feel like gritty lumps underneath the skin. These can indicate a potential problem.
"You just want to work on that area and break that up and get the blood flow back into that area of the foot," Gehrke says.
While tender areas give them an idea of what might be going on in the body, reflexologists don't claim to treat or cure any ailments, and are careful not to diagnose.
"They could have stepped on a rock, it could be how their shoes fit, their posture," Haugstad says.
While do-it-yourself reflexology doesn't provide the full relaxation experience - after all, you'll be sitting up and working rather than just enjoying - a self session can be beneficial.
"For some people that have never had a massage before, reflexology is something that's really good that's not invasive," Gehrke says.
Haugstad, Gehrke and Tara Kohn, a licensed foot reflexologist in Fargo, give these tips for home reflexology treatments.
- Have a reflexology map in front of you. These label the different areas of the foot, and the part of the body they are purportedly connected to. Different maps show the pressure points in slightly different areas, and everyone's body will be a little different. Several versions can be found online. Kohn suggests www.reflexology-usa.net .
- Haugstad suggests first soaking the feet in sea salt or essential oils and using a light lotion in a soothing scent, like lavender.
Kohn favors a dry treatment; she says it gives her more leverage. A light dusting of baby powder will dry the feet, she says.
- Use your fingers, thumb and sometimes your knuckle to apply pressure across the entire foot. Once you feel a tender area, apply more pressure, but not so much that it hurts.
- Professional sessions can range from 30 minutes to more than hour. If you only have a few minutes, focus on the toes, in between the toes, and along the inside edge of the foot, Kohn says.
"Working the toes alone can make you feel so much better. I do that for self-care," she says.
- Another idea for self-treatment: roll a rubber bouncy-ball along the sole of the foot, pressing in where it feels especially nice, Kohn says. For a deeper treatment, use a golf ball. It won't give as much. "You can really dig in to areas that need more attention," she says.
- After a session, be sure to drink plenty of water, Haugstad says. This will help flush out any toxins released during the session.
- Take care not to work on sensitive areas. Don't do reflexology on broken skin or an injured appendage. Instead, work on the corresponding hand.
"We all know it feels good to have our feet rubbed," Haugstad says. "We can rub our own feet and hands.
"If you get in a habit of it ... You'll find areas of your feet that you really like."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525