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Moving into the new Millennium of reflexology practice.

Written: 30th Sep 2011

The ancient art of reflexology has been through a delightful evolution over recent years.  Some of the principles of reflexology practice remain unchanged whilst others have developed. In many ways there has been a substantial shift in the practice of reflexology over the past twenty years, as we now have numerous options of styles of reflexology available to us.  Some practitioners use a hard pressure whilst others like myself use a Gentle Touch. Even the way we are perceived has changed.

When I entered the arena of reflexology over 19 years ago, I was very aware of how fringe or “weird” the subject appeared to be to those who were unfamiliar with it. It is a blessing that the subject has now moved from being viewed as “fringe” to a subject of fascination, and from reflexology being thought of as “weird”, to being recognised as a wonderful (full of wonder) experience. 

Complementary vs Alternative

When I came to reflexology in the 1980’s the subject seemed to be viewed by the general public as distinctly an “alternative” option and hence the phraseology that was adopted in many peoples’ mind. 

As a teacher in the subject for over eleven years, I have seen a real move towards the serious and recognised value of reflexology as a complementary therapy. Reflexology is now recognised as “complementary” to other types of treatment, rather than as an “alternative”. This is a good thing as we, as reflexologists, are not an alternative to anything.  We aim to “complement” everything that our clients are doing to assist themselves. We “complement” (add to) anyone’s actions in order to help them, hence being complementary practitioners.

The practice of reflexology is now accepted alongside a whole range of options that are available to people - as demonstrated by reflexologists working in GP practices, hospitals, hospices, prisons, physiotherapy practices etc.  I have seen students qualify and move into all of these areas of professional practice and many, many more. 

 Millennium shift

When I started teaching, I used to say to my students that we were on the crest of the wave, with the wave building and about to break. However the real shift seemed to take place over the beginning of the new millennium.  It brought some wonderful and important realisations and awareness’s that affected all areas of complementary therapy and specifically reflexology.  We can now say that the wave has broken, as reflexology has flowed into all sectors of the community.  People from all walks of life will now seek out a professionally qualified reflexologist. Reflexology is also being found in private practice, charitable sectors, and more recently within the business communities.  Reflexology is as appropriate for men as it is for women, for young or old, for those who are well, or unwell.  It is truly a holistic therapy that is open to all.

Reflexology evolving.

The biggest shift has been in the range of ways in which reflexology is practised.  We have William Fitzgerald, the American ear, nose and throat surgeon to thank for re-discovering, publicising and teaching reflexology when he discovered the method of Zone Therapy.  He passed his knowledge onto Joe S Riley, and “the mother of reflexology” Eunice D Ingham.  Doreen Bailey brought reflexology to the UK in 1966, having trained with Eunice Ingham.  She began the first tuition in reflexology in the UK and passed on the principles she had learnt from the USA. Both William Fitzgerald and Eunice Ingham taught that a firm or hard pressure was needed on the reflex points in order to break down the uric acid crystals that had accumulated.  The original works of Eunice Ingham give a beautiful account of her exploration of the subject and encourages the reader to explore and become proficient in the art. 

Historically therefore, it has become a commonly accepted principle that we need to use force to break down the uric acid crystals, before the client can expect a benefit.  This method of practice has been followed for many years, and yet I believe that there may be another way.  I personally do not like pain and do not like to inflict pain on others either.  I believe that there are different methods of using reflexology according to each individual.  I believe that there is no specifically right or wrong way, just the right way for each person or practitioner.  Some people prefer a firm pressure in order to feel that something is happening and yet others are more likely to benefit from a subtle and gentle method.

If some people know that they may (or are likely to) experience pain, then their barriers are likely to go up, and that in itself may block or interfere with the pathways of energy that reflexology is harnessing.  Some of the more subtle and gentle approaches to reflexology may be more acceptable to people who are sensitive and like an enjoyable treatment.

 I believe that it is unnecessary to cause any pain or discomfort to the client, as the methodology of practice is significant.  It is also a relief to practitioners who find that they cannot manage to apply the heavy pressure to the client, as it has caused them to experience pain or discomfort in their fingers, thumbs, wrist, elbow, or neck. There have been cases of practitioners who have had to reduce or curtail the number of treatments that they can do, as they experience pain in a similar way to RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury).

The Gentle Touch.

As a practitioner and teacher of Gentle Touch™ Reflexology, I have spent years evaluating the efficiency and results of a gentle method of treatment.  I encourage students to try an experiment for themselves - to press firmly with their thumb on their arm for a few seconds, wait a few moments (for their skin and thumb to recover) and then press lightly to the side of the previous press.  In both cases the student should feel their arm including the bone, however some people can also feel the skin layers, blood vessels, muscles etc as well as the bones. In other words it possible to actually feel more if we go lighter!  I have been questioned many times by reflexologists who use a heavier pressure and who are unsure how we feel things with such a light pressure, yet when students choose to learn something like Gentle Touch ™ Reflexology, they often acknowledge that they are actually sensing and feeling much more.

To crush or not to crush?

I have read numerous books and articles on reflexology and attended some superb lectures, courses and seminars and notice that there seems to be a generally held principle about reflexology. This principle is that a reflexologist will break down the uric acid crystals in order to help the patient towards better health. There are many practitioners who follow the Ingham method and use a firm pressure to break down the crystalline deposits.  Historically this is how we were given the information on what we are aiming to achieve, however we now know that it is important that we focus on the client and not their condition.  Equally we should focus on the client and not their “crystals" and blockages.

As reflexologists we can make a promise to ourselves to offer our best for each and every client, however we cannot make any promises of cures or even of any results, as we have no idea what will happen with each client, or what is “meant to be”.

It is the healing potential that we are working with and our role is to act as facilitators of their own healing.  It is a subtle progression to realise that we do not have to break down anyone’s crystals as it is not us (the practitioners) who have the power, it is the client who has the power. 

Practitioner breaks down the crystals

Practitioner -->Breaks down the uric acid crystals / crystalline deposits -->Client gets better

Clients break down their own crystals

Practitioner focuses on the client --> client gets better and therefore their “uric crystals” blockages break down.

In the first example the reflexologist has the power and in the second example the client retains their power.

Reflexologists = the facilitators

Our power as practitioners is nothing when compared with the power of the therapy. When I practice Gentle Touch ™ Reflexology I can feel the power of the therapy and am very aware that any force that is physically utilised is nothing in comparison to “the force”. 

Brenda’s story

Brenda came to learn about reflexology having already completed another training course in reflexology.  Brenda had always wanted to work very lightly and gently with her clients. She had heard about Gentle Touch ™ Reflexology and decided to undertake the full practitioner diploma course rather than the conversion course.  Almost immediately Brenda reported that she was getting better results from her clients, who enjoyed the treatments; however some of her clientele wanted to continue the original pressure, as they believed that was better for them. This is the great thing about the variety of different types of reflexology that are now currently available.  There is always the right treatment or practitioner for the client. The individual needs simply to look and find the right method for them. Brenda is now practicing Gentle Touch ™ Reflexology whilst also adapting to anyone who prefers the heavier pressure.

This is another way of looking at reflexology in this day and age. We have moved on from thinking that we all have to undertake reflexology in the same way and with the same methodology.  Maybe it is now time to open the doors and our hearts to the great variety of ways that it can be practiced.  Some practice with a hard pressure and some with a gentle touch whilst some clients need to feel the pain (no pain no gain?) and others dislike pain and choose a delightful experience.  There is no such thing as right or wrong. It is just what is right for each person and we individually need to maintain the right to choose our own route.

I believe that we are moving forward into a very exciting era, as there are so many developments, which seem to be happening quite fast. The pace seems to have increased since we moved into the 21st century.  The vibrations have altered and we appear to be being asked to achieve higher levels of awareness and consciousness.

The future

We cannot really know where we are going within reflexology.  However the great diversification that has already taken place, and which has been shown to be a good thing, gives us an indication that there are many more progressions ahead. The forthcoming registration process is vital for the Industry as so many people are now getting on the band wagon.  It is important that standards of training are being protected and upgraded, as students need to be confident that they are getting the level of training that they require.

Qualification vs. qualified.

There are now so many places that anyone can learn about reflexology (including some distant learning courses). As a result both the public and potential students need to be clear about their requirements.  Are they looking merely for a qualification or to be properly qualified?  In the last millennium there were far fewer options for training - now it is harder to know the level or depth of a practitioners training, professionalism and understanding. The rationale and understanding of how the energy systems work must be explained before reflexology can be practiced. Anyone who has completed a thorough and in depth course (ie an Association of Reflexologists accredited course giving the qualification MAR) will have covered these issues and should be appropriately insured.


The new millennium is taking us into an exciting era and we will see so many more people turn to this simple massage of the feet or hands in order to bring about health, happiness, and comfort in their lives. This is a possibility for all in the gentle and effective world of reflexology.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey within Gentle Touch ™ Reflexology over the past 19 years and look forward to what is coming next. Each of us can choose the right route forward for ourselves and I feel very positive about the future for us all.

Written By Sue Ricks

This article was published in the Postive Health Magazine, in October 2004.