Nearly a year ago, my best friend, “Q,” had surgery to correct a bunion that had bothered her for years; two days ago, she underwent the same procedure on the other foot. Although the result will be two happy feet (and one extra-happy friend!), I had the same visceral response to both surgeries: Anything that inflicts significant stress or pain to feet always makes me cringe. Because I am deeply attuned to the reflexology correlation between feet and body, I can’t help but think about the impact of any foot procedure on the corresponding body region.

In Q’s case, she also suffers from chronic neck issues. It is not lost on me that her bunions seemed to bother her increasingly after she was thrown from her horse into a wall, thereby further injuring her already troublesome neck. Bunions emerge sideways out of the base of the first metatarsal (aka Big Toe); that toe and the bunion area correspond to the cervical vertebra and upper thoracic spine—Q’s hot spots. So, therein lies a chicken or egg query: Did the neck injury aggravate the bunions, or did the worsening bunions increase the neck pain?

In my opinion, whenever something goes awry in your feet, it is wise to check in with its anatomical correlate in reflexology. Fundamentally, the sole of the foot is a “map” of the body, wherein the spine is the medial, or inner, edge of the foot; the toes represent the head area; the organs are “arranged” throughout the mid-foot, as they would be depicted in an anatomical drawing; and the heel corresponds with the pelvic and hip area. Within each of these regions lie more specific breakdowns, e.g., the eye and ear reflexes lie at the base of the four toes (on the sole side); the sinuses in the toe tips; and the throat and thyroid lie at the base of the big toe.

Another good example of how reflexology can serve informationally and therapeutically can be seen with a different friend, “A.” She is elderly and, with an indomitable spirit, endures severe swelling in her feet, as well as arthritis throughout most of her joints. I work on her feet and lower legs regularly; this is palliative treatment at best, as her circulatory and bladder issues will continue to result in swelling. That said, when I am tending to her feet, I apply gentle pressure and qi circling all around her heel and ankle: She is unaware that the reflexes for the bladder and entire pelvic region lie here, yet the tenderness in those areas becomes immediately evident.

And last week, we discovered extreme soreness near her left little toe. A few days later, she related that upon turning onto her left side in bed, her shoulder ached considerably. Sure enough, the shoulder reflex lies on the outer edge of the foot, just below the little toe. “A” then told me that she had had bursitis in her shoulder years ago, and she suspected a recurrence. Apparently, the little toe was the first to know about the return visit!

It will be no surprise that I am an ardent advocate for foot care on a daily basis. My own routine is a nightly one: I find that the techniques I use also promote deep relaxation and deeper sleep. I use three sizes and firmnesses of balls: small, very hard rubber; tennis ball; and small, somewhat firm ball. Under each foot, I use each ball: tennis for overall up/down and side/side, and the little ones for specific spots that need attention. I like the slightly less hard small ball for use under the base of my toes.

If I should discover a particularly tender spot, I know that I need to apply some sort of healing or movement modality to the area. In recent weeks, I have had periodic discomfort in my ankle joints. Although I am fairly sure that this is primarily a structural issue (which I address with qigong rolling and somatic exercises), I also am mindful that the area corresponds to the pelvic and groin area, specifically the lymph nodes in that area. Even before I analyzed the reflexology relevance of the ankle issue, I intuitively had begun to practice kundalini and massage techniques designed to stimulate the flow of lymph.

Following the ball-rolling process, I rub each foot with lotion, often adding a therapeutically specific essential oil blend that I concoct in the moment. Once the oil or lotion has penetrated, I wriggle my toes into separators on both feet: I imagine that one could use pedicure pads, as well. This aligning of the toes feeds into their respective ligaments and foot bones; from a reflexology standpoint, the toe-spreading thus also contributes to spinal and skeletal alignment.

May you find relief…

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