“Yeeeoww,” I launch myself vertically off the seat and nearly hit the roof. “What point is that?” I ask. The crinkly man stops momentarily to reach out for a laminated piece of paper to show me a diagram and points to the evil little spot causing me grief. “Ahh, the bladder” I sigh.
I am in the back streets of Suzhou in the Jiangsu Province adjacent to Shanghai visiting a Shifu “master” whose hands are aptly working their way through mapped routes all over my foot. This is my first reflexology appointment so I thought it was quite appropriate to have my virgin sole-jabbing experience at the home of acupressure – China.
To best experience this ancient art previously known as zone therapy – with Indian, Egyptian and later Chinese origins, I want to be in an old part of town. This, I felt, better paid homage to a 5000 year old tradition. So, in contrast to the shiny Shanghai – less than an hour away where reflective skyscrapers, multi-coloured disco-lit skys and futuristic ‘Jetsen TV’ styled towers peer overhead, I travel to the water town of Suzhou on the shores of Lake Tai with its canals, stone bridges and gardens. The ancient city revealing layers of history through its peeled paint, Chinese characters, pagodas and beautifully styled calligraphy lined walls.
Reflexology, otherwise known as ‘hocus-pocus’ (to my fellow foot friend I force to come along – now half asleep in the recliner beside me), is an ancient form of curing disease, but without the medicine. Its technique involves applying pressure to points on the feet, hands or ears. But since the sole of the foot has the highest concentration of nerve endings anywhere in the body – over 7,000 in total, it’s typically a treatment done in ‘tootsie and toe’ territory.
The nerves and energy zones travelling through each internal organ and gland end in the feet resulting in a mini microcosm of the entire body being charted out on the sole’s surrounds. “So my ticklish arches must mean that my kidneys are really funny!” I jokingly say to the Shifu. He looks up from behind my toenails and smiles sweetly.
My toes are worked on next, helping me with a bit of sinus clearing before a chest and lung massage on the balls and tops of my feet. The spine and each of the vertebrae are given a work out along the inner arches and some centrally located internal organs are pressed before energy clearing the reproductive system around the back and sides of my ankle.
The pressure is firm – not too soft to be ticklish or too hard to be painful. The reflexologist searches for sensitive spots and tenderness that may indicate imbalances within the organs or blocked nerve pathways. He is also feeling for any irregular thickness in the feet, providing an indication of a person’s inner health. The location of corns and bunions, for example, are interpreted as external manifestations of problems within that corresponding body zone. Other shapes being felt through his hands include tiny granular waste matter such as uric crystals and calcium deposits that can build up in the reflex points. Just like a knotted muscle in the shoulder from lactic acid build up, the reflexologist breaks down the accumulated toxins to open energy pathways and improve blood circulation to the area.
It’s fascinating to receive a one hour full body massage through my feet and save a couple of sensitive spots that are worked on until the tenderness subsides and one crunchy zone around my right shoulder and neck, I seem to be in A1 working order. My feet feel fantastic, so it is back to exploring the cities streets I go to fully appreciate their worth, but not before my fabulous foot master reminds me – “you drink water.”