“You know what kind of nerves are in your feet? The same ones that network into your genitals. Your feet are like a minnow bucket full of sensory neurons, all of them wriggling around in search of sensation. Stimulate those nerves just a little, and the impulse will rocket through your entire nervous system.”
– Christopher McDougall, bestselling author of Born to Run

Chinese isn’t the only culture that believes in healing through foot manipulation. Similar practices have been found among ancient Egyptians, Native Americans and Australian aborigines. But it’s very likely that China is the only place where the modern foot massage, acupressure and reflexology practices – according to Dr. Yang Yuliang of Fudan University – now compose a RMB 20 Billion (USD 3.3 Billion) annual industry, versus RMB 10 Billion for book publishing.

She knows why your head aches

A skillful foot masseuse may know more about your life than you think. Masseurs often dispense helpful advice for their clients to reduce stress, reduce drinking, reduce sex (or even have more sex!) all based on the feeling of the skin tissue in specific target areas of each foot. These correspondences been studied for thousands of years and reveal the secret maps to bodily health and stronger energy.

Our foot soles absorb qi (which is good) as well as dampness (which is bad), while keeping (if we dress right) or leaking (if improperly) the warmth in our body. Some believe the sole of foot to be the touch point between our body and the universe.

China Simplified: Foot reflexology is proven to relieve stress and prevent illness.

A foot massage a day keeps the doctor away?

Foot reflexology is proven to relieve stress and prevent illness. Classic texts on the subject can be dictionary-thick with complex jargon and body meridian graphics so overwhelming that it feels like you’re looking at the design for Intel’s next chipset. Allow us to clarify four key points for your reading pleasure:

1. Your feet are bigger than your feet.
Acupoints on the sole of your feet correspond to six important organs – liver, gall bladder, kidneys, bladder, spleen and stomach – connected via the body’s meridian channels to the foot reflex zones.

2. Some pressure is good.
Acupressure generates circulatory stimulation. Applying pressure to the acupoints smoothens and encourages the flow of qi (body energy) and blood. Better circulation results in tension-free channels, resulting in a more harmonized and balanced body and mind.

China Simplified: Foot reflexology chart

3. Tune into Channel Y.
If talk of meridians and acupoints sounds like alien codes to you and you want to remember only one, the yongquan is the one. Yongquan means “gushing spring,” the so-called Acupoint of Longevity, because of its reviving power. The yongquan sits in the center of the foot sole, below the fleshy ball under the first toe, and is believed to be the acupoint anchoring your body/earth connection. Massaging the yongquan acupoint opens a lively channel for energy.

4. Short or venti is up to you.
Just like you don’t have to drink 20 ounces of coffee to enjoy Starbucks, you don’t need an hour-long professional reflexology therapy every time to receive the benefit. Foot bathing for 5-10 minutes before bedtime, foot massage for 20 minutes after a long day, herbal soaking for 30 minutes or even just taking 2 minutes to put warm socks on your feet all provide cumulative benefits. Make these nurturing actions a habit and your body will feel it.

The importance of feet … from Jesus to Zhang Yimou

There’s a story from the Book of John in the New Testament in which Mary applies spikenard ointment to anoint the feet of Jesus and wipe his feet with her hair. Jesus in turn was said to have washed the feet of his disciples to show his humility and kindness.

The same significance towards feet arises in the award-winning movie Raise The Red Lantern by Zhang Yimou. Foot pounding scenes provide a “heartbeat” to the story and dramatize the rising tension among four mistresses vying for the master’s attention each evening. Mistress #2 even tells Mistress #3 (character played by Gong Li), “Don’t underestimate the foot massage; if you get one everyday, you will be ruling the household!”

So if before reading this post, you only thought seriously about your feet when trying on a pair of shoes, now you know there’s so much more you can do to care for the body part as important to you as roots are to a tree.