I got curious about reflexology after my sister-in-law convinced me to let a woman at a spa rub hot rocks against my feet for an hour. By the time she was finished, I felt more relaxed and refreshed than I could ever remember feeling. I wanted to know what made reflexology "work" for me. Ariel Talmor of Sole-to-Soul in East San Diego ( sole-to-soul.com ) is a reflexology practitioner and faculty member at San Diego Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. Put simply, said Talmor, reflexology is "the stimulation of pressure points and other areas in the feet that stimulate points and other areas in the body. Everything I do is a result of my own studies and observations," and those observations have taught Talmor that "the body is a microcosm of the universe. The head is connected to the universe, the air. It is the opposite of the feet, which are connected to the earth. What I try to do is open the body to energy flow. A lot of energy is flowing through us at all times, from the top of our heads to the soles of feet and into the earth. Our feet, the lowest part, are heavy. Because they touch the ground, they are the last place in the body where energy flows before it goes into the ground. So feet can hold blocked energy."

The typical client, said Talmor, "can expect a great tune-up. They will have an overall alignment of mind, body, emotions, and spirit that leaves them rejuvenated and refreshed [ $85 for first 50-minute session, $125 for subsequent sessions]." Some say they feel more clarity, more integration, or more patience. If it sounds a touch mystical, Talmor is comfortable adopting more conventional language: "Reflexology opens up circulation to places where circulation is compromised -- this has been proven with thermal photography. When you improve circulation, you allow all the organs to breathe and function better and to restore themselves. I can help with stress management, general sluggishness, and ailments like back pain and digestive problems. But I'm not just there to fix something -- my work is a nurturing experience."

Talmor doesn't call what he's doing "massage." "I'm manipulating the feet. I do thumb- or finger-walking, pushing it forward almost like a caterpillar. These movements are meant to stimulate and break crystalline formations. Sometimes, these are found with touch; other times, with intuition. Crystalline formations are the sign of a weak energy line that needs to be strengthened. The idea is that every organ that is in the body is connected through an energy line to the feet." If the organ is not functioning at maximum efficiency, "waste material, in very minute quantities, will form gently in the feet. I think that these formations are not the blockages themselves, but signs of the real blockage."

So it's not surprising that crystal crushing is not Talmor's ultimate goal. "What I do is optimize energy centers," starting with an application of the five elements of Chinese medicine. "In Chinese medicine, the five elements are metal, fire, water, earth, and wood. I've borrowed these principles and applied them to the toes as a part of advanced reflexology. We have five toes. Each toe has an energy line and represents an energy center. These represent organs, and they also go to who you are as a person. The big toe is metal, which corresponds to thinking and perception, and also with the lungs and colon. The second toe is fire -- habits and charisma and also the heart and small intestine."

Talmor was giving me the short version; for the third toe, he got a touch more expansive: "The third toe is water -- instinct, balance, and boundaries as well as the kidneys. It's also about fear. If someone was raised with a lot of fear, there will usually be a redness or abnormality -- like a corn or a bump -- on the middle toe of the left foot. [The left side is your past.] It could also be there because of kidney issues. And the kidney also corresponds to the middle of the foot," just a little further up the energy line.

We continued on to the fourth toe. "That's earth -- the emotional center and also your liver, pancreas, and spleen. It's very powerful. The fifth is wood -- creativity and the reproductive organs. If a lady is missing a toenail on her fifth toe, it could be a sign of menstrual or fertility conditions. If a person can't spread their fifth toe away from their fourth, "it's a sign that someone leads a very routine life. Sometimes, they're bored, or they feel stuck or afraid."

Determining whether blockages are brought on by conditions that are physical (fertility) or mental (boredom) is part of Talmor's tactile investigation. "I practice an openness to the impressions that come through me while I'm working. Sometimes I'm wrong, but I'd say 85 percent of the time I say things that hit home with the client."

Then East meets West: "I combine the elements of Chinese medicine with the four elements used in Western astrology -- air, fire, water, and earth. In this model, all the toes correspond to the air, which is thinking. The ball of the foot is fire -- passion and stamina. The arch is water -- emotions and flow. The heel is earth -- basic needs, your foundations. I work with the five elements and the four elements at the same time. If I work on the big toe, it corresponds to thinking from both the Chinese and Western elements. By working on the big toe, I can actually affect the way you think by opening you up to optimal energetic flow." But that's not all. "The big toe is also connected to the colon and large intestine. After two or three sessions, some clients will have a lot of bowel movements -- this helps to remove toxins from the body. Or when I work on the fourth toe, which is the emotional center, people might have excessive dreaming."

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