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The Reflexology Path

by Barbara Kunz

A year of walking the reflexology path ... Yes, June 5 will mark the one-year anniversary for me. I'd been using reflexology mats with their synthetic rocks for some twenty years but this was a different pursuit. As opposed to my previous sporadic efforts, this was a frequent and consistent walk on the rocks with a minimum of forty minutes three times a week. At the end of the year, I pause here to ask myself: was it worth it? My answer is definitive: YES. I wouldn't have missed it for the world and I won't be quitting any time soon.

It started as an exploratory project. We were, after all, writing a book for inclusion in a kit and we wanted some perspective. I started with the program followed by participants in an Oregon Research Institute (ORI) study. See below. I then branched off using tips gathered from Chinese Web sites discovered by using Google translate.

My conclusion: Walking the reflexology path is more than worth the effort. My own informal tabulation of results included: improved circulation, overall body temperature and digestion. More of a surprise was the exercise effect: shaping up the muscles of buttocks and legs, stronger movement and better posture. My feet liked the heavy pressure produced by the gravity-based experience. They felt lighter and more connected to the ground after walking. Over time, they just seemed to feel good period. There were also surprises early on: feelings of euphoria (as reported in a Japanese study of bamboo stepping) and better typing skills. These have been replaced as time has gone by. I now feel more of an overall sense of well-being. My typing skills are back to normal.

Is injury possible? Yes, just as over-doing anything, walking the reflexology path can be overdone. For me, it was walking backwards doing it as much as walking forward. It caused pain in the fascia of my heel. Solution: I cut down on the amount of walking backwards.

Are there undesirable effects? For me, again it was over-doing. Early in my program, walking too much resulted in hip joint discomfort. I also found my legs to feel heavy at times. In both instances, I quit walking and became mindful of how much walking was optimal for me.

My Program

I followed the ORI study protocol: walking three times a week for 30 minutes over an eight week period plus warm-up and cool down periods of 5 minutes each. My variations included use of bamboo stepping as a warm-up and cool down instead of ORI's rolling the foot on a wooden roller. While the ORI program consisted of actual mat walking of 12 to 25 minutes per session, I walked a solid 30 minutes. After the 8-week period, I considered my results. Then, influenced by information from China, I decided to walk every day. Some days it was 15 minutes (as suggested by the information) due to time constraints or because I just didn't feel like it. I continued a minimum of three 40-minute sessions a week. There were holes in this schedule. I missed a threeweek period because of travel and a busy schedule.

What could you expect if you tried this?

I would definitely say that results will vary quite simply because each individual will come to the experience with varying circumstances: age, previous history of physical exercise, and level of health among other things

Negative effects will also vary with these factors. Those with pre-existing foot or joint injury or pain should proceed cautiously. Consider whether or not mat walking is for you. Pay close attention to your reactions if you do mat walk. Start off with short intervals so you can judge the results. Be aware of pain levels and the potential for achiness in joints.

Your response to mat or rock walking will also vary with how much of a workout your feet have previously received. If you are just starting out, this is stepping off into the fast lane particularly if your feet live in shoes full time. There is the ouch factor of walking on cobblestoned surfaces and some may find the mat walking to be a painfully tough surface on which to walk. My feet are veterans of sensory experience and to me it was the addition to my routine of a deep pressure experience. You may want to start by trying less challenging walking surfaces grass, carpet, jute door mat, broom handle. Another approach to mat walking is: wearing heavy socks; starting out slowly; walking on and then immediately off the mat gradually building up the amount of time spent walking on the cobblestones. At no time would I recommend exceeding one's pain limits.


ORI found that mat walking study participants (all over the age of 60) experienced improvements not shown by participants who just walked. Participants walked three times a week for 45 minutes over an eight week period including warm-up and cool-off periods. Mat walking was divided into intervals of walking ranging from 1 to 5 minutes with foot rolling in between intervals. The total time of actual mat walking ranged from 12 initially to 25 minutes eventually. Mat walking participants showed improvements of: lowered systolic blood pressure; improvement in ability to control falls; significantly lessened pain; significantly reduced daytime sleepiness; "improved perceptions of psycho physical well-being;" and "increased levels of self-reported IADLs (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living)."

Reports found on Chinese Web pages note results such as: prevention of colds and flu; improved circulation to the whole body and brain; improved functioning of many of the body's organs; and improved mental acuity. Tap shek (stepping stone) fitness is recommended by the Chinese government. The construction of reflexology paths is a part of construction of other facilities (e. g. soccer fields and badminton courts) to encourage the Chinese people to participate in a national program of fitness.

One Japanese study reported on the results of including bamboo stepping with other measures to help ease the stress of mothers of hospitalized children. The bamboo stepping was a favored part of the program and succeeded in reducing stress.

The Reflexology Path , Available at Barnes & Noble stores everywhere September 14, 2009

by Barbara and Kevin Kunz

The Reflexology Paths of Japan are unique among reflexology paths of the world. More information The paths commonly found throughout Asia consist of a sidewalk-like walking surface of embedded stone surface extending for the full length of the walk. More Information Elements from nature such as bark, logs, stones, moss, mud and more are found on the barfusspads (bare foot paths) of Germany. More Information Such paths target all reflex areas of the foot with occasional specific pressure applied to a reflex area as the foot meets a well placed object.

The Reflexology Paths of Japan are designed to work each and every specific reflex area of the foot with carefully designed and crafted walking surfaces. The paths are found all over‹in urban areas and park settings: city parks, nature parks, fitness facilities, natural hot springs businesses, business parks, even a car park garage and the roof of a sewerage treatment plant. In some instances the Paths are included in theme parks with hot springs and / or facilities for traditional bathing.

Another feature unique to many Japanese paths is the "stepping in place" feature. Here the path walker pauses and steps in place on an embedded rock designed to work a specific, hard-to-reach reflex area. Typically, the base of the toes‹the eye / ear reflex area or the arch ‹ are targeted.

Most of Reflexology Paths of Japan are variations on the country's first reflexology path at a Shiseido cosmetics factory designed by and built under the direction of Mr. Abe Shunichi around 1990. Mr. Shunichi was given the task of helping his company's health by considering construction of a health facility. ("Our factory manager's policy is that 'good products cannot be produced by staff with health problems.'") A walking path and gym with equipment were both considered but then Mr. Shunichi drew on his personal experience with reflexology and decided to build a path to walk on and receive the benefits of reflexology.

The true genius of Mr. Shunicihi's work was to design individual segments in the sidewalk-like structure. Each individual segment would include rocks specific to working each of reflexology's reflex areas. Various materials were tested and a decision resulted that nine patterns "suitably press the Rwo-Shr points." The original Shiseido reflexology path is a seventy-five meter walk around an irregular rectangle, surrounded by green grass, trees and a picnic table. The walking time is 15 minutes. And, yes, research at Shiseido showed his efforts accomplished an improved productivity and a gradual decrease in health care costs. Mr. Shunichi was inspired by the work of Father Josef Eugster of Taiwan whose reflexology work has inspired use of the reflexology idea throughout Asia.

The Reflexology Paths of Japan are funded both by business and government. Such efforts draw on a rich history of reflexology, expectations for health improvement with its use, and a tradition of self reliance in working toward health oneself or within the family. Such a part of life are the paths that Web sites include maps with locations and tourism Web sites list opinions on the various reflexology paths. Also judged are the foot baths or hot springs frequently located with paths. Pretty scenery is appreciated as noted by one reflexology path walker who enjoyed: the "sound of the waves and smell of pineŠAnd better blood flow in the legs as pleasantly, to promenade along the shoreline intact. Comforted by just looking out in the sea breeze while the ocean. Unfortunately in today's overcast, but could not see, who want to horizon, blue sky and waves are received in return, always majestic Fuji can be seen from here." Of another path it is noted: "Layout is monotonous, gentle stimulation. The sense of satisfaction is not enough."

In the classic Shiseido design (see below), nine segments of underfoot materials targeting specific parts of the foot and associated with specific reflex areas are placed in side-walk like sections, some of which are repeated over the course of the path. The path begins with three types of gravel embedded in mortar each in a separate segment. This section is designed to work all reflex areas except those in the arch. In another segment, rounded log halves apply pressure to the reflex areas of the arch, echoing the Japanese tradition of takefumi, stepping on halved bamboo. A bridge is included both for beauty and echoing the bridges placed in the traditional Japanese garden to provide stimulation to reflex areas of the toes when walking up and to reflex areas of the arch. Further segments include small gravel, large flat stones with sharp edges.

As you embark on your virtual tour of the reflexology paths of Japan, notice common elements:

  • differing embedded stone sizes
  • a by-pass (with one side for a more ouch-producing stone size and the other half a less challenging
  • stone size)
  • a bridge with halved logs (for working the toes)
  • halved logs in pavement
  • hand rails for support
  • foot reflexology charts displayed for reading
  • signs noting which part of the foot the particular segment is intended
  • Shiseido

    A design plan very similar to the original reflexology path at Shiseido is pictured here. A construction company was also launched to build reflexology paths. Pictured is an indoor reflexology path suitable for a small room in the house and priced at 4,000,000 Yen including installation.

    Click here to view pictures.

    Pictured here are other Shiseido reflexology path products for sale including an larger indoor path (250,000 Yen) and a cobblestone mat (2,500 Yen).

    Click here to view pictures.

    Hatagaya Building in Shibuya-ku section of Tokyo

    It doesn't get better than this urban reflexology path in the shadow of the Hatagaya Building in the Shibuya-ku section of Tokyo. The path is integrated into a beautifully landscaped setting with all the underfoot elements that make a total Japanese reflexology path experience: various rock surfaces, a bridge feature, stand-in-place stepping elements, and‹to cap it all off‹a water walkway for children resembling a gently flowing, rock carpeted mountain stream (although as an adult I'd certainly want to try it.).

    This link will get you to an interesting parking garage feature. Take a look then scroll to the bottom of the page and press the "Following "Hatagaya, Shibuya-ku"" button for the Hatagaya Building Path.

    Click here to view pictures

    Pine Forest on the Coast (Yaizu Discovery Park in Shizuoka Prefecture)

    A lovely natural setting makes for an outstanding reflexology path located in a pine forest on the coast. This path was the most frequently mentioned and pictured during an Internet survey. One individual notes the smell of the pine forest and (being) "Comforted by just looking out in the sea breeze while the ocean." In addition, "always majestic (Mount) Fuji can be seen from here." Detailed photos are posted. A famous planetarium and heated pool are also located at the Discovery Park.

    Click here to view pictures

    Hot Springs / Historical Theme Park

    "Footbath gardens" are a part of a historically themed hot springs. "At the Oedo Onsen Monogatari near Tokyo, the Edo Period is recreated." Visitors don "yukata (casual cotton kimono-in different colours, different designs and in different sizes) & matching sash." The visitor can "walk on the foot reflexology path or bath your feet while seated around a square footbath. "Cost: "2,827 Yen for Adults, 1,575 Yen for Children. Extra for massage, foot reflexology, sand sauna." Here is an enjoyable accounting of a visit to the hot springs theme park complete with photos.

    Click here to view pictures

    Asahi-city Sports and Outdoor Attractions

    A city sports facility includes baseball field, tennis courts, a gymnasium and reflexology path. The surroundings for a walk on the path are pretty spartan. Close-up photos of individual segments of the reflexology path help envision the Japanese design. (These segments look the same as those pictured at the Discovery Park at Yaidu making one wonder it there is a manufacturer for these segments or at least a blueprint.). Included are single stones embedded in foot outlines to work very specific parts of the foot. Note also the use of the word "fingers" intended to mean "toes" on a segment of the path consisting of straight lines of stones where one is meant to stand and step in place, exerting pressure at the base of the toes.

    Click here to view pictures

    You Tube Video

    A YouTube video of a child walking on a reflexology path shows both segments of a path and a child's reaction. (It is fortunate that a hand rail is conveniently located to help the child lessen the impact of some the challenge of underfoot stones.)

    Click here to view video

    Kakegawa-City School Reflexology Path

    Reflexology Path between school buildings shows close-up photos of path segments paired with diagram of showing placement of the particular segment.

    Click here to view pictures

    Spa Hotel with Health Experiences

    A spa hotel in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture offers a two-floor bathing / health experience. On one floor one receives admission to: a medicated bath (with bath of the week), cypress bath, outdoor bath, large tub with jacuzzi (price: 600 yen for adults / 300 yen for children). The second floor includes: reflexology (health) promenade, eight different jacuzzis, hot bed, sauna, mist sauna, infrared warming rooms, bath walking (price: 700 yen for adults / 400 yen for children). Admission to both floors is 1,200 yen for adults and 500 yen for children.

    Click to view pictures

    Kusu Otter Footbath Water Park: Theme Park and Health Spa

    Visitors can walk the reflexology path ("Boardwalk pressing points in the soles of the feet"), drink water from the hot spring ("Hot springs or spring water drinking can have health benefits") or sit and soak feet in a footbath.

    Click here to view pictures

    Multiple Reflexology Paths / Healthy Promenades

    Multiple paths are listed at this web site. Click here

    Okabe Town

    Reflexology path pictured at a park in the country. See above

    Fukuroi Aino

    Includes a critique of this city park feature‹"Layout is monotonous, gentle stimulation. The sense of satisfaction is not enough." See above.

    Roof Top of a Sewage Treatment Plant

    Situated in the corner of a park is a water treatment plant in Shizuoka City with a roof top lawn, flower garden and reflexology path.

    Click to view pictures

    Park across from Tokushukai Hospital, Shizuoka City

    A park across from the hospital includes a unique reflexology path: "gentle touch foot walkway" with elements made of wood. Designed after three years of input from hospital workers and locals. (GeoCities origin).

    Click to view pictures

    Promenade health spa footbath Kamisuwan in Japan's "Northern Alps"

    ",,,adjacent to Geyser Park Lake Suwa and Suwa foot bath with views of the Northern Alps and sit on the bench, boardwalk to stimulate acupuncture points of foot healthŠ" While no photos of the reflexology path are available, photos of the surrounding mountain area near Nagano show the inclusion of a path in a mountain spa. It is noted that: "'Road nature stroll bath' in bare feet and step on the panel that was created to stimulate the acupuncture points projections, promote blood circulation, which ensure better health. Surprisingly difficult to walk, but it hurts, that's why it is effective."

    Click to view pictures

    East Meets West
    © jgroup. Image from

    by Barbara and Kevin Kunz

    What research will be needed to take reflexology out of the category of pseudo-science in the West? The question gave us pause. For one thing, reporters usually ask if there is any research into reflexology. For another, our answer was that the future is here: there is sufficient research to explain reflexology in terms of science. Whether or not scientists will listen is the real issue.

    You see, the reporter was from the Singapore Strait Times, circulation 400,000. Reflexology is culturally entrenched in Singapore and throughout the Far East. It's a huge industry with competing chains of reflexology spas each with hundreds of outlets and tens of thousands of employees. Parks and condominium complexes are dotted with reflexology paths where people walk for their health. Extensive research from this region not only confirms the generally recognized health benefits of reflexology but prompts its use by personnel in medical facilities.

    Meanwhile, half a world away in the United Kingdom, a BBC program dismissing reflexology was broadcast March 24, 2008. The presenter, Professor Kathy Sykes, a physics professor at the University of Bristol, discounted 15 reflexology research studies without discussion and termed the validity of reflexology as on par with the touch offered at "cuddling parties."

    Does reflexology bring out the human side of science, the scientists so entrenched in their culture and history that they disregard any research that does not match their world view no matter how profound? The BBC program demonstrated a half-hearted attempt to research reflexology and reflected a cultural bias casting the field in an unfair light. Rather than a scientific mission, it was a response obtained through intuition rather than through reasoning or observation.

    Some forty-two reflexology research studies are listed at PubMed, repository for research found to be valid by the world's most rigorous of scientific standards and maintained by the American government. A little more digging unveils studies that draw a picture of "mechanisms of action," physiological reasons why reflexology would have an impact on individuals' specific health problems. These studies use the most up-to-date and high tech medical measurements to show how reflexology effects the body: EEG, EKG, functional MRI and Doppler sonogram. No matter what the interpretation, these studies demonstrate that there's something very real going on in the body in response to reflexology work.

    So ingrained is their cultural bias that scientists miss the big picture. As demonstrated by these studies, there are real people who are now and can be in the future helped to a healthier life by reflexology. Research shows that reflexology helps cancer patients, phantom limb pain sufferers, hemodialysis patients, diabetes patients and many more ill individuals whose need for help exceeds that available through medical practices. Research chronicles how they have been helped by reflexology. And, then there are those of us who choose to add reflexology to our lives to combat illness and / or to maintain our health. Reflexology studies merely bolster what common sense has taught us. We have used reflexology and we are healthier for it.

    © 2008 Kunz and Kunz

    by Barbara and Kevin Kunz


    "In nearly every village in Taiwan they have built special paths of pebbles and every morning at 3 or 4 o'clock, people walk barefoot around the pebble path for a half hour before they go to work. Hundreds, even thousands do this. It has become a way of life. I think this is very important. We eat three times a day for our health. For me it is like praying or meditation, I need it for my bodily health and I think every body needs it." (Father Josef Eugster, (British) Reflexions , March 1995, pp. 16-17.)

    Call it stone stepping or cobblestone-mat walking. Or, call it walking on a Reflexology Path or a Barefoot Path. By any name, it's the tradition of walking on a surface specifically designed to pursue health. Reports of associated health benefits typically are based on word-of-mouth - until now. The Chinese tradition of "stone stepping" has been undergone controlled testing at the Oregon Research Institute. Scientists found that the older adult participants "experienced significant improvements in mental and physical well-being." In addition the study found the activity to be an answer to the quest for a "simple, convenient, and readily accessible exercise programs that will reduce health problems and improve quality of life of the aging population."

    To the bare-footed reflexology path users around the world, the proof is in what they've been doing for years. The bare-footed exercise is grounded in the traditions of its location. Special paths have been built in parks, spas, condominium complexes and country clubs across Asia. In Germany and Austria, one embarks on a hike through nature with bare feet making contact with specially selected surfaces. Ideas of "acupoints" in Asia and "reflexzonmassage" in Germany tie the walking to the health of the whole body.


    In Asia, the history of the reflexology path begins with cobblestone paths. Cobblestone was the common building material for paths and roads. One elderly Japanese remembers villagers volunteering their time to repair the roads near the village. The availability of these surfaces for transportation probably lead informally to the tradition of walking on them for health.

    Kunz and Kunz currently speculate that the recent interest and building boom in cobblestone paths in Asia is a further impact of the work of one man, Father Josef Eugster. Thanks to the work of this Swiss Jesuit priest who heads a parish in Taiwan attention was rekindled in ancient Chinese foot working traditions some twenty- five years ago. Since that time foot work has spread throughout Asia. All across Asia, in China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore, the impact has reverberated. Reflexology practitioners have set up shop. Singapore's Chinatown is known for its reflexology clinics. Singapore malls include reflexology businesses. Japanese tourists travel to Taiwan to experience the work of that country's reflexology practitioners. A Japanese woman who operates a chain of reflexology parlors in Japan is noted to be one of Japan's leading taxpayers. Research is conducted by Chinese medical doctors and reflexology is a common therapy in the Chinese medical system.

    In Germany and Austria, attention has been paid to the feet throughout history. Both water and pressure applied to the feet are traditionally seen to impact the whole body. One traditional practice, kneippen, popularized by Pastor Sebastian Kneipp in the 1800's, consists of "wading" on wet grass or in shallow water to stimulate the internal organs, strengthen the immune system, and help the body to heal itself. "Reflezonmassage" began in the early 1900's simultaneously with the development of zone therapy in the US. The practices were both further refined to the application of pressure techniques to the feet to impact specific parts of the body. Today, some call the Barefoot Path " do-it-yourself" reflexology. In the tradition of Kneipp, walkers on the Barefoot Path might have access to "kneippen," a walk through water with rocks.

    American reflexologists first became aware of Asian interest in walking on varied surfaces for health purposes following presentations at the Rwo Shr Health '90 Worldwide Conference Tokyo in July 1990. (The organization is named for Father Josef. Rwo Shr is Mandarin Chinese for Josef.) Participants Barbara and Kevin Kunz became interested and, over the years, have written about the ideas surrounding the presentations. The 1990 presentations were: "Healthy Stroll Path" at a Shiseido factory in Japan, a scientific study of walking on a beaded mat, and a moving personal account of the benefits of walking on a varied surface by the 80 year-old Mr. Keichi.

    Differences and Similarities

    The similarities between Asian and European traditions and paths are striking: (1) Traditions of doing something actively to impact one's health; (2) Traditions of doing something to one part of the body to impact the whole body; (3) Traditions of doing something to specific parts of the feet to impact specific parts of the body; (4) Doing something natural to improve one's health; (5) Use of materials found commonly in one's surroundings to construct paths; (6) Building paths in public areas; and (7) Use of the paths as an inducement to entice potential visitors or customers.

    The differences are striking as well: (1) The size of the path system - compact in Asia and sprawling in Europe. Think 75 m. in Asia and 3500 m. in Europe; (2) The surface underfoot - cobblestone in Asia and mud, logs, stone, moss and more in Europe; (3) Stone placement - embedded in concrete in Asia and loose on the ground in Europe; (4) The sensory experience - varied surface in Asia with the addition of balance opportunities in Europe. (Interestingly, Asian traditions also include takefumi, stepping on bamboo as well as tai chi with its practice of balance.)

    Reflexions: The Journal of Reflexology Research Project

    Barbara and Kevin Kunz, editors

    Volume 25, Number 2, January 2004

    ©Kunz and Kunz 2004

    Take a virtual Reflexology Tour

    Reflexology Pathways of Asia

    Reflexology Pathways of Europe

    by Barbara and Kevin Kunz

    What's up in the world of reflexology? The answer is as close as your computer. Reflexology Web pages in any one of twenty-two languages are translated into English for your enjoyment and edification thanks to Google Translate. The languages range from Arabic to Swedish.

    Start by going to "Google Translate" and click on "Translated Search." Type "Reflexology" in the "Search for" box, select a language and you're off. Once you get your fill of one search, go on to another. Try "Foot reflexology" or "Reflexology research."

    Then try barefoot paths in German and pebble path walking. Use your imagination.

    Languages on Google Translate include Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and many more.

    © 2008 Kunz and Kunz