Walk This Way

Boosting your immune system may be as simple as kicking off your shoes and taking a stroll.

Over the course of three weekends, Elizabeth Marazita and 50 volunteers carefully arranged river stones to form a winding walkway on her college campus in Kenmore, Washington. The footpath, though beautiful, isn't an art project—it's a tool for reflexology. Marazita, a teacher at Bastyr University, was inspired by those she'd seen in Asia. But be forewarned: A barefoot stroll on the mosaic of stones, ranging in size from tiny pebbles to smooth oversize rocks, isn't exactly a walk in the park.

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According to Marazita, many people experience too much discomfort to finish the entire 64-foot path in one session. Still, the pain has a purpose. Reflexologists believe that stimulating the nerve endings in the feet encourages the flow of chi, improves immunity, and reveals areas of the body that need attention. "Walking on the path is a form of preventive medicine because it can highlight imbalances in your body," Marazita says. A handout with a reflexology diagram at the start of the footpath helps you identify just what those imbalances may be. Pain between the second and third toes may mean an area of imbalance in the eye that could be linked to spending too much time staring at a computer screen.

To make the most of a walk on the path, move slowly and with awareness, take breaks, drink water afterward, and exhale with every step. "Breathing deeply will help you move through areas of soreness and pain," Marazita says. "The tenderness you feel helps release areas of stagnation and jump-starts healing."

Give Your Feet a Treat

To approximate the footpath experience closer to home, Richard Butler, a reflexologist and instructor at the Oregon School of Massage, suggests walking along a rocky beach—or any hard, uneven surface. "The on-and-off pressure on your feet will have a positive impact on your reflexes," he says. To stimulate the walk without actually walking, Butler suggests using the inchworm technique: Use your thumbs to apply pressure to the reflex points on your feet, release the pressure, inch your thumbs forward, and press again. Work each point for approximately 30 seconds. (Note: if you're being treated for a serious, ongoing illness or condition, be sure to check with your health care practitioner before trying reflexology at home.)