A question you always wanted to ask, if for no other reason than to feel like you were “in”: What in the world is reflexology?

    It took Erin Suddeth and her daughter, Carolyn, who had just half driven-half hitchhiked their way from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to stoke the question. “Our car broke down somewhere up around Memphis,” Carolyn says. “We just got out and started thumbing.”

The duo landed an apartment on Governor Nichols Street and one cool evening wound up at the Nix Library on S. Carrollton Avenue: “Half to get out of the rain and half to get off our feet,” Carolyn says. “We’re just about out of money and we want to set up a spa. We’re reflexologists. There’s always a need for a good reflexologist. All we need is a place to rent for our spa.”

Seems like these days everybody is looking for a “spa,” either to rent, buy or drop into for a little relaxation and reflexology.

Not to worry. The yellow pages and Google listings are chock-full of spas. Uptown, Downtown, French Quarter, Marigny, Airline Highway – almost as many spas in New Orleans as there are restaurants and bars.

Most are upscale and geared for the woman or man seeking to be pampered. They offer the likes of lavender, milk, coconut and black clay body wash, “Seaweed body treatment to hydrate, tone and defoxify …” Or maybe you’re in the market for a “Dead Sea Mud treatment” that, among the other things, ‘remineralizes’ your body. All of this in a pleasingly aromatic setting of the sounds of soft music and light wind chimes.

At this one spa on a stretch of Magazine Street where places like the Friendly House Restaurant and Bar, the Jackpot Bar and Andy’s Pool Hall used to dominate mostly to the rougher trade, now operate the seemingly ubiquitous spas: offering all of the above and, of course, reflexology.

Meredith Clark, a slight, quietly speaking young lady originally from Ohio, offers her brand of reflexology.

“I’m not actually a certified reflexologist,” she says. “I’m a holistic health practitioner. I have over 1,000 hours of massage training. In most states you need about 700 hours to become a massage therapist and then there is a national exam and a state exam.”

While working on a friend’s feet, Clark explains how the thumbs and fingers are used to apply pressure to the reflex points on the hands and feet.

“I’m 37 years old and I knew this was my calling at 12. It’s funny. I’m not religious, but I was actually inspired by the work of Jesus because he did hand healing.”

You might get the notion from the setting and the almost hushed tones in which people speak here that reflexology is a luxury for the tennis in the morning and sprout sandwich (sans crust, of course) for lunch crowd. Not so says Clark.

“Reflexology is absolutely not a luxury,” she says without looking up from the woman’s foot she is gently kneading. “The feet truly affect the whole body. I can feel a communication through the body movements through certain areas of the foot. And when you’re working on the foot, the effects go all the way up to the top of the brain.

“Most clients come in when they’re having an internal conflict. Massage makes people aware of what’s going on in their lives. It brings sensations to an area that probably has been ignored. Reflexology means ‘heal thyself.’ I never go to the doctor and I take no medicine. But don’t misunderstand. Maintaining your bod’s health is just one part. You have to exercise and you have to eat healthy, local, organic food.”

A client waiting for her time with Clark lounges back on a softly covered couch in a pristine waiting area. Somewhere from deep within the acoustics system emits the sounds of the forest. “Gentle,” the woman says to nobody in particular, and for no particular reason. “So gentle.”

A T-shirt rack offers shirts with the message, “Chose Love” and painted words on the wall offer the advice that “Health is Wealth.”

Clark rolls back the covering over her client’s body. The woman exclaims how “rejuvenated” she feels.

“I love what I do,” Clark says. “I love this city of New Orleans. I’ve been here about four years now, and this is the first place in my life that I have ever felt community. Every place I go in this city. I feel that.”

And that, my friends, is a primer on the art and science of reflexology. I never saw Erin and Carolyn Suddeth again, but Meredith Clark filled in the blanks just nicely, thank you.