I have an incredible fondness for feet. Their resilience, intelligence and strength inspire reverence! I am always amazed at everything my feet have carried me through and even more impressed as I continue to unlock their potential. Your feet (including your ankles) individually have 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Then of course there is an extensive network of blood vessels, nerves and soft tissue – fascia anyone? I happen to think this is miraculous. Our feet are so important that they seem to have received an insane amount evolutionary fine tuning as we developed over the ages (I happen to think evolution is a breathtaking, dare I say, divine miracle – but that is another barrel of monkeys). Feet are where the body intersects with gravity and it is upon their foundation that the rest of the body functions. Feet are kind of a big deal.
As a yoga teacher I see all kinds of funky feet of different shapes and sizes. I’m here to speak their gospel.
kuuujnhhHere is the first thing you should know:
Your feet are fine. They are not deformed. I wish I had a dime for every student that told me they had foot problems because of their malformed feet inherited from a long line of atrocious feet and a legacy of discomfort and pain with nothing to be done about it. Deformities are extremely rare, and habbits like DNA are also inherited. I promise, your feet are perfect. You just haven’t been all that nice to them.
The second thing you should know:
Shoes are of the devil (since I’m in a fever I may as well go with it), and really expensive fancy shoes are pure evil. This explains why I want them so badly, and why my entire body hurts after wearing them. I honestly don’t think much of expensive “corrective” shoes either; luckily they are less tempting. They work with the idea that your feet are wrong, and after millennia after millennia of evolution these geniuses fixed them. This still works if you are not into evolution with the argument that god made them so they are perfect. I love it when different arguments have the same outcome.
So what to do?
I am not giving into the five-finger shoes. No way! I’m way to vain for that, and mucking about barefoot in Florida is just asking for a bad sting, bite, or bur. I do have minimal trainers for running, but more importantly I include my feet generously in my yoga practice. Yes, feet LOVE yoga. They get so stinkin excited they can barely stand it. My arches pop up, my toes relax and get stretched, my ankles unwind, and my feet even inform the rest of my body in a pose. I start my poses from the ground up because just a little action from the feet reverberates through the legs adding liveliness through out the body in every pose. Try it. Press your big toe down and feel the action resonate up the leg. Did you realize how much your big toe enjoys articulation? Its ecstatic!
Then there is the sunshine and magic that is a tennis ball. Have you ever rolled one around on the bottom of your foot? Definitely give it a try. I like to start right at the front of my heel, roll up along the inside edge of the arch, center it at the top edge of the arch underneath the toes, and then come back around the outside edge of the arch back to the heel. If you find a patch that feels horrible then spend some time moving the ball around right there – breathing. Repeat often.
I also highly recommend shaking hands with your feet. Slide your fingers between your toes and have a bit of a shake. Then extend your fingers and spread them as your toes squeeze in. Release the squeeze and spread your fingers even wider. After you slide your fingers out take a deep inhale and notice the expansion of lung capacity on the same side. Your feet are important even to your breath.
As a dancer, I spent many years of my life destroying my feet. Cramming feet into pointe shoes is definitely for the love of art, not feet and relief was fleeting at best. As Yoga Therapist and teacher I now know that everything begins with our feet; including healing. I have great love and respect for my feet, all that they do, and all that they have yet to do and as they open and strengthen more so does my body and my reverence for feet certainly strengthens and expands as well.
Originally written for Wellscene Magazine.