Free your feet

Free your feet, and the rest will follow
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on February 12, 2013.  Posted with permission.

As a runner and yogi, I’m a foot fan.

Leonardo daVinci was right.  The foot is a masterpiece of engineering.  Your feet each have 26 bones, about 25% of all the bones in your body, and 19 muscles, 107 ligaments, and over 7,000 nerve endings.  Strong and flexible feet can mean healthy knees, hips, backs, and shoulders.

Our feet are our grounding vessels.  They propel the body skyward and forward.  They are our primary connection with the world, our roots to the physical and what’s real and stable.

I may love feet, but I don’t love shoes.  High-heeled or overly-cushioned shoes interfere with the foot’s natural machinery resulting in weak muscles and tendons.

Has the foot had a greater recent champion than Christopher McDougall, author of “Born to Run”?  He argues that high-end running shoes with their “pronation correction” features are responsible for many runners’ injuries.  McDougall touts the foot’s natural ability to adapt to different landscapes, maintain balance, and cradle the body.  The feet and their arches are built to take a beating, he writes.

McDougall is an advocate of barefoot (or at least minimalist shoe) running.  Shoes should provide protection, not correction, he argues.

The novice might be tempted to toss shoes now and join the Society for Barefoot Living (it exists), but after miles in foot casts (shoes), your weakened feet will need rehab and practice.

Step out slowly. Your home could become a no-shoe zone.  Front door shoe piles are charmingly European. Move up to barefoot nature walks on the beach or on the trails.  The trick is to move your foot forward so it slides into the curves of the earth rather than lifting and lowering the foot. Outdoor walks loaded with underfoot curiosa are true exercises in mindfulness.

Spread your toes.    Sit cross-legged.  From the top of your foot, slip the fingers of your left hand between your toes on your left foot.  Press your fingertips into the flesh of the foot’s sole.  Rotate from the wrist and feel your toes open and the forefoot stretch.  Your toes are supposed to open just like your fingers. Switch feet.

Roll the ball.  While standing, roll a frozen water bottle, tennis ball, or golf ball under one foot, particularly in the arches.

Toe pick-ups.  Drop a bunch of pens, and lift them with your toes.

Foot Yoga.   Begin with Mountain Pose.  Stand with your great toes to touch and heels an inch apart.  Imagine roots growing from your soles, head reaching to the sky, your fingertips stretching down your sides. Step to Tree Pose.  Lift the sole of your right foot, and place it inside your left calf or thigh.  Take your hands to prayer position. Focus on a single point, and allow your feet to handle the weight.  Switch sides.

Stretch out the tops of your feet with Thunderbolt Pose.  Sit back on your heels with your knees and feet together.  Then curl your toes under and stretch out your soles.

Try a modified Toe Stand.  Balance on the balls of your feet, ankles together, and squat with your buttocks touching your heels.  Keep your spine straight and your hands in prayer position

You’ll be back on your feet in no time.

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