As a yoga and movement teacher, I am concerned with feet and I see a lot of them. One characteristic that most of the feet I observe share is a crammed, congested appearance of the toes. When I witness this, I know that I am in the presence of feet that are shod (in shoes) much of the time and in shoes that are least like the shape of a foot with features intended to “support” their feet. At best, such feet are tired and sore at the end of the day or painful all day for some poor soles. These feet are developing bunions, nerve damage, degenerative changes, and other painful and potentially debilitating conditions. If you want to begin improving your feet today, do these three things.
1) Take off your shoes. The #1 best thing you can do for and with your feet is to walk barefoot outside on natural, non-groomed terrain. Walking barefoot places the parts of your foot – toes, arch, heel – in an optimal, biomechanically pleasing relationship to each other. Walking and moving around barefooted strengthens the parts of your feet that need to be strong or stiff and improves mobility and flexibility in areas that need it. Walking barefoot affords your feet the best chance of achieving functional, healthy patterns of movement. In contrast, as soon as you put on a shoe that changes the geometry of your foot, its parts and everything north of them are no longer working as they were designed.
But, before you go running out the door and into the woods naked and unshod, you must understand that if you’ve been wearing shoes most of the time, your feet are not conditioned for the requirements of hiking in the woods without shoes, much less walking out to the mailbox in your jammies & socks. I grew up in Tennessee, where we don’t wear shoes and I have been practicing yoga for over 15 years, thus have spent a lot of time barefoot. Yet, it took me a year of foot exercises and graded exposure to be able to hike outside barefoot as an adult. It could take you longer, but is truly worth the effort.
Here is a 12 month progressive timeline to prepare your feet for more barefoot time. Adjust as needed for your feet and demands of your environment and season. Each month, start with minimal exposure to the new terrain – a few minutes, a few times per day and gradually increase duration and/or frequency.
Month 1: Start wearing thin soled slippers around your house for a few minutes at a time, a few times a day. Gradually increase duration and/or frequency.
Month 2: Start substituting thick socks for your slippers.
Month 3: Start spending barefoot time on carpeted areas of your home.
Month 4: Start making barefoot forays into your yard.
Month 5: Start spending barefoot time on linoleum in your house.
Month 6: Start spending barefoot time on mulched areas of your yard.
Month 7: Start spending barefoot time on wood floors in your house.
Month 8: Start spending barefoot time on asphalt/concrete.
Month 9: Start spending spending time on tile/stone flooring in your house.
Month 10: Start doing appropriate outdoor tasks barefoot – gardening, raking leaves, playing with the dog…
Month 11: Start taking walks in a park or on a hiking trail with varied terrain.
Month 12: Start taking walks around your neighborhood, varying time spent on the edges of neighbor’s yards and on the street/sidewalks.
2) Wear these socks. Toe alignment socks are a perfect companion to more barefoot time. These socks position your toes into more natural alignment, providing gentle stretching to toes that have been crammed into shoes all day. They provide light traction (repositioning) for big toes that no longer lie straight and lesser toes that are trying to crawl on top of their mates.
Amazon sells several brands, like this one.
Or, if you are in Yakima, you can save yourself the wait and shipping and buy them from me at Dr. Kara Lolley’s office. We are a reseller for the original foot alignment socks from My-Happy feet, pictured below.
3) Massage with a ball. I have most of my clients use a ball to massage their feet. If you come to see me with a shoulder problem, rest assured that I will craft a movement program that appropriately loads your shoulder and there is a good chance that I’ll have you roll your foot on a ball! I prefer a racquet ball, although a tennis ball is OK too. I use a specific ball rolling protocol, when giving clients exercises for their feet. Here is one method from my protocol.
Stand with your feet pelvis width distance apart. Place the ball of one of your feet onto the racquet ball, keeping your heel in contact with the floor. Allow your weight to fully rest on the ball. If sensation is too much, shift some of your weight into the other leg. The motion you will make with your foot on the ball resembles the wiping motion that you would make with your hand if you were polishing a car or wiping a mirror. Slowly scrub the racquet ball side to side with the ball of your foot, as if you were trying to clean the floor with it – a movement of foot abduction and adduction if you want to get technical. Remember to keep your heel down. This is a very slow motion. Eventually you should work the ball forward so that the scrubbing motion separates your toes as your foot moves the ball.
May your feet be well. May your feet be happy. May your feet be free from suffering.