Three things you can do for your feet today

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.

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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.

Flesser® Yoga Sports GYM Five Toe Separator Socks Alignment Pain Health Massage Socks (Pink)

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.

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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.

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Scrubbing with a tennis ball

May your feet be well. May your feet be happy. May your feet be free from suffering.

Namaste, Michele

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Foot Love Workshop Exercises – October 2015

You can find variations of some of these exercises in world-renowned Biomechanist Katy Bowman’s books & DVD included in her Healthy Foot Kit.

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Standing Exercises

All standing exercises should be done in Tadasana aka mountain pose with your feet pelvis-width distance apart, pointing forward, which means the outside edges of your feet should form a straight line (you can line up the edge of one of your feet on a yoga mat to check that it is actually straight and match the other accordingly); and your hips back so that they are stacked over your knees, ankles, and heels and not drifting or thrusting forward. Keep your weight back in your heels. I call this Smart Tadasana Alignment.

Toe Spreading

Lift your toes (this is called extension), spread them away from each other, and place them down onto the mat. Repeat several times throughout your day. You can improve your ability to actively spread your toes by passively spreading them using toe socks.

Short Foot Exercise

A full explanation is linked, but the short of it is to draw the base of your big toe towards your heel, without flexing or curling your toes. It’s OK if they grip the floor. This action lifts your arch, thereby shortening the length of your foot, and strengthening the arch-supporting muscles. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 3 times for each foot. Try to do 5 sets of 3 repetitions per day, holding for 5 seconds each rep. You can perform the short foot exercise any time your standing in yoga postures and as you get stronger, you can do it while balancing. The Short Foot Exercise is comparable to the Strong Yoga Foot.

Balancing

Any single leg balance will strengthen your extrinsic and intrinsic foot musculature. Once you are skilled at balancing on a firm surface, you can explore a variety of unique surfaces – a folded up towel or blanket, a yoga block, a half round, a boot tray of rocks, your yard…Hold for up to one minute and repeat several times throughout your day.

Exploratory feet

Move your feet in exploratory, weird, random, bizarre, strange, silly, varied ways. This can be done sitting in Dandasana (with your legs extended in front of you) or lying down. This is a great way to mobilize your feet before you get out of bed in the morning. Repeat throughout your day.

Top of foot stretch

Extend a leg behind you, pressing the top of your foot into the mat. It is important to keep your pelvis back and stacked vertically over the knee & ankle of your front or support leg as the tendency is for it to drift forward. If balance is a challenge, please use a chair so that you can concentrate on the stretch without worrying about the balance.Hold for up to one minute. Repeat several times throughout your day.

Top of foot stretch

Top of foot stretch

Calf Elevator

Lift the heels of both feet, coming up onto your tippy toes. Try to avoid letting your ankles blow out to the sides. If they do, then only raise your heels as high as you can keep your ankles stable. Hold for several seconds. Once you are skilled at balancing on both feet, start working towards one foot at a time. You can do this either by lifting the heels of both feet, but letting the work happen mainly in one foot; or you could do this balancing on one foot! Whichever variation you choose, make sure your hips are back. Hold for up to one minute. Repeat several times throughout your day.

Calf stretch

A half round (or half moon as one of students sweetly miscalled it) is best for this stretch, but you could roll up a couple of yoga mats or blanket or use a book. Place the ball of your foot on the top of the half round with your heel on the ground. Keep your other foot even to and pelvic-width apart from the stretching calf. You can advance in this pose by slowly stepping the non-stretching foot forward. If your pelvis moves forward with you or you lose balance or get rigid, bring the forward stepping foot back and don’t progress until you can do so in a relaxed and balanced stance with your hips back. Hold for up to one minute. Repeat several times throughout your day.

I purchased a SPRI Half Round Foam Roller, 36 x 6-Inch that I cut down to one 18″ length and three 6″ lengths that I use for various purposes as yoga props.

Calf Stretch/Elevator Combination

Stand with one foot on the half-round and elevate both heels to a slow count of three. Hold for 3 counts. Lower for a slow count of three. The lowering is where you train eccentrically, generating force while you are lengthening your muscle tendon units. This is how you get stronger at greater ranges and with more control. At the place that you want to give up and drop your heel is the opportunity to exercise muscle control.

Hamstring stretch

I’ll be posting later this week on hamstring stretching, but for now, start from tadasana, place your hands on your thighs and hinge forward at your hip joints, allowing your hands to slide down your legs, keeping your spine in neutral. As soon as your spine starts to deform ie round, stop, come up a few inches and work instead on lifting your tailbone, which will move the proximal muscle attachments for your hamstrings that are located on your sitting bones away from the distal attachments that are located on your lower legs, thus stretching these muscles. Hold for up to one minute. Repeat several times throughout your day.

Ball rolling massage

Place a new, firm tennis ball on a yoga mat or carpet. Keep your heel down as you drape only your toes over the ball, weighting it as much as you can tolerate. Very, very slowly, roll the ball under your toes, from side to side, allowing your toes to spread as you go. After a while move your foot forward so that the ball of your foot drapes across the ball. Again, move very slowly side to side. Continue to move your foot forward in small sections using a side to side motion. When you are deep into the arch of your foot, you might explore some front to back motions, or invert/evert your foot to get into the lateral and medial arches. The benefit from this massage comes when you slow down, take your time, move forward in tiny increments, hang out in sore spots, and remember to breathe. This can and should be done daily as a meditation practice.

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Floor Exercises

Plantar Fascia Stretch – kneeling/squatting

In this exercise, you kneel with your knees pelvis-width apart on a mat or padded surface. Extend (curl) your toes forward. If you can, reach around and separate your toes from each other and make sure they are all extending forward. You may be able to lower your hips, shifting more of your weight onto your feet, but do this slowly and with ease as the thick band of fascia and four layers of intrinsic muscles on the soles of your feet may never have experienced this type of stretch. Images and detailed instructions are linked above.

Barbie foot

This is the exercise where you press your balls forward (of your feet, people!), all toes forward, all toes back, foot back. You know the one. In the balls forward, toes back position, your feet look like Barbie’s. You can use your arms to support you in an upright seated position, but I suggest you place your hands in your lap from time to time and hold yourself up using your own trunk musculature. Images and detailed instructions are linked above.

Bridge with marble

I know you all remember this bit of love from the workshop – a yoga bridge pose holding a marble with your toes and extending your leg. Yes, that one.  Remember, cramping is good…a good reminder, that it, that you should be moving your feet more. Again, images and detailed instructions are linked above.

Ankle circles, point/flex, invert, evert

This can be done seated with legs extended or on your back. My preference is supine with legs extended 90 degrees and soles of your feet facing the ceiling. Try to keep your legs straight and pelvis-width apart and don’t be in such a hurry. Slow, sweeping circles will assure full range of motion. If you fatigue, bend your knees, but keep moving your ankles & feet.

Exploratory feet

Exploratory feet can be done standing in Tadasana with your feet squirming around on the mat; seated in a chair with them wiggling about on a bolster; seated on the floor with them playing mischievously out in front of you; or lying supine, my favorite, with your feet in the air spazzing all over. The object is to make as many movements as you can. According to my teacher Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and math dork, if you apply a mathematical concept called a factorial, a foot with 33 joints can deform into 8,600,000,000,000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 unique ways – or thereabouts. Whatever.

Toe spreaders

These exercises will help to undo the harm that shoes with small toe boxes cause to the muscles between your toes that have so little range of motion or strength that you may not even be able to generate enough of your own force to spread your toes. The third exercise, Toe Lifts, was not included in the workshop because a) I forgot; or b) We ran out of time. Whatever.

Namaste, Michele

To all the shoes I’ve loved before

It’s time. It’s past time. We are moving to a smaller house in an act of intentional minimalist rebellion. I’ve been adding minimalist shoes to my closet over the last year, but have not reduced the total number of shoes residing there. To ease the ache of knowing that most of my pre-FootLove Yoga shoes will have to go, I revisit Katy Bowman’s Four Factor Shoe Evaluation (see chart below) to remind me why I make these tough decisions. When evaluating shoes, consider the four main features of a shoe and how and why they can be severely damaging. A feature that I did not systematically evaluate, but is present on over half of my shoes, is toe spring, that perky little incline at the toe end of a shoe. A toe spring bends the toes upward and over time deforms the foot, leading to foot problems, gait abnormalities, and musculoskeletal compensations.

If you decide to transition to more minimal shoes, a must read is Whole Body Barefoot by renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman. You can find it in Katy’s Healthy Foot Kit.

 

Healthy_Foot_Kit-1

Heel – A positive heel is any degree of elevation above the height of the toe box. A traditional high heel is just one style of positive heel. I can’t say it any better than Katy when she describes positive heels as “bone density decreasing, nerve damaging, and arthritis causing” at any height. Not only do they cause whole-body deformation as they force you to change the geometry of all your joints to keep you balanced and upright, but they also increase the load on the front of your foot, exacerbating foot maladies like bunions, plantar fasciitis, and metatarsalgia, among others. At my last Foot Love workshop, I held up two shoes – a sparkly, silver stiletto and an athletic shoe. I asked which one is worse. All but one person said the stiletto. One gal said the running shoe. Everyone was right. The stiletto, being 4 inches high, would cause considerably more damage when worn, but chances are it is only being worn on special occasions for short periods of time. The athletic shoe, however, is probably being worn all day, every day. It’s a case of acute damage vs. chronic.

Toe Box – Chronic toe squeezing weakens the muscles of the toes and loads the bones while they are positioned incorrectly, increasing the occurrence of joint stress, bone stress, and other soft tissue deformation. What is utterly baffling  is that shoe creators continue to design shoes that taper at the toe, when in fact, the ends of the toes are the widest part of the foot and therefore requires that area to be the widest part of the shoe! Dr. Ray McClanahan details this phenomenon in the context of bunions and the brannock device, that foot measuring tool that shoe fitters use to measure your foot. A whole industry uses this device to measure your foot at the ball rather than at the weight-bearing, toes-spreading, widest area of your foot.

Brannock device

Brannock device

Upper – Flip flops and slides require a gripping action from the toes. This gripping motion is the same muscle pattern that deforms toe joints. As the upper gets smaller, your foot has to constantly grip to keep the shoe on. Its Hammertime Hammertoes!

Soles – The thicker and stiffer the sole, the less the intrinsic foot musculature is able to do, the less communication happens between the brain & feet, the less circulation (nutrition & waste removal) and the more compensatory movement at the ankle and other joints. I elaborate on the importance of intrinsic foot musculature in an earlier post.

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So, here are all the shoes I’ve loved before…at least all that are still in my closet or sitting in Salvation Army (since yesterday.) I’ve devised a rating system. The lower the number, the better the shoe. The rating system goes from 4 – 16. A shoe with a rating of four has all boxes checked in the Best column – one point per feature. A shoe with a 16 has all four boxes checked in the Severely Damaging column – four points per feature. If a shoe gets over 6 pts, its got to go. Got it?

Shimmery pink converse

Shimmery pink converse

This is not the actual image of my shoe, because the real pair sadly lives at the Salvation Army.

  • heel – 1 pt
  • toe box – 3 pt
  • Upper – 1 pt
  • Sole – 4 pt
  • Total – 9 pt; status – donated
Clarks clog

Clarks clog

Another stand in; not the same model I had, but close.

  • heel – 4 pt
  • toe box – 3 pt
  • upper – 3 pt
  • sole – 4 pt
  • Total – 14 pt; status – donated
Clarks mule

Clarks mule

Another stand in.

  • heel – 3 pt
  • toe box – 2 pt
  • upper – 3 pt
  • sole – 4 pt
  • Total – 12 pt; status – donated
Crocs slippers

Crocs slippers

  • heel – 2.5 pt
  • toe box – 1 pt
  • upper –  1 pt
  • sole – 2 pt
  • total – 6.5 pt; status – retired for several months as I am now barefoot full-time in the house
Crocs mules

Crocs mules

  • heel – 2 pt
  • toe box – 2 pt
  • upper – 1 pt
  • sole – 1 pt
  • Total – 6 pt; Status – keep – these are my garden/dog poop detail shoes
ASICS athletic shoes

ASICS athletic shoes

  • heel – 3
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 1.5
  • Total – 8.5 pts; Status – retired to heavier garden duty like digging/mowing
New Balance athletic shoes

New Balance athletic shoes

  • heel – 2.5
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole 1.5
  • Total – 8 pts; status – keep for now but wear only when walking primarily on asphalt; replace with minimal shoes that can be safely worn on asphalt
Naturalizer

Naturalizer

  • heel – 2
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 2
  • Total – 8 pts; status – keep and wear only on rare, special occasions
Pikolinos sandle

Pikolinos sandal

  • heel – 2.5
  • toe box – 2
  • upper – 2
  • sole – 3
  • Total – 9.5 pts; status – keep, wearing only on rare, special occasions
Vasque hiking boots

Vasque hiking boots

  • heel – 3
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 4
  • Total – 12 pts; status – cry. actively seek minimalist hiking boots. cry some more
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UGG boots

  • heel – 2
  • toe box – 1
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 4
  • Total – 8 pts; status – keep and wear whenever I damn well please; these are my one pair of fashion over foot-health shoes
White Mountain sandals

White Mountain sandals

  • heel – 1.5
  • toe box – 1
  • upper – 4
  • sole – 1.5
  • Total – 8 pts; status – donate
Sorel snow boots

Sorel snow boots

  • heel – 3
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 4
  • Total – 11 pts; status – uh, it didn’t snow this year…actively seek a minimal pair of snow boots in case it snows next year
Joesef Seibel metrosexuals

Joesef Seibel metrosexuals

  • heel – 1
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 1
  • Total – 5 pts; status – keep and wear occasionally
Crocs sandals

Crocs sandals

  • heel – 2
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 3
  • sole – 2
  • Total – 10 pts; status – donate

And the winners, coming in at a mere four points each, are:

Vibram Five Finger and Merrel Vapor Glove

Vibram Five Finger and Merrell Vapor Glove and Jolie.

How does your closet add up?

Namaste, Michele

I’m a Barefoot Walkin’ Fool!

I walked over 20 miles today completely barefoot. April Fools! But, I did take my longest barefoot walk in the last 30 years – about 2 miles. These are some of the surfaces over which I walked:

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The following items stuck in or to my feet:

  • 2 pine needles
  • 2 goat heads
  • 2 pieces of glass – one green, one clear
  • pine sap
  • a small turd

My feet would have been much dirtier, except near the end of my walk was a large grassy area that still held some dew and that cleaned them off a bit. That is sap on my toe, not the turd. My foot is not as long as it appears.

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Walking barefoot today brought many benefits (turd notwithstanding). These include:

  • Stretching, strengthening, and mobilizing my intrinsic foot musculature that supports my arches
  • Naturally moving the 33 joints in each foot through their full ranges of motion
  • Stimulating sensory nerves in my feet
  • Sharpening terrain shape sensory information communicated to my brain by my feet, which were deforming over natural features so that my larger joints (ankles, knees, hips, and spine) could make subtle adjustments to keep my gait smooth and me upright
  • Toughened up the skin on my feet to allow more barefoot walking
  • Improved circulation, cellular waste removal, and nerve health
  • Allowed my toes to spread fully with each step, countering the negative effects of the restrictive toe boxes of many of my shoes
  • Decreased the jarring, joint degenerating ground force impact that happens when a shoe-cushioned foot strikes the ground
  • Made me happy to think about my years spent barefoot in Tennessee, cuz people don’t wear shoes in Tennessee, ya’ll

Namaste, Michele

Natural and Ladymade Work Surfaces for Your Feet

We spend most of our waking time wearing shoes and when we walk, it is on flat, artificial surfaces. Thus, the intrinsic muscles of our feet are weak and feel tight and have limited ranges of motion and almost no dexterity. We are a nation racked by painful feet, fallen arches, and dependency on orthotics and orthotic-like features designed right into our shoes that keep us further than ever from healthy, strong feet with great circulation and dexterity.

I write and study at a standing work station – sometimes for hours. I am constantly cycling through various exercises and props to strengthen, stretch, and mobilize my feet, ankles, and lower legs. To stimulate and innervate the bottoms of my feet, I often drape my weighted foot over a tennis, lacrosse, or racquet ball, as i wrote about last month. But I’ve been dreaming about making a DIY cobblestone mat to help prepare my feet for what should be a full Spring, Summer, and Fall of daily barefoot walks on natural terrain. So, finally, I got busy. While neither is quite finished and I have several others planned, check out the newest editions to my foot prop collection.

smooth landscaping stones

smooth landscaping stones

Smooth landscaping stones, a few pine cones, and a couple of wooden darning eggs are spread out in a boot tray. I still need to fill in a few spaces. The large size of the tray allows a vast array of foot positions, which means my feet (and therefore my entire body) experiences a vast number of loads to the tissues.

woodenbeads2

While not natural, I appreciate the loads provided by these wooden beads. They feel a a bit sharper than stones, more like gravel. The bright colors are cheerful and make me happy whenever I look down at my feet. These beads are temporarily renting space on a cookie sheet, but will soon be moving into a more permanent home on another boot tray.

If your feet are painful, feel tight, and are not very mobile, please spend several weeks doing the many exercises I write about on this blog. Continuing with the exercises, spend several more weeks walking barefoot inside on carpet, linoleum, wood, in that order. Start with less time and increase your barefoot time as your feet get used to the new loads. Continuing with the exercises and barefootedness, spend several more weeks  draping and rolling your foot over a tennis ball. You could injure your feet if you go from zero to stones & beads too fast. Seriously. You’ve gone this long, what’s your hurry?

landscapingstones2woodenbeads

Namaste, Michele

The Best Free Foot Massage

I do my writing and studying at a DIY standing work station. I do it to avoid sitting and the attendant health risks, when done too much. And because if i sit for work, I turn into a big C (uh, that means I place my trunk into the shape of a C) and stay there for hours without moving. When I stand at my work station, I find that I naturally I squirm about more. I capitalize on and enhance this natural tendency to move by giving myself little activities to do. Today, while writing I:

  • stretched my calves on the half round (exercise to be described in a future post)
  • stretched the top of my feet (see future post)
  • Pelvic listed (see future post)
  • Hung out in Vrksasana aka the yoga pose called “tree”
  • Constantly checked my alignment – straightened the lateral edges of my feet, backed my hips up to vertically stack my major joints, dropped my ribs down, released my kneecaps by releasing my gripping quad muscles, aligned my pelvis so that my ASISs (pelvic bones aka hip pointers) and my pubic bone are in the same frontal plane, ramped my head back to get my ears over my shoulders and my eyes level with the horizon
  • Stood on various sizes of balls

If you’ve ever attended a FootLove Yoga workshop or maybe even one of my classes, you have have rolled a lacrosse ball on the bottom of your foot to loosen up the fascial tissues and provide a strong sensory nerve experience. Since beginning to stand at my computer station a few months ago, I have begun to crave these ball sessions, but using softer balls like tennis and racquet balls, and allowing my foot to rest quietly on the ball. As I’ve said before, your feet evolved primarily for walking on varied terrain with hills, bumps, divets, sharp rocks, smooth stones, roots, holes, sand, dirt, grasses, leaves, brambles, water, slick, sloggy, hard, soft – deforming their 33 joints (each!) in a nearly infinite number of positions while naked. The contours of the earth helped to keep our feet supple. While I’m at my standing desk, I use balls of various sizes, textures, and yielding properties to drape my feet over, one foot at a time. After several minutes, I may start to very slowly move my foot over the ball, but often I stay still and try to be present to the innervation or waking up of these areas. Exploring various shapes with your soles stretches your muscles and joints in ways that you likely won’t experience unless you are walking on the natural earth with your feet bare.

standingstation

staticball3

staticball2

If your feet have been immobile for a long time, start slow, with soft balls & shapes, for small amounts of time.

Namaste, Michele

Barefoot is Better – Part 1

For millions of years, humans went barefoot. In the words of Daniel Lieberman, in The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, wearing shoes is a rather recent fad. His book is all about the theory of mismatch diseases. Cardiovascular disease is one such mismatch. We evolved to move – a lot, mostly walking, many miles per month. But, in reality we are mostly sedentary. Thus, we have heart attacks – a mismatched outcome because we are not doing what we evolved to do, which is move. Having flat feet  (ped planus) is another mismatch. We evolved to be barefoot, but we wear shoes and this leads to diseased conditions in our feet because shoes act counter to what we evolved to be, which is barefoot.

Early shoes were basically no more than animal skins that provided surface protection. Today’s shoes, designed for varying degrees of style, comfort, and support, are radically different. For all the shoes you’ve loved, at the end of the day, they have interfered significantly with your foot’s natural functioning. Here’s how.

A typical athletic shoe has:

Feature: positive heel (heel is higher than toe)
Problematic because: a positive heel changes the geometry of your body, pushing more of your weight forward onto the weaker muscles, ligaments, and plantar fascia, whose job is to assist in gait and arch support and not bear the bulk of your weight. Additionally, your major joints have to make degenerative compensations to keep you vertical. Even the smallest degree of heel rise will have negative effects.

Feature: cushioned heel
Problematic because: a cushioned heel is comfortable. Thus you tend to land harder with our your strike when walking and even harder when running. You feel little sensation in your heels because of the cushioning. But each time your heel hits the ground, it sends a force 1-3 times your body weight, depending on whether you are walking or running, back up through your body. These forceful impacts can be damaging to your joints and lead to repetitive stress injuries in your feet, legs, hips & spine.

Feature: arch support
Problematic because: it relieves your foot’s ligaments and muscles from their critical job of holding up your arch. These muscles become weak and poorly innervated and eventually could cease holding up your arch at all.

Many work shoes have:

Feature: thick, rigid soles
Problematic because: they limit sensory perception so that your brain does not receive a clear or accurate representation of the ground and thus you react with gross, lumbering movements in your major joints instead of small, subtle shifts that keep you upright when the ground beneath you changes suddenly. Thick and rigid soles interfere with heel rise and toe off events during gait and thus do not allow articulation of the 33 joints of your foot. Movement is mainly limited to the ankle. Thus the intrinsic muscles of your feet are weak and poorly innervated and you experience this as a feeling of stiffness.

Many dress shoes have:

Feature: tight toe boxes
Problematic because: they can lead to bunions, bones spurs, hammertoes, and metatarsalgia. They result in weak, poorly innervated muscles between your toes. Since your toes are one of your main balance proprioceptors and house more sensory receptor than most other areas of your body, when you can’t move or even feel your toes, you are at greater risk of falling.

Many shoes have:

Feature: an upward curving sole
Problematic because: it relieves or muffles the toe off event during gait, which is integral to your foot’s multiple joint articulations and, coincidentally,  healthy hip extension.

Part II or this story will address barefootedness and how to get there slowly, oh so slowly, and safely. You’ve been shod for all these years, take your time unshodding yourself.

Namaste, Michele