Improve Your Life From the Ground Up
When was the last time you paid attention to your feet? Chances are, unless you are getting a pedicure, a massage or are experiencing pain, your feet are the last thing you think about. We shove them into shoes, elevate our heels, slam them into pavement as we run, and expect them to carry our entire weight all day, (or all night) without a second thought…until we develop bunions, hammer toes, plantar fasciitis, heel spurs or any number of other foot “issues.” These painful and expensive problems don’t happen by accident. They are connected to how you walk, stand, and move through your life.
There’s a saying, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” What is happening to your feet is the result of different life choices, you were not born this way. Your feet are full of information. Everything that happens “down there” impacts your hips, back, your thoughts and your mood. Think about how cheerful you feel after stubbing your toe.
Everyone, from Oprah to the National Institute for Health tout walking as the new elixir of life. But how can you start a walking practice if you are in pain? It doesn’t matter how beautiful the scenery is if it hurts with every step. Americans spend millions of dollars on special shoes, treatments, orthotics and surgeries every year to correct problems that could have been avoided with just a little attention.
Here are a few simple things you can do to keep your feet happy.
- Find your balance point. In standing take a few minutes to feel how your bare feet touch the ground. What are the clear points of contact? Does it feel heavier to the inside or the outside of your feet? Is it different on one foot or the other? Is it heavier in the heels or the balls of the feet? Your feet have three balance/push off points – under the ball of your foot behind your big toe, your fourth toe and your heel. Play with shifting your balance along those three points and see how it feels up in your hips. Experiment with how you hit the floor and push off as you walk.
- Play with your toes. Wearing toe separators is not always the solution because your metatarsal bones actually have many joints that connect with your arch and other foot bones. Trying to force a change will only confuse your feet. Instead, take a few minutes every day to gently rotate, bend and lengthen each toe. Without using force, explore interlacing the toes of a foot with the fingers of your hand, from the top and then the bottom of your foot. Bend and straighten your toes. It may seem impossible at first, but if you pay attention and take your time, your toes will eventually relax and create space.
- Free up your ankles. Just doing a bunch of ankle circles doesn’t do much, although it can feel good if you’re stiff. Instead, try this either sitting in a chair, or lying down with your legs bent with your feet flat on the floor. Try with one foot at a time to lift the inside of your arch. Hold onto your leg so your knee doesn’t move. Do it gently, allowing your ankle to move out while your knee stays still. If it feels easy, you can speed it up. Try the other foot and see if it feels different. Then try lifting outer edge of your foot. You’ll notice that your toes want to do the job. See if you can keep your toes relaxed and your knee still. You need to move slowly and delicately at first to release the ankle. Your ankles are crucial for aligning your feet as you walk.
- Do the chicken scratch. Stand, holding onto a chair or the wall for balance, Kick one leg backward as if you were scratching the earth like a chicken. Or maybe kicking sand at something behind you. Let your foot sweep the earth going backwards and let your knee go backward as well. When you’ve tried it with each leg, try taking a few steps doing the “chicken scratch walk.” This will help your push off and give more power to your walk.
- Master silly walks. It may sound crazy, but spending a few minutes finding different walking patterns lubricates your hips, frees up your back and changes how your feet hit the ground. Not only that, but according to a study conducted by Arizona State University, silly walking also burns more calories. Try walking pigeon toed or duck footed for a few steps. Lift your knees high or play with the chicken scratch above. Swing your arms and hips in a crazy fashion. You might start a trend. And your feet will find new ways of connecting with the ground.
Walking is a human birthright. And with happy feet, you’ll find that every part of you feels a little happier as well!
Lavinia Plonka has been teaching the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education for over 30 years. She is a lead instructor of the Emotional Body®, author of several books on movement and an internationally recognized teacher of movement studies. For more information on Lavinia’s retreats visit www.laviniaplonka.com/kinesaretreat. For additional articles and tips visit www.laviniaplonka.com.