Feet Glorious Feet

Consider your feet. Each one has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than one hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments. That’s a lot of moving parts. Are yours all in working order? I know mine aren’t.

Years ago I suffered from a painful condition known as Morton’s Neuroma which still occasionally recurs (I now suspect it was caused by my insistence on wearing kitten heels day in, day out, throughout most of my twenties); I think I broke my little toe a couple of years ago and suffered nerve damage (we were going on holiday the next day so I had better things to do than spend the evening in A&E); and I was recently x-rayed for yet another foot problem that came up with an incidental finding of arthritis (nothing like that as a diagnosis to make you feel old).

Like many of us I “hate” the way my feet look. As they are so often encased in socks and shoes, it is easy to feel removed from them, forget about them or ignore them altogether – as I did for years. I realise though that at this point in my life I need to start taking more care of them. So let me take a moment to express a little gratitude for them. After all, they do an amazing job and are irreplaceable.

The practice of yoga can transform our relationship with our feet. Yoga teachers often talk about keeping the feet alive, spreading out the toes, lifting the arches and rooting into the ground. But giving your feet a little tic will help you in life generally, not just in yoga.

From the Ground Up

The foot was designed to be responsive and agile, adjustable and articulate. Walking on uneven terrain promotes small movements in the pelvis and spine that lead to a pliability throughout the body that walking on concrete has taken from us. Constrictive shoes (anyone else a fan of kitten heels?) limit blood flow and confine the bones of the feet, resulting in compacted and pinched muscles in the foot (hello Morton’s Neuroma), which has repercussions on the ankles, knees, hips and back.

Imagine your soles as the start of the back of your body.

The plantar fascia, a dense fibrous fan of connective tissue on the underside of your feet, has fibrous connections to your Achilles tendons (which anchor your calves to your heels), and then to the fascial sheath of your calf muscles, hamstrings, gluteal fibres and all the way up your lower back to your neck and skull.

Does it make more sense now to take better care of your feet and how that can impact on your general health overall?

Exercises to free up your feet:

  • Roll your foot around on a tennis ball is an excellent place to start releasing the fascia and also getting movement into the joints;
  • Walk barefoot as much as you can and always at home;
  • While sitting, stretch and mobilise your feet and toes;
  • Roll your ankles;
  • Massage your feet (or get your partner to);
  • When walking, try to plant your heel firmly down and roll through your foot to your toes;
  • Practise picking up dice with your bare feet.

As you free up your feet you’ll find they will become stronger and feel more alive. If you’ve spent a lifetime walking on fallen arches they won’t be fixed overnight, but the compression on your ankles and subsequent strain on your knees and lower back will start to ease.

Freeing up your feet is the first step towards freeing up your body and I think we can all agree that’s a good thing.

Oh, and I’m working on transitioning my footwear to mostly barefoot shoes. These new sandals aren’t quite that, but they have a wide toebox and I do rather like them!

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