I’m getting more and more obsessed with my feet. It’s that time of year here in UK where I’ve just about transitioned from my trusty Uggs to wearing something less warm and cosy for getting to and from yoga class. I’ve rediscovered my very light and cool (they are more mesh than anything else) barefoot running shoes. They have a special place in my heart since I got them a couple of years back in the Boxing Day sales in Sydney, so I always think back to that time and the man I got chatting to as we were waiting to cross the road when he observed “you don’t have Boxing Day in England, do you?” Um, didn’t we invent it in England?? But I digress…
I got into barefoot shoes when I started yoga. No coincidence. I became aware right from the start how weak my feet were. Weird, hadn’t I been walking on them all my life? But that, plus rigid shoes, don’t make for strong feet it turns out. So I got a pair of Zem shoes which wore out disappointingly quickly, and since then I’ve turned to Vivobarefoot (who even do some ‘office style’ shoes for the non-yoga parts of my life) and Merrell. The idea is that walking barefoot (or the near enough modern-life city-dweller equivalent) is great for your posture and helps to strengthen the muscles of ankle and foot, as well as a whole host of benefits I’d not heard of before.
I know the jury’s out on the benefits of actually running barefoot, and I have to say that idea scares me quite a bit. But for walking I really like greater sensitivity of a barefoot experience and the awareness it brings to what I’m doing and what my environment is like (far from a walking meditation, but at least I’m more mindful with-a-small-m). It can be tough if you’re walking a lot on pavements, but I guess that’s just a reminder to take some breaks and get off your feet for a while. Or do some yoga later and include some lovely stretches to arches and ankles. Plus my husband offers (or sometimes is required to offer!) the most delicious footrubs. Lucky me!
And on the mat I’m becoming more aware that feet play an important part, and not just in the obvious way in standing poses, e.g.:
- A seated spinal twist doesn’t work if you don’t push your foot into the ground, since it’s joined ultimately to the hip that you twist towards, and a firm foot helps stop that hip moving backwards which puts the twist too low in the spine.
- I’m just starting to figure out why my teacher always cues to push the tops of your feet into the mat in cobra. [I’m not quite sure why this helps, but I notice it engages my inner thighs — maybe this is good for my lower back somehow]
- And in baddha konasana I’ve found it really helps if you can open your feet out well (like a book) before you fold forward, and that pressing the outer edges of the feet together somehow magically helps to release the hips and let the knees sink down more.
Plus I’m learning that how you bear weight on your feet is also important. Lifting my arches still feels as impossible as asking me to wiggle my ears, but I think one day it won’t. For now I’m mostly just playing around more with weight distribution on my feet in various poses.