“Walk where there is no path, and leave footprints.” ~ Unknown
For ultra runners, our feet can literally be coined the “tools of our trade.” Clocking on any given week, my mileage “runs” an average of 140km via commuting, walking and being active for my profession as a corrective movement coach, and then of course training – frolicking in nature (urban and rural). My feet have surprisingly held up very well over the last 2 decades of “pounding the pavement.” I like to think that Yoga and my Karmatic piggybank are to thank for my good fortune. Some have called me “Gandhi with Sneakers” others have called “a pure nutter.’ I would say both equally apply.
Running has always been my greatest teacher, my salvation, and my savior. Every step can be a tool to build upon the framework of thought, reflection and exploration. A moment in tme to process some of our most internal challenges and our greatest fears. And since I also believe that “fear” is merely “love” masked by shadow – we can all overcome any adversity, with the right strategy. I have running to thank for creating the space, from which my mind, body and spirit can co-habitate to work through some of those moments where we strive to find balance, truth and our purpose in life. I believe sports and movement are fundamental to this process, and our feet – our greatest asset.
From the Ground Up:
Getting to know the mechanics of your feet and the pivotal role they play in athletics, yoga, movement and grounding is the first step to establishing a solid foundation in your any daily practice. In the yoga tradition, the lowly foot paradoxically has an almost transcendent status. Students will touch or kiss the feet of teachers, mentors and gurus alike – as a means of reverence, appreciation and respect.
Just as the foundation of a home or any structure for that fact, it must be level to support all the structures above it. This is a perfect metaphor for our feet, as it makes sense to strive for foundational balance and sturdiness to support the legs, spine, upper extremities and the weight of the head, as well as the gravitational compression of our environment.
If our foundation or base is tilted, unsteady or collapsed, it will be reflected up through the body as distortion or misalignment and can cause compensational breakdowns throughout the interconnected systems. Therefore, does it not make sense to consider your feet first, and start cultivating balance from the ground up?
The Foundation of Design:
The foot is the foundation of athletic movements, our root to the earth and often, it is the most neglected. The foot is an intricate structure of 26 bones (I count the tiny sesamoid bone in the great toe, but this is usually not counted – let’s honor him here) that form two crossing arches of the foot. The longitudinal arch runs the length of the foot, and the transverse arch runs the width. The muscles of the foot, along with a tough, sinewy tissue known as the plantar fascia, provide secondary support to the foot. The foot has internal muscles that originate and insert in the foot and external muscles that begin in the lower leg and attach in various places on the bones of the foot.
Unlike solid structures, our bodies are mobile temples, and thus our feet are required to be adaptable, flexible and adjust to varied terrain and environmental factors.
When there is pain, the body reacts by changing the way it moves or functions in an effort to reduce the pain. Biomechanical changes or (dis)ease may prevent the normal range of movement and cause further injury. For instance, if there is excessive wear on one side, the foot can shift off its central axis, which can put strain on the knee, hip or sacral areas. Weakened or unbalanced mechanics found in the feet, often refer pain and discomfort elsewhere in the body and literally can change the way we move through the world.
Our feet also ground us to the earth. Yoga is an exceptional fragment in time to clearly focus on this connection, as well as the obvious summer time walk along the beach, barefoot walk in the park – or barefoot anywhere, as is all the craze with barefoot running (I will save this for another article) as this topic is growing on me.
Reach for the Peak in Mountain:
Take mountain pose for instance; a perfect time to enhance your connection with nature and the earth, and to create malleability in the foot. We do this by taking the time to feel every inch of our feet, where our weight distributes and be stretching it lengthwise and extending it out laterally. By making the foot more elastic, we build an effective trampoline that springs the weight of the body upward. In all standing postures in yoga, these complementary forces of descending weight and rebound are at work.
Also consider postures that allow your connect both your hands and feet to the earth; a few personal favorite of mine are (of course) the sun salutation series (modified to focus on more joint fluidity), forward fold variations (there is something about swaying in the wind and having my feet rooted, but hands grace the floor that is comforting to me), triangle pose (reaching one hand to the sky and the other firmly planted along with me feet to earth is empowering), and lastly a vinyasa of crow pose to teddy bear stand to modified head stand (for some silly reason I find this one inspiring and playful at the same – it reminds me of fooling around in grade 3 gym class). Find posture that resonate with you and re connect this Spring!
As Spring has finally sprung, take some time to walk barefoot and connect to your roots, and during your next yoga practice take time to re connect and give your feet a little more (much needed) TLC.