Thinking About Our Humble Feet
It is easy to overlook our feet, way down there at the bottom of our legs, especially if we have our eyes constantly on what’s ahead! And if they are feeling and working fine, we often don’t give them a second thought. That can all change in the blink of an eye when something goes awry with our feet, even something as seemingly innocuous as a pebble in a shoe.
Yet the reality is that the health of our feet is essential to our overall health and well-being, especially as time moves on and we get older. Atul Gawande, MD, points out in his book Being Mortal, that gerontologists, specialists in geriatric medicine, use the ability for a person to observe and care for their own feet as an indication on their likelihood to remain independent and healthy with advancing age. Something as simple as, when we are in our 20s, being able to see the bottom of our feet to look for cuts or splinters can become progressively more challenging for many reasons as time goes on. Even being able to cut our own toenails can be monumental if we have non-foot issues that make it difficult- think significant knee arthritis or a hip fracture that limits hip movements.
Personally, I’ve been acutely aware of the importance of healthy feet as roaming foot pains have occasionally surfaced lately related to my newest interest, playing singles tennis. It seems that simply running and stopping for an hour can be surprisingly demanding of the feet, and I have at times had to rest the feet for a few days to allow them to return to pain-free status before hitting the courts again. Oh, and have I mentioned I have inherited my Grandma Lopresto’s big toe bunion on my right foot? (Check out some nifty ways of working with bunions.)
And on a recent visit to see my mom, our first in-person visit since the Pandemic began, her challenges with maintaining foot health became clear to me. Having suffered a hip fracture in both hips from falls in the last 5 years, most recently just over a year ago, her walking ability has been dramatically impacted, although she is determined to regain it again. This change in ability has resulted in regular swelling of the feet and ankles and limited hip joint movement. Fortunately for her, she is able to get regular pedicures to keep the feet in better condition than she can do on her own. And I re-enforced the benefits of elevating her legs regularly to address swelling, suggesting a modified Legs-Up-the-Wall she can do on the couch or in bed.
Yoga to the Rescue!
Although not a cure-all for all that ails the feet, yoga goes a long way in addressing the overall health of our feet, both maintaining and improving it. The asana practice, done typically in bare feet, helps to keep the nerve sensors of our skin turned on, improving our proprioception (our sense of where our body parts are in space), a great way to reduce the chance of falls. It moves toe, foot and ankle joints through their healthy range of motion. The poses encourage both flexibility and strength, as well as helping to maintain good circulation of blood and lymph fluid in and out of the feet. And even our mindfulness practices can have the benefit of tuning us into the more subtle sensations that are arising in the feet, providing us with the opportunity to respond sooner than later when things start to feel out of balance in our feet. And studies show that yoga is generally beneficial for arthritis, and the feet certainly are affected by that!
For those interested in improving the health of their feet through yoga, especially if new to yoga, the key is finding the right class or teacher to help you on your way. If you are a beginner, look for a class that is for beginners. If you have specific foot issues you want to address, look for a therapeutic yoga class and check in with the teacher before your first session to discuss your specific issues and goals. Consider finding a “yoga therapist” in your area or one you can work with online to get more personalized approach to using yoga for revitalizing your feet. (Check out my offerings for yoga therapy.) Even small strides (sorry, couldn’t be helped!) in taking better care of your feet will go a long way in supporting your long-term wellness goals.
Any Supplemental Practices?
• I’m a big fan of foot massage, whether it is a self-massage, pedicure massage or full body massage. I find it helpful to request the kind of work I’d like the massage person to do for my feet- gentle, moderate, deep.
• I also like rolling the soles of the feet, using tennis balls (super inexpensive) or specialized balls. I also use my drumsticks to roll the soles of the feet, to good effect.
• Some folks speak highly of using toes spreaders to keep the toes from gradually folding over one another. I do something similar by just threading my fingers between my toes and mobilizing them in different directions gently. Here is my toe mobilization practice: