Let's talk about Feet Yoga, baby, let's talk about it!
Wait, "Feet Yoga"? Is this the latest crazy trend to join the ranks of Goat Yoga, Beer Yoga, and any other *insert random object here* on the bandwagon of yoga fads?
No, my friends. This isn't one of them. Because you may not think of snuggling with your feet, though you'd snuggle with a goat holding a cold glass of beer on a hot, yet breezy, day.
Let's back it up a bit.
Let's talk about the feet in general.
THE YOGA OF FOOT CARE
I had an awesome opportunity to chat about the history of walking barefoot with Nick St. Louis of The Foot Collective. He is a physiotherapist who quickly realized how little the foot structure were addressed in school. One revelation led to another and he went down a rabbit hole of awareness on how the feet were designed to move.
Since then, he has treated thousands of patients with foot/knee/hip pain by doing some simple things: First, they had to get rid of their shoes. Then, they had to redevelop the senses in the soles of their feet. Talk about serious foot care.
There were no shoes in the past. There were no orthotics. So, how did people even run?
Well, they RAN. BAREFOOT.
So, what's the deal with modern shoes?
"The truth is, modern footwear is destroying our feet. We're not treating foot dysfunction like we should. That's the base premise with what started the Foot Collective".
What Nick discovered was that the "supportive" arches in athletic shoes (including running, tennis and orthotics) were actually preventing the tissues in the feet from functioning normally. Basically, the muscles in the feet started to fall asleep since they didn't have to work. People were walking by striking the heel down first, then their stride would move onto the balls of the feet.
Because these soles are so thick, people's entire feet weren't able to sense the ground. (Think about it: if you took your shoes off and started walking the same way on the grass, you may notice how hard your heels are slamming into the ground).
This one detail can lead to the knees getting aggravated, and the problem trickles all the way up to the hips (and even all the way up to the neck). Hip dysfunction is at an all-time high (not to mention the fact that a lot of people are sitting in chairs for HOURS).
This is not harmony at all. This is, what we call in yogic terms, the opposite of "ahimsa", which is practicing non-violence (or causing harm to oneself or others).
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THE YOGA OF SHOES (AND THE IRONY OF PRO-ATHLETES' ANKLE INJURIES)
So, Nick actually encourages his entire staff to walk barefoot around the physiotherapy clinic, and most are. Well, they do wear minimalist sandals, since there's just who-knows-what on the ground where you step.
Thinking about the subject matter, it's clear that at this moment "feet" aren't really talked about this way in the mainstream media. What's all over the billboards are models rockin' the stylish thick-soled shoes, the crazy heels and the hips jutting out to one side.
This can be a daunting mission for just one man in a sea of Nike and Adidas advertisements.
"The information has to get out there. Our motivation really isn't financial. How are people not seeing this stuff, including people that are in the world of foot health. Podiatrists, foot doctors....it really is frustrating when you hear someone come in and they've been told to wear crazy supportive shoes all day, even in the shower.
It's crazy! There's some crazy shit out there!
You see all these pro-athletes that have multi-million dollar contracts and they've having these non-contact injuries with their ankles. These people aren't cluing in on it, either. The word has to get out there. If it means posting the odd-shocking thing on Instagram or really pushing forward to get the knowledge out there"
THE RISE OF YOGA SANDALS, AKA "MINIMALIST FOOTWEAR"
As a yoga teacher who's caring about other teachers and students and encouraging them to study their bodies and how they're designed to move, it only made sense to take a look at the footwear that was in my luggage (Because I live a nomad life like that and don't really have a closet).
The shoes I had were thick-soled. There was no way for my feet to tell if there was a rock in the ground. Very opposite from a "princess and the pea" moment.
So, after browsing Instagram for some footwear, I came across a few brands that were all about proper biomechanics and posture (note, none of these guys paid me anything to share their website):
Vivobarefoot: covered-toe shoes with thin yet durable soles. Some look like mocassins, others look pretty trendy (but without the supportive arches).
EarthRunners: thin sandals with straps that only go from between your big and 2nd toe....to your ankles and around. They use vibram soles, so some reviews say they've had their sandals for at least 3 years! I got a pair myself and have been testing them for 2 weeks. It's crazy how much I had to change my gait so my heels wouldn't slam into the ground. I now step from mid-sole or try to plant the whole foot down evenly. It's causing my thighs and glutes to have to work so there isn't so much weight slamming down.
Vibram: you'll know when you see those five finger-like shoes that it's Vibram. They also make shoes that you can wrap around your feet.
JOIN THE ROGUE YOGI LIST AND GET ACCESS TO THE ENTIRE VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH NICK FROM THE FOOT COLLECTIVE! (Plus a short video with some cool feet-helping movements)
SOME FOOT YOGA EXERCISES YOU CAN DO
Alright, guys. These are some pretty simple yet cool things I've done for my feet while on the mat. The great thing is that you can integrate them into any part of your yoga sequence. I prefer to do them at the beginning, because these feet have been stepped on all day. It's nice to get them nice and prepped, especially as you get into some ankle mobility to prepare your body for some standing and balancing poses.
1. I call this the "Don't Touch the Lava!".
Grab a resistance band, a flat plank of wood or even a PVC pipe that can be fixed somehow. Without looking down at the ground, take one step a time. Keep your gaze forward! Try not to look down!!
2. This one I call "Scrunch it Out".
Grab the same piece of resistance band, or a towel or any light cloth-like material. You could even grab a bag. Use your toes to scrunch it, then release. Go fairly slowly and stop if your foot starts to cramp.
3. Last, but not least, get your favorite pedicure toe separators! (Fellas, you can grab them, too. You're not really getting a pedicure during this exercise). Now, as you put the toe separators on, your feet may feel interesting.... depending on what kind of shoes you've been wearing and for how long. So, go slow and wear them for minute at first. Then, with each time you practice, you can wear them for a bit longer. Be kind to your feet and take lots of rests.
You would dorsiflex the feet (toes curled towards your face), then plantar flex them.... (toes curled down).
Try these out, send me an email and let me know how it goes! Need to see the whole video? Just join my list and get free access to it, along with a whole bunch of other yoga resources. Dare I say....you could try this in the next class you TEACH and get some giggles from your students! But, at least they'd walk out with some pretty happy feet :)
Julie (Your Head Rogue Yogi)
Related Post: How to Reduce Shoulder Injuries in Chaturanga
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