Being so far away from our mind and our face, it can be quite easy to forget about our feet. Feet are perhaps the least loved of all body parts. Many people don’t like the way they look, and as a result wind up covering them or closing them off to the rest of the world. We’ve all seen the socks with sandals look, the guys wearing sneakers at the beach, or the yoga student who refuses to remove their socks. But our feet are our roots, our connection to the earth. Our feet bear our weight, our feet keep us safe and stable, our feet keep us balanced. Besides a pedicure, when was the last time you showed real appreciation for your feet, or even love or affection?
As a yoga teacher by day and waitress by night, I rely heavily on my feet. When I first began practicing, I immediately noticed all of the space between the toes of regular practitioners and instructors, and I wanted my feet to look like that. I never was one to wear high heels, but still my toes seemed scrunched together comparatively. Since then, I have spent quite a bit of time cursing my feet, for my baby toe does not want to move independently of the others. I also feel an intense throbbing and aching in my feet at the end of a long shift at the restaurant, which can only be alleviated with a little Viparita Karani (legs up the wall). My mother has had the same experience of foot loathing. After years of high heel shoes and one running injury, her second toe crosses over her first toe on her right foot, and she spends much time hating her feet, wishing they looked different, wishing they could better support her. I have heard her talking to those feet, asking them how they ended up that way and wanting them to change.
How many different parts of our bodies do we hate? How much time do we spend wishing we looked different? If we instead directed our energies to loving these parts of ourselves, how much happier and healthier would we be?
Walking barefoot in some of the gyms of my area leaves my feet needing a little TLC. Cracked edges, rough spots, and sore arches are all symptoms I experience regularly. Some nights I douse my feet in sesame oil and slip socks on before bed, waking up to velvety toes. An Epsom salt soak or lavender oil treatment could make you feel like a new person. If you don’t have time for something like this, just hold one of your feet and rub it between your hands and thumbs. If you can’t reach your foot, trade foot rubs with a loved one, roommate, or a friend. Keep socks on if your toes make you feel self conscious! And make disciplined efforts to keep feet free of fungus, athlete’s foot, or other inconveniences that cause us to further hide and squelch the little buggers. Wear flip flop sandals at the gym, and keep your feet sock free while you sleep.
In yoga class, make a concerted effort to pay attention to your foot placement and alignment. In downward dog, look at your feet. Notice if you can see your heels, and tuck them out of view, behind your toes. Press down through the outer edges of your feet and lift your arches in Virabhadrasanas (Warrior Poses) and other standing postures. In lunge poses, really pitch the heel over the ball of your foot, getting a deep stretch across the arch and the base of the toes. Think about the sole of your foot becoming broader and more firmly in the ground when you stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Over time, your feet will begin to transform, even if only slightly. You may start to experience and see space between the toes, feel less cracking and more fluidity of movement. You will begin to decipher between the little parts of your foot anatomy, and the smaller parts of your foot that you need to access in order to maintain balance or ground deeper in certain postures. You will also notice that the moment your feet begin to strengthen, your legs and other parts of your body will too.
Reflexologists say that our feet can tell us much more about what is going on in our body than we may even know. The art of reflexology is a form of alternative medicine that is rooted in the belief that different parts or ‘zones’ of your feet correlate to different parts of your body, including your internal organs. Small massages or gentle pressure applied to the specific parts of your feet are said to be beneficial to overall health and longevity. A good reflexologist could touch your foot and know whether you experience back pain, headaches, or indigestion. Ayurveda, the science of yoga, is an ancient practice that is geared towards overall balance and wellbeing of the individual. According to Ayurveda, if you rubbed your feet every day, you would never get sick.
A lot of physiological problems start with the feet. Knee pain, back and neck pain, even digestive issues can be related to weakness in your feet. Most foot pain is attributed to bad shoes or shoes that don’t fit, or high impact exercise or activity. For foot care, doctor’s recommend RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. It is good practice to walk around barefoot in your house whenever possible. To build strength in the feet, try this exercise: Stand with feet hips-width apart. Lift up onto your tiptoes and hold. Release heels to the floor, and repeat as desired. Try to do this exercise daily to strengthen the feet and legs. The more we can adopt gentle practices to build strength, the easier it is for us to avoid injury.
In Devotional (Bhakti) Yoga, there is a phrase that you will often hear: “I bow to the lotus feet of the Guru.” This is the act of honoring and surrendering oneself to the ancient teachings of yoga practice. The lotus feet of the Guru is a place of refuge, a place of love, happiness, and appreciation. Peasants used to line up to wash the feet of Jesus Christ. Perhaps if we started looking at our own feet a little bit differently, we could start to appreciate all that they do for us and all that we put them through. Perhaps we would start to show our feet a little more gratitude and a little less disdain. Maybe we could begin to love the way our toes look without polish. Perhaps we would pick up the pumice stone and take it to our heels a little more often. Even if we may never spread fully through the toes, or even if we can never put our foot behind our head, we have to remember to honor our foundation, our base. For without it, we would certainly fall.
By Shanti Caiazzo