Our heels were designed to be grounded, to make literal contact with the earth. Our feet were meant to be worked, meaning all the tiny muscles built to traverse a wide variety of terrain would be used daily. At least that's the ideal for optimal biological function, because all of our parts and pieces need to be stimulated.
Our lives, for the most part, require that we wear shoes. And our shoes happen to be padded, with a heel (even sneakers)....cushiony soft with the toes angled slightly lower than the heel, or much lower in many cases. What this shoe design leaves us with, as years turn into decades, is the actual shortening of the muscles in the back of the lower leg, as well as distortion around the ankle and shin. And, why that matters is the upper leg, hip, and the spine are also impacted. When any portion of the body is limited in its ability to function through the whole range of motion it was designed for, every other part is affected. Alignment, meaning how our body parts stack on top of one another, gets altered for the worse. And, it's not just about what you might notice in terms of easy, pain free movement, or not. On a deeper level, it's about circulation, fluid exchange, and cellular health.
There are several of ways to work with this: One, go barefoot as often as you can. If there is pain, you will have to work into it slowly, and that is an issue I will address more specifically at another time. Two, wear barefoot shoes, which I'll also be writing about here shortly. Three, do this calf stretch often to counter shoe wearing and the lack of natural movement in the feet, ankles, legs, and hips, which happens, well, because we don't live like our ancestors. Which is so good in so many ways. Most of us have more ease, comfort, and convenience than they could have imagined. And maybe not so good in other ways, as we have lost the need for much of the movement that would do a body right.
All of my work is essentially movement based. With client work on the table it is about listening (verbally and nonverbally) to figure out what needs to move....bound-up tissue, restriction around a nerve root, an idea or emotion. In other words, where is it that the flow of life has come to a halt. What is stuck? And, always...what piece is ready and willing to move in this moment.
In a different way of working this concept, with students, I am on fire about the understanding that all of our joints need to move through a wide range of motion. Varied throughout the day. Everyday. We used to have to move to stay alive. Think hunter-gatherer ancestors. In order to survive we had to work physically to procure, carry home, and prepare our food. We had to walk a lot, everyday. We had to use our arms to reach into bushes and trees for fruits and berries, and probably even climb them at times. We had to flee from harm. Our feet, ankles, and hips were strong and mobile from squatting and sitting in a vast number of positions on the ground.
Fast forward to our present experience were things are a drive, a click, or a phone call away. And our chair sitting puts our hips at around a 90 degree angle. Not a bad thing, except for the frequency (number of hours a day, every day, year after year, decade after decade) at which this is the case.
So, I discover that although we don't have to floor sit and squat and walk a bunch to get our living done, we actually DO have to do those things for the cells (tissues, joints, organs, etc.) of the body to get the oxygen and mechanical stimulation they need to function as designed.
And that there is a direct and tangible relationship between not only how much we move and how curious, open, and creative we feel, but how varied and natural that movement is. To be barefoot on the ground (literally, to ground); to feel the strength and mobility of the hips necessary to drop to a squat to more closely see a bug or a flower, or comfortably play with a little one. It means something. Down deep in our bones. It is a movement on a cellular level that connects us to our past, and to a healthier version of ourselves in the modern world. Literally our creative juices can flow better when we incorporate natural movement along and along throughout the day.
So this is the idea that we need to work with. How to make this happen? Come to class to start doing some of this stuff. And/or stayed tuned for more in the way of online help to come.
I just caught on that I am creative. I had long since thought that since I don't draw or paint or make crafty things, that adjective was not mine to try on. One thing I love about life is times like this when the mind that I think is expansive gets blown open wider and a completely uninspiring perception of myself is demolished. Done for. Lately I've realized that in pulling together a collection of things that are me in order to teach movement classes that some find helpful, I am creative. In aiming right here to string together a few sentences that may be interesting enough for a few to read, I am creative. And that it is, in fact, not much about the external rewards of the effort (which thankfully decreases the pressure). It is about staying engaged with the act of living by consistently acting on creative impulse, not as a luxury but as a necessity. The ongoing expression of this essence is very well the difference between surviving and thriving. I'm aware that this is not a news flash to all of you. I also believe that each time a light bulb gets flipped on for one of us, it's good for all of us. So thanks to those of you who have knowingly and confidently held open the field for new arrivals in creative owning.
Barefoot backcare is the title of my new blog. And possibly the evolving future name of my back care yoga classes, or perhaps just an alternate name that I like the sound of. At one time I was a yoga purist, not that I taught all of the limbs of yoga, in that I didn't care for fusion classes where yoga was mishmashed with a lot other things. Yoga was enough, and I created yoga classes that were safe and accessible for people with everything from bulging discs, fusions, rods, stenosis and spondylolythesis, to the super common achy low back that comes and goes, or stays. Then I read Katy Bowman's "Move Your DNA" and began to learn the science behind a few ideas that I intuitively knew, yet hadn't yet realized how important they were.
Like that we need to go barefoot (and/or wear barefoot shoes, which I will talk about in a future writing excursion). Our feet were designed to naturally traverse a wide variety of textures and grades. From the time we can walk, we are put in shoes with a heel (all shoes have a heel, even sneakers-amazing, I know) which puts the foot into a slight plantar flexion (toes down position), which would be no problem, except for the shear amount of time this is the case. For most of us this means pretty much all day. Every day. And, after several decades of this, the calf muscles in our lower legs actually shorten, the front of our thighs and hips work over-time trying to stabilize this forward pitch, and the muscles on the back of the body fail to develop properly (think glut muscles). With the pelvis and spine thrown out of alignment, the back (or feet, knees, hips, shoulders, take your pick) start to hurt.
So, now I find myself in the business of researching, experimenting with, and teaching people how to use underused parts of the body for pain-free happy living. Which means employing natural movement (a lot of which yoga is) with other stuff. So I'm not a purist anymore which feels good, as it always does, to loosen the grip around a held belief, hence the more encompassing name barefoot backcare. (p.s. I really like commas, and always have.)
That props are a great thing in yoga is by no means news to many people. Yet, for decades I shunned the props, in large part because I was not trained initially in alignment based practice. At worst they seemed a crutch; at best unnecessary baggage to a the simple act of moving my bare feet on a mat. Period. End of story, I thought. Then I began teaching what I call Back Care Yoga six or seven years ago. The gym setting I found myself in was a bit of a prop desert, except for chairs, and I built the class around what we had. Fast forward to the unforeseen need to move my classes to a studio. I spent a month buying bolsters (here comes a list of props, in case you were wondering what I was talking about) of various sizes.....blocks, straps, blankets, half foam rollers (not officially yogi equipment but stellar for back care). Not only did it greatly increase the variety of what we can do in class, when we are talking about alignment (which now I am very much into) we need props to help us get closer to positions that used to be far more natural for us. Period. End of story....for now.