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We all know we’re not doing everything we could be doing for maximum health, right?  Who among us gets all the sleep we need in a perfectly dark, cool, quiet room?  What about getting all the movement and stretching we need and all the water we need while breathing crystal clean air and eating perfectly healthy food in a totally stress-free environment every day?  Anyone?  Bueller?  I certainly haven’t met anyone living that life.

But that’s no reason to throw up our hands in surrender.  Modern, westernized living may not be the ideal prescription for health, but there are a few small changes each of us can make to ensure that our bodies work pretty well for a lot longer than average, if we’re just willing to do them.  Yes, I’d love to see each of my clients (and myself, for that matter) move out into the wilderness and and totally commit themselves to health.  But until that comes to pass, try these six things for a better functioning body, now and as you age.

1.  Move more.  We’re all too sedentary and that’s just a fact.  I’ve seen 671 different clients so far and I think 5 of them were getting enough movement every day.  All 5 of them were under the age of 1.  Back in the day when we needed to move to find and prepare food, to carry water, and to travel from one place to another, we moved all day. Now, we can do all those things with very, very little movement.  The more your move, the more your body will thank you, so try adding movement breaks into your work schedule as well as your weekend relaxing schedule.

2. Move differently. Think about the different positions available to a given body and then think about the positions your particular body assumes in a given day.  I think I only get about 10 if I’m not careful: sitting in chair, standing, sitting on couch, lying down to sleep, sitting on the floor to put shoes on, reaching my arms up to pull a shirt over my head…boring.   When was the last time I tried to do a cartwheel?  Or army crawled from the bedroom into the living room?  Honestly, I don’t think I’ve EVER army crawled from the bedroom to the living room, but I totally could.  I’ve walked that trip a gazillion times.  Why not mix it up with a crab walk or a bear crawl?  Somersault.  Hop on one foot.  Build an obstacle course between the bedroom and the living room.  Move all of your body in all of the ways.

3. Spend time without shoes on.  I know I sound like a broken record and I’ve said it a million times.  But it’s just so dang important.  Our whole entire body is supported by our feet. And most shoes restrict and alter the ability of our feet to support our bodies.  Let your feet do their jobs!  If you’ve spent your whole life shod, start small, with a few minutes a day on the carpet and work up to hours outside on natural terrain.  Since you’re already building obstacle courses in your house this winter (you are, right?), build a pillow path along your most-used routes to gently build your foot, ankle, and knee strength up so you can be barefoot in the grass when it’s warm enough.

4. Squat.  This is one of those movements that is required for a healthy spine, a healthy pelvis, and a healthy digestive system.  But thanks to chairs, tables, toilets, and outsourcing our food production, we don’t need to squat throughout the day, many, many times a day.  So most of us don’t.  Which leads to so, so, so many problems down the road.  Pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence, constipation, and low back pain, just to get started.  Incorporating just two minutes of squatting into your day, every day, can drastically change your expected health in the long run.  I’m not talking 30 reps in the gym, but actually hanging out in a squat.  Ideally, you’d have your heels on the ground and your tailbone untucked while squatting, but after a lifetime of not needing to squat, most of us can’t do that squat without years and years of stretching and bodywork (Rolfing can help!).  Like it or not, your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones all grow into the shapes we use the most.  Which means after not squatting your whole life, you can’t just start doing full, proper squats today because you decided to.  But you can start the process.  And that’s what matters.

5.  Hang.  Just like with squats, we used to need this movement for survival; climbing trees to scout our direction of travel or to look for danger, to pick delicious food from branches, to stay safe, etc.  And now, well, when was the last time you swung from the monkey bars or pulled yourself up into a tree?  Unfortunately, just like with squats, most of us have long lost the flexibility and strength required to safely extend our arms above our heads and support our full body weight.  If we hadn’t, I’m sure we’d see a lot less TMJ, thoracic inlet syndrome, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, and on and on.  Alas.  Start by stretching your arms overhead to touch the doorway every single time you walk through one.  Work your way up to being able to hang your entire body weight from your hands.  Then starting swinging and pulling your self up.  Take it slow, but hanging and swinging can be so much fun!

6. Twist.  Our spines are designed to move in three main ways.  Forward and Back.  Side to side bending.  And twisting.  Luckily, getting into and out of our cars usually requires a little forward and back movement, as well as some side bending, so our spines get those movements regularly.  While we could probably all use a little more of the ‘back’ than the ‘forward’ and more side-bending in general, the twisting is the one that we’ve really let go of in this modern existence.  And the one place we used to get some twisting in, checking our blind-spots while driving, is now being phased out with back-up cameras and safety sensors and whatnot.  So, build it back into your life however you can.  I mean, putting on some oldies and actually doing the twist is probably my favorite of the options, but there are plenty of times throughout the day you can easily just look over your shoulder and give your spine a lovely squeeze.  For bonus points, do some twists while hanging from the monkey bars and make your body feel like it won the movement lottery!

That’s it, peeps.  There are books and podcasts and videos and such about how to safely increase your flexibility and strength in any and all of these ways (check out Katy Bowman’s work for my favorite source), but just getting started is the biggest challenge.  Happy moving!

 

 

Can we talk about shoes (oh my god, shoes) for a minute?  I know, I know, we’ve talked about them before.  I don’t care.  It’s my blog and I do what I want.  Shoes keep coming up, so we’re going to talk about shoes again.

You know how we evolved running through the savannas of Africa?  You know how we evolved climbing trees and mountains?  You know how we did that without Doc Martens on our feet?  Yeah.

Your feet (and my feet, or any feet, for that matter) are awesome.  Not only are they strong enough to hold you up and carry you around all day, but they are so magnificently flexible and adaptable.  You can wiggle your toes.  You can flex and point.  You can supinate and pronate.  You can rotate left and right.  You can tell, even with your eyes closed, so much about your environment, just from your bare feet.  Is the surface you’re standing or walking on level, tilted, or uneven?  Is it smooth or textured?  Is it slippery or grippy?  Is it hot or cold?  Is it soft or unyielding?  Is it wet or dry?  Is it constant or constantly changing?  So much information!  Feet are like the wikipedia of human existence!  They might not tell you everything you need to know, and you might want to fact check what they tell you, but you can still learn an awful lot from your feet.

And what do we do with them?  We put them in casts.  We put them in their little leather (and canvas and rubber and plastic) casts as soon as we wake up and don’t take them out until it’s time to go to sleep, when, let’s face it, they’re not good for much besides regulating temperature.  Can you imagine?  (I’m sure you can because you’ve probably been doing this to your feet most of your life, or at least know someone who has.)  It’s like taking a well-trained, super-fit border collie and putting it in a crate all day.  Every day.  For it’s whole life.  Not cool.  And it wouldn’t be super-fit for long, would it?

We’re missing out, people! And the bottoms of our feet are connected to the tops of our heads, obviously.  When we stimulate, stretch, and move one, we stimulate, stretch and move the other, and everything in between.  Did you know there’s a huge correlation between foot function and pelvis function?  Don’t want to be incontinent as you age?  Keep your feet healthy and active.  Did you know that pelvis function is related to head and neck function?  No interest in headaches or TMJ?  Keep your feet fully functional.  And can we just pause for a minute and consider how important it is to feel steady on our feet as we age?  How often have you heard of an elderly someone who seemed to be in great health, but they fell, and broke their hip, and then they were hospitalized, and then they got pneumonia…and that was the beginning of the end?  I’m not saying that you’ll never fall again once you restore your foot health.  But functional, vibrant, healthy feet will not make you fall more.  Guaranteed.

I know, I know, we can’t all be barefoot all the time.  I get it.  We live in a place where winter happens.  We (some of us at least, myself not included) go to real jobs, where shoes are expected to be worn every day.  And quite frankly, for most of us, suddenly going all barefoot all the time would land us with tons of injuries and the accompanying pain.  Think about it like this: if you kept your hands in casts from your fingertips to just above your wrists, starting around age two, until now, and then decided to take them off today and go play a two hour piano concert, do some light carpentry, knead a double batch of bread dough, and write a five-paragraph essay, by hand, how do you think that would go?  Yeah.  Not super great.  Let’s think about our feet the same way.  Yes, the goal is to do light carpentry with our feet.  No, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  (I’m kidding about the carpentry.  Come on.)

Getting Started:  So what can you do, today, to start restoring your feet to high functionality?  Let’s get rid of the shoes once in a while to start.  Can you walk around your house without shoes on?  I’m guessing most (if not all) the walkable surfaces in your house are flat, level, in a narrow range of comfortable temperatures, not too slippery, and not very texturally interesting (ooh! carpet! how exotic compared to hardwood floors!), but also pretty gentle on your fresh-out-of-their-casts feet.  This is like going from a cast to a sling.

Other sling-like options include switching out your hard-soled shoes for more flexible-soled shoes.  Sure, there are lots of companies nowadays making ‘barefoot’ shoes and minimalist shoes.  Which is awesome.  And most of those shoes are hideously ugly.  (I still own them.  Stop judging me.)  And some of those shoes may just be too much for your recently-back-from-the-dead feet.  So, instead.  Next time you go shoe-shopping, try this.  Walk around the shoe store for a minute or two in just your bare feet, or with socks on.  Yes, you will look weird.  Who are you trying to impress? You can do this at home, first, to get a feel for it.  While you’re walking around, pay attention to how your feet feel.  How do they move?  Do your toes spread as your weight transfers forward over them?  How long is your stride?  How fast do you comfortably walk?  Where does your foot contact the ground?  Heel first?  Mid-sole?  Starting at the toes?  Really feel your feet as you walk.  Then, try on a pair of shoes.  Go for another walk.  Really feel your feet again.  What changed?  If the answer is “nothing,” this is probably a good shoe for you.  In fact, this is probably a great shoe for you (but is also probably imaginary, as even ‘barefoot’ shoes still feel different from actually being barefoot).  If the answer is “everything,” this probably a terrible shoe for you.  Try to get as close to “nothing changed” as possible within your style/budget/patience-for-shoe-shopping constraints.  See?  Easy.  If you do this every time you go shoe shopping, in 10 years, you will have totally different, and significantly healthier feet.  I promise.  (They’ll also probably be bigger.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

With your new and improved choice of footwear, you can now start mixing up the terrain you walk on.  Start with walking through the grass at the park instead of on the sidewalk or path.  This will help build up the stabilizing muscles in your lower legs and feet (and all the way up through your pelvis and back) that might have atrophied from always walking on flat, level surfaces.  Go hiking (not in thick-soled hiking boots, in your new, more flexible shoes).  Climb trees.  Scramble up rocks.  Go out in the rain and the snow and the ice.  Teach your feet to be good at handling as broad a range of experiences as possible.  This is also good advice for bodies in general.  Flat and level is for sissies.

Another option for improving foot health and slowly restoring function to your feet is taking shoe breaks.  We all know by now that sitting for four hours straight is bad for us, right?  Right.  We all know that even if we can’t be moving all day, we’re supposed to get up every hour (or 20 minutes) and walk around/stretch/just stand.  Same thing applies to shoes.  Can you slip them off at your desk and wiggle your toes?  Can you pad around in your socks while you’re on that phone call?  Can you go stand barefoot in the grass in your backyard for five minutes while you’re waiting for the water to boil?

Next Level Shit:  Once you’ve gotten your feet out of their casts, and comfortable in slings (and this could take several years), it’s time to take things to the next level.  Go ahead.  Take the slings off.  You might want to consider some of those ugly, but awesomely functional ‘barefoot’ shoes.  Work up to spending as much time as possible barefoot.  Strengthen the skin of your feet by walking barefoot on as many different textures (and in as many temperatures) as you can.  Strengthen the tiny little muscles in your feet and the big strong muscles of your core by walking on different terrain, at all sorts of angles.  You can even do some of this in your house!    Throw the couch cushions on the floor.  Throw the kids’ building blocks and Lincoln Logs (Do they still make Lincoln Logs?  Please tell me they still make Lincoln Logs.) on the floor.  Walk over it all.  The couch cushions will make you work harder to balance.  The Lincoln logs will challenge your skin strength and flexibility.  Rolled up towels, wooden spoons, pencils, a rolling pin, a candlestick holder, a bookend, heck, crumple up your junk mail and throw it on the ground.  The list goes on.  Throw it on the floor and walk on it.  (And you’ll get bonus movement points when you have to pick it all up and put it away!)  Keep seeking new and different challenges for your feet.  Don’t let them get bored.

You can get those border collies back in top shape.  It’s a long process, but you can do this.  I know you can, because I’ve done it.  And my feet continue to get stronger and more flexible.  And the rest of my body continues to thank me for it.  But we’ve got to start with the shoes.  For the love of your feet, please stop it with the high-heels and the flip flops and start letting your feet be the magnificent beings they are.  Oh my god, shoes.

And as we talked about two weeks ago, shortening your back line is no good.

Remember that conversation about plantar fasciitis?  Remember how your fascia from the bottoms of your toes is connected all the way to the fascia covering the top of your head?  That line of fascia, all along your back, is called your back line.  Let’s take that information and think about flip-flops for a minute.  ‘Tis the season of intense heat, trips to the pool, and picnics in the park and I see flip-flops everywhere I go.

When you wear flip-flops, your toes have to hang on tight, lest one (or both) go flying.  And once in a while, for a few minutes here or there, that’s just fine.  If, on the other hand, you spend all summer with your toes hanging on for dear life, well, the fascia in your feet will tighten up.  As will the fascia in your calves, and your hamstrings, and your glutes, and your low back, and your mid-back, and your upper back, and your neck, and the back and top of your head.  Yuck.  That’s a lot of tight fascia. Like, your whole back line.

Which is not exactly what we’re looking for.  In fact, we’re looking for quite the opposite.  What we really want is a bunch of loosey-goosey fascia that’s all fluid and supple-like.  Slippery, slidey, juicy fascia.  Not dry, stiff, stressed-out fascia.

If you want to feel the difference flip-flops can make, try this exercise:  Go for a small walk, barefoot.  Walk around your house a few times, or a park, or the block.  Feel your whole foot contact the ground, from the initial contact of your heel, to the final push-off with your toes.  Let your toes spread out and gather all the information they can with each step.  Notice how your legs swing and how your hips feel.  Notice your arms swinging, and your back and shoulders moving as you walk.  Notice your breathing and how easy it is.  Get a sense of how it feels to walk barefoot.  Now, put your flip-flops on and go for the same short walk.  How do your toes feel?  Can you gather the same amount of information with your feet?  How do your hips and arms feel?  Any change in your back or posture?  Any change in your breath?  Which feel more ‘right,’ barefoot or flip-flops?  And if you can feel a difference after a 5 minute walk, how do you think your body feels by the end of the summer?

I know flip-flops are convenient.  And really, what else are you going to wear to the beach?  But if you can wear them as little as possible, your body will thank you for it down the road.

We could get into exactly what a bunion is and how they’re formed, but how about we just summarize, huh?

Your feet are a great way to get information: Am I standing on level ground or a hill?  Is it soft or hard?  Bumpy or flat?  Your feet inform how the rest of your body positions itself in order to stay upright and your eyes seeing as much as they can (to get the most food or stay away from predators back in the day).  So, the more contact your feet can have with the ground, the better.  If you lived your entire life barefoot, your feet would look something like this:

Look at those toes!  They’re all spread out, just grabbing whatever info they can!

In this country, though, we have this nasty little habit called ‘shoes.’  When you wear shoes, especially of the pointy-toed variety… your toes can’t grab a whole lot of info.  In fact, they get very squished.  It’s as if they’re being buried alive in gorgeous coffins.  Yes, it’s very scary and very sad, even if those shoes are just sooo cute and make your legs look amazing.  And then, there’s a lot of jargon about sesamoid bones and ligaments and tendons and plantar fascia, which I find interesting, but is probably TMI and you get a bunion.  Eek!  Once you have a bunion, there’s no easy fix, unfortunately.

 

First of all, prevention.  Take your pointy-toed shoes off!!  Don’t get me wrong; I have and wear shoes.  I even wear pointy-toed heels once in a while.  But I’m barefoot whenever I can be (around the house, at work, and in the car, but that’s illegal, so don’t tell anyone).  And I have those funny looking ‘toe-shoes’ that I wear all summer long, and when I run (on a treadmill or a path) or when I hike.  This is what I advise for you as well.  If you can’t be barefoot at work, try to get wide shoes with as little heel as possible.  Try to feel the ground as much as possible.  Wiggle those toes when you get a chance.  Spread them out while you’re lying in bed.   Stretch them wide!

Other options include surgery, Rolfing, and spacers, among other things.  The least intrusive is simply wearing a spacer between your toes.  I’m sure you can buy fancy spacers, but you could also use a small piece of foam or a wad of toilet paper between your first and second toes.  Rolfing can help restructure your feet, but it’s a long, slow process that is often painful.  Just being honest here.  Surgery, from what I hear, is painful and a long healing process as well.  So, yeah, I’d be happy to help, if you really want to work on fixing that bunion.  But if possible, it’s better to avoid getting one in the first place.

More questions about bunions, or feet, or what I can and cannot work on?  Send them my way!  I love hearing from you!