When I first read this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh many years ago, it evoked a whole body response of gratitude.
"Walk as if your feet are kissing the earth."
With each foot having 7,000 nerve endings, 33 joints, 26 bones and over 100 muscles it is a complex and incredible part of our body. This isn't about facts and numbers, its pausing to think about the incredible complexity within part of you that allows you to move.
"Fine tune your sensory feedback, like an artist" you may have heard me say in our sessions. Its a key to a doorway of gratitude in the present moment.
Kick off your shoes and walk, dance, play and run.
If the idea of barefoot doesn't fill you with this delight, or perhaps makes you pull back and squirm, take a moment to sense the palms of your hands, allow you fingers to rub into your palms with gentle caress and how do your hands touch another? A handshake, a pet, a hug, a lover, partner? Fine tune your sensory awareness, like an artist fine tunes their sense of sight, hearing or touch. Pay close attention. Feel it. What is it that feels pleasurable? Now imagine that feeling in the soles of your feet.
So many of us take walking for granted, and yet it is highly complex. Often its not till we loose something that we realize how much we took it for granted.
Loss of mobility can have a major psychological impact on an individual.
Almost a third of GP consultations for musculoskeletal problems relate to pain in the foot and ankle, and a total of 2.2 million working days were lost in Britain in 2014–2015 because of work-related disorders of the leg, such as osteoarthritis and tendonitis. Problems such as bunions, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, claw toe, hammer toe can all be a result of an imbalance between tension and compression in the muscles and fascia. Addressing this is not only looking at the foot but at the whole body.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is a web that threads through every part of us. Fascia surrounds every organ, every nerve, blood vessel, around and through every muscle and joint. Fascia thickens to become tendons and ligaments, its becomes almost invisible, like silk gossamer, it moves between fluidity and instant strength. It surrounds and is within your heart. Its a web, when one part moves, everything feels it. It is intelligent. Your fascia relays information throughout your body and to your brain. It is why many ancient therapies, alternative medicine and original body work/massage and movement therapy are so profound and how modern science is continuing to discover the hows and whys. We can not isolate part of selves for diagnosis. It is why we may help a pain in the back by working in the foot.
When one part moves, all moves.
Let us begin with feet.
The dome shaped arches of our feet, that offer a kinetic power and spring that travels and relates to our pelvic floor and our diaphragm means every step is an opportunity to balance the tone of your pelvic floor. From the foot up there is a small spiraling twist, from the foot, then shin bones (tib & fib) in counter rotation to the femur and a rocking figure eight movement of the pelvis.
Barefoot walking is a good place to begin.
Activate, stimulate and engage, even if its only kicking your shoes off the minute you arrive home, or when you wake up in the morning and get ready for your day.
Balancing on one leg as you brush your teeth in the morning is a great way to wake up those sleeping neuro-muscular pathways! The seemingly simple task of balancing on one leg or walking across the room is actually a complex, integrated, multi-sensory experience with stimulation coming from the eyes, ears, joints and plantar foot coming from 7000 nerve endings.
Diabetes, auto-immune diseases, M.S. can all cause peripheral loss of sensation and the risk can be loss of balance, increased falling, and impaired movement quality. Interestingly, when it comes to foot numbness and peripheral neuropathy, not all nerves are affected the same – this means that certain types of sensation may be felt in the foot, whereas others cannot be perceived. One of the stimuli that we are finding that can still be perceived by the foot, even in numbness, is texture. When the foot is stimulated with texture, the peripheral nerves communicate with the brain’s somatosensory system, which creates the foundation of body awareness and postural control.
Get curious with your feet. Explore different carpets, get a tennis ball or a prickle ball and regularly massage the soles of your feet. Venture into the garden and maybe you'll be drawn further afield! Sense your feet like your hands. Allow one foot to touch your other foot, caress, Play footsie with your own feet or find a willing friend. If you do feel drawn to venture outside, let the sun and the air move between your toes. If you have some numbness in your feet, do take care outside, watch where you are stepping and don't let your feet get cold.
For more advanced, walk on uneven ground, Challenges with large pebbles first. Feet become over sensitized in shoes all day. Walking barefoot will not give you hard feet, contrary to common belief, it will actually soften your feet. I had a reflexology session and the therapist couldn't believe my feet, quote 'they are the softest most pliable feet I have ever treated!'
Naturally toes shouldn't be touching and all squashed up. I spent some months in India in my twenties and noticed many locals feet and toes were wide, with all toes spread out individually. It reminded me of a book I read before travelling in India, an old Indian man, asking, when the British started arriving in India, ''why do they need chairs, have they (British) got stiff legs?'' Well no. We don't have chairs because of stiff legs but we now have stiff legs through chairs and too much sitting. The impact of chairs, it is being called the new smoking. And for good reason. Our bodies are designed to move. Shoes are the same. They restrict our feet, they change our walking posture.
Bring your thoughts back to the fascia we described earlier, an interconnected web, sometimes fascia is strong and thick, other places gossamer thin, to maintain the right level of tension and compression and balance of our structure we need to move fully in all directions, spiraling, with changes in speed. Sitting for long periods in this fixed position has great impacts on our health.
Walking is the simplest and incredibly effective way of improving all of our health.
"All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking."
Take care of your feet, love your feet, with gratitude let your feet kiss the earth. Every step you take can be a gift in the present moment.
image- Eric Franklin.
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