Start Your New Year with Your Feet on the Ground

 

Spring 2006

How often do you think about your feet? When was the last time you noticed how you use and feel your foot on the ground with each walking step? Have you ever noticed that depending on how and where you place your foot, affects your leg, pelvis, trunk, and ultimately your balance?

All too often, folks are walking around “top heavy”. The thoughts in our heads move us, guide us, lead us, and think us through our day in a way that may eliminate any opportunity to sink into our body. Unless, that is, your body begins to talk back, usually in the form of discomfort or pain. “HEY,” it says, “Pay attention to ME!”

Then, the most common next step is to get so focused on the area of discomfort, you may still be unable to globally appreciate your whole body and the support it can provide from the ground up…starting with the feet.

Your foot is a fascinating structure. It is designed to adjust to the multiple surfaces provided by the earth. However, in the past one to two centuries, we have become increasingly dependent on shoes which limit the dynamic responsiveness of the feet. We are also exposed to less and less variety from the ground. Our homes, streets, sidewalks, and even many paths have been leveled to eliminate the natural nuances provided by the earth’s surface.

These built-in environmental limitations may cause limited movement options in our bodies. Many of us have not been challenged to use the full capability of our feet, legs, pelvis and spine. As we age, we develop wear-and-tear breakdown in different areas of our bodies. A variety of exercise and stretching programs have been found to be useful in helping maintain optimal physical functioning. Yet often this isn’t enough to allow us to continue to enjoy a happy, healthy body as we age and mature.

One of the premises of The Feldenkrais Method® is to encourage patients (although we prefer to think of them as students), to learn to explore subtle movement varieties in regular, everyday movements, such as rolling, sitting, and walking. When considering all movements that involve weight-bearing, a logical place to begin the exploration is with the feet. One of the challenges that people find with the method, however, is that your practitioner rarely guides you to a “right” way of using your foot. Instead, through learning to explore how different positions and uses of your foot influence your legs, pelvis, balance, and other sensations, your nervous system begins to respond to and guide you to improved use of your foot by choosing uses that feel the best to your entire system. Sometimes this is a conscious choice, it can also happen spontaneously.

Here is a very simple experiment for you to try: (if you’d like to read the whole exercise click here, or to hear it click here.)

• Begin with just standing and feeling your weight through each foot.

• Can you feel if your weight is shifted more over one foot?

• Try not to “correct” this. Rather take a few moments to feel how you are supported over the foot where you have more weight. (If you can’t feel which foot and leg you are slightly shifted over, then just pick one to notice. There are no rights and wrongs in this experiment.)

• In “feeling” how you put more weight over one foot and leg, notice your knee. Is it locked? Are you tightening muscles to support your weight?

• Scan up to your hip and pelvis. See if you can sense how your pelvis rests on your hip joint. It is rare that I meet a person who actually knows where their hip joint is. Place your hands where your pants would crease and bend if you were to sit down. And, have your hands about the same distance apart as your jaw joints (TMJ). Believe it or not, this is where your pelvis rests on your thigh bone (femur).

• Now that you’ve scanned your dominant weight bearing side, without shifting your weight, scan the opposite side in the same way. Just gently noticing whatever sensations you can become aware of; in your foot, knee, hip, and pelvis.

• Gently begin to shift your weight more towards your dominant side. Do VERY small and slow movements. Do this 3 or 4 times. How does the weight changes through your foot, knee, and hip. Which direction(s) does your pelvis move? Does is go straight to the side? Or does it rotate a bit forward or back? Upward or downward? Again, just gently notice.

• Then, shift your attention, and weight shifting movements to the opposite side. Again, noticing differences in how your weight shifts to this side.

This is a very brief introduction to the world of exploration. If you are naturally kinesthetically oriented, feeling differences will come easily to you, though visual and auditory learners can catch on quickly. Once you’ve engaged yourself in asking such questions about the sensations of your body, you immediately drop “into” yourself and out of the mental preoccupations that are running through your brain each day. You’ve excited your brain, which is a learning machine. However, through years of training, most of us have been sidetracked into seeking rewards from other people, and do not recognize the thrill of this embodied experience we call “life.”

As I stated before, the current world we live in has limited the natural movements and explorations that our bodies were made for. By re-engaging in movement exploration you can learn to use yourself more naturally, maintain better balance and relaxation in your muscles, and improve performance in any number of areas. Why not start with your feet, because how your feet touch the ground influences everything else.