Self-Healing My Feet
I stepped into Nia from the yoga world in 1999, feeling very comfortable with its philosophy of moving barefoot. My yoga practice aligned my body from the ground up - within the dimensions of my mat. Nia offered an incredible sense of freedom, allowing me to move in space, with music and the dance of Nia. My feet were strong. Fast forward a year, add repetitive stress injury that triggered an inflammatory response in my whole body and suddenly my feet were reeling in pain from plantar fasciitis. My feet needed healing!
I found myself dancing in my cross-training shoes, studying the anatomy of the feet and any healing modality: orthotics, reflexology, chiropractic, naturopathic, massage therapy, acupuncture, contrast baths and Rolfing. I wore shoes for 3 years, even while first moving with Debbie and Carlos in 2003 – cofounders of Nia. It was the healing qualities of Nia that drew me to the White Belt training. I was curious about Nia’s philosophy, technique and anatomy method called The Body’s Way. In the training I wore my shoes 70% of the time, with encouragement from Debbie to take them off for short periods. The base, core and an upper extremity session transformed the way I looked at the body and moved. Thank you, Nia!
Now you know why I have immediate empathy for students who wear shoes to class. Conversations will often start with, “I have to wear shoes because….” I always reply, “It’s ok. You are listening to your body’s way. In fact, I wore shoes in class for 3 years.” I immediately sense the ease, a curiosity and a conversation begins about healing. It wasn’t an overnight process. I learned to listen to my body, changed my diet, researched hormonal support, etc.. I spent many a night dunking my feet in a contrast bath of hot water and ice water for relief. I discovered products and practices along the way to healthy feet. The first product that eased pain and tension is a pair of spikey ½ balls called Foot Wakers by Yamuna Zake. Check out yamunausa.com for an overview of her foot fitness products.
I used the Yamuna product for years. In 2011, I discovered the Melt Method, and specifically the Melt Hand and Foot Kit. Developed by Sue Hitzman, this kit consists of various sized rubber balls designed to release the tension in connective tissue in the hands and feet. When I “melted” my feet, the muscles of my legs and hips released. I had better balance and more access to the soles of my feet. I love ‘melting’ before Nia, in my yoga classes and delivering workshops combining techniques. If only this product were around in 1999! Check it out at meltmethod.com.
I was also turned onto a product called YogaToes. I really enjoyed the spreading action of my toes and feet that these provided. Feel free to google those. I like to wear them in the shower or bath. I know many a Nia teacher or trainer who likes to walk around in them in preparation for the dance. You can receive the benefits by using the classic yoga method of interlacing your fingers with your toes.
My most recent foot resource is a book called Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear by Katy Bowman (available on amazon.com). A must read for understanding the barefoot movement. Katy provides a number of exercises to increase flexibility and foot strength. My favorites include a self-massage followed by stretching the calf muscles using a ½ form roller – a must in your foot health arsenal.
Throughout the years, and to this day, practicing Nia’s foot techniques and the 5 Stages has increased my strength, flexibility and pliability from the ground up. Studying the design of the feet, learning to spread my toes, and leading with the underside of my heel (the landing pad) in the “heel lead” while stepping or walking forward became movement medicine. Intentionally pushing off with the ball of the back foot to propel me forward in walking brought immediate relief and integrated the muscles of my legs. Adding “duck walk,” “squish walk” and “rock around the clock” strengthened my ankles as well as feet. I must share that something magical happens in my 5 Stage practice, ‘creeping’ on the earth that opens my hip joints, releases my core, the long muscles of my inner legs and inner arches that allows my feet to relax. This provides me with more surface area and stability from the ground up. Healthy, strong and pliable feet lead to whole body health.
I hope you find this article and resources helpful on your journey to strong, healthy feet.