Much of our unique human ability comes from our feet and their strong, adaptable structures. Our ability to stabilize our skeleton on infinitely varied surfaces has allowed us to live, work and play nearly everywhere. Yet, the mainstream depiction of feet is that they are unsightly and unsanitary, best covered with socks and shoes. Why would something so critical to our daily function be considered gross?
Perhaps a puritanical view of the inherently sinful human body has concern with our feet, in essence, that feet are an unwelcome reminder of our earthly tether. Or perhaps the social implications of well-worn, muscular feet has led many to remove their calluses and cover their feet with expensive footwear. Many forms of footwear are strong symbols of class: high heels originated as stirrup shoes for Persian horse riders and the heels came to represent the wealth of owning a horse.
Whatever the causes for our current (western) attitude towards feet, the consequences are serious. As modern footwear covers our feet more and more and modern construction technology covers the ground more and more, we lose the freedom our feet crave. Our feet become stiff and the muscles between our tarsal bones become short and tight. Concrete walks and subfloors flatten out the naturally curved surfaces which challenge and engage our feet's range of motion.
Swaddling and limiting the feet more and more may seem like it will protect them from pain, but the opposite is true. The human foot needs movement and varied environments to be free and happy.
If you are interested in restoring some of this movement, you may want to experiment with some of the following:
Daily Foot Massage
Sit comfortably and hold one of your feet in your hands. Using the pads of your fingers, gently massage the muscles in your foot, getting in touch with the bones in the arch of the foot. Starting with the inside edge of your foot, separate each toe and toe pad from its neighbors and explore its range of motion. Once you have done each toe, take all the toes and fold them towards the sole of the foot many times. Then change to the other foot.
Over the course of a few days, the muscles of your feet will soften and your feet will become wider, giving you more balance and support.
For the last month I have been experimenting with gel toe spacers and found them very interesting. At first, 5-15 minutes was plenty of wear time for me and I increased duration as desired from there. I do not wear them all the time, just for 20-30 minutes each day, and it has greatly improved the awareness and use of my middle 3 toes in particular. These are the ones I use: Toe spacers.
There is a growing movement for minimalist footwear which aims to protect the feet while preserving as much natural movement as possible. I have not tried out any of these products but if you are interested there is a blog here with lots of information and a barefoot shoe finder tool.
Finally, there is a long history of indigenous cultures navigating the question of footwear including right here. If you are interested in learning more about the history of indigenous footwear here on Turtle island check out this blog post, and here is a video about the discovery of the oldest leather shoe.
Happy feet to you all.