Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Feet First

Going back to a talk that Guro Fred gave some years ago, I have been thinking about my feet these days, especially given my last post about distancing.

The feet are of critical importance to martial arts training.  If you have any doubts, go and step on a nail or a piece of broken glass.  You'll get the point (literally).  Feet contain a relatively large number of bones/joints/muscles/nerves compared to other parts of the body.  In addition, the foot contains all major meridians of Chinese medicine and is a dedicated focus in some schools of treatment in shiatsu and acupuncture. It stands to reason that taking good care of your feet is an important key to mobility, health and longevity.

One point Guro Fred raised is that the proper shape of the foot is an inverse triangle, where the three points represent the big toe, the little toe and the heel.  The broader the triangle, the stronger the base.  Accordingly, weight should be flexed from the broadest part of the base (across the ball of the foot between the big toe and little toe) with the toes gripping into the surface for traction.  When lifting heavy weights or resting for long periods of time, weight should be concentrated on the heel where there are fewer joints to carry stress.  This is why proper Olympic lifts all focus on driving from the heel rather than the ball of the foot, like fighters do.

When you look at your foot, you should be able to clearly see the outline of the triangle, and the toes should all face forward, with gaps in between them.  The joints of the toes should fully articulate and allow for mobility upward and downward as needed.

Here are some guidelines for foot care:

It starts with just being aware of the importance of your feet.  Take time to examine them and keep nails neatly trimmed.  Pay attention to how you walk and keep balance AT ALL TIMES.  Most people "fall forward" rather than "walk forward". It is important to push off with the back foot and step with the front, rather than shuffling or dropping weight on the heel.  Most of us have not been taught how to walk properly, so no shame in learning it now.  Your knees and back will ultimately thank you.

Skin Care
At Bali, the skin on my feet started to crack and split, especially between my toes.  Regular applications of aloe skin lotion did the trick, though.  Athletes feet and other viral/fungal conditions should be treated right away.

Toe Articulation
Mobilize your toes forward and backward every day, preferably twice a day ---morning and night.  I do this in the shower (AM) or bath (PM).

Shaking Hands with Your Feet
In this exercise, you interlock your fingers and toes and mobilize them.  This can help restore the proper spread between your toes, especially if your usual shoes are too tight.  In fact, have your feet checked by a pro.  I move up a half size after doing this.

Nothing is worse for your feet and ankles than heels/pumps.  Avoid them whenever possible (applies to guys and girls).

Foot Massage
Singapore is great because every shopping mall has a place that does this and it is usually cheap and effective.  I suggest getting this whenever you can, since it will also help stimulate the energy flow in your overall body.  You can use Japanese "health sandals" or a Chinese medicine stepping board to activate the points on the sole of the foot.  I prefer foot massage.

Go Barefoot
Try to go barefoot whenever possible.  If it is not, at least wear open-toed sandals which do not have a constricted toe box.  Be careful where you walk, but barefoot is best for walking.

Five Fingers
For runners, Vibram's Five Fingers shoes can be a blessing.  Apparently they take some getting used to, and are not cheap, but offer a much better health experience than traditional heel-centric running shoes (which can lead to a variety of knee problems).

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