It all starts with the feet.
In October, I got an infection from an ingrown toenail on my big toe on the right foot. I walked around with a throbbing toe for over a week before the pain became severe enough to send me to urgent care. The doctor removed a part of the nail and prescribed antibiotics and said it would take a few days to heal.
In the past three months, I’ve had two partial nail avulsion surgeries, two courses of antibiotics, and three silver nitrate treatments on the surrounding tissue. The toe is finally looking better, but it’s still not completely healed.
Although it hasn’t kept me from daily workouts — in fact, movement generally makes it feel better — it has limited some of my activities.
Walking hurts. No lunges. No rowing machine. No running. Planks.
Even some of my favorite restorative yoga poses, like child’s pose, have proved difficult. Anything that puts too much pressure on my right big toe interferes with the healing process.
How often do you think about your feet?
Back in 2019, while on sabbatical in San Diego, I went to see a physical therapist for lingering post-concussion syndrome. Watching me move, he observed that many of my issues with limited range of motion or “tight muscles” actually originated from my feet.
Poor foot strength caused my body to freeze when I tried to go deeper into squats. I was walking from my heels rather than pressing off my forefoot.
My nervous system didn’t trust the strength of my feet.
I spent six months learning how to work out and lift weights barefoot, to build strength and control in my feet.
Before 2019, I knew that feet were important — as a city girl, walking was my main source of transportation. I used to say “my feet are my car.” I maintained a long streak of walking 10,000 steps a day. But I hadn’t ever really thought about how I used my feet, or the concept of foot strength.
I hardly thought about my feet unless I was getting a pedicure.
Most people I’ve met are similar. We tend to take our feet for granted.
Until we sustain an injury that forces us to notice how much our feet do.
Turns out, the feet do a lot.
Your feet are your foundation.
In the lineage of Katonah Yoga, we use the metaphor of the body as a house.
Consider your house: the boiler room is likely in your basement. The pilot light in your boiler room sends heat and hot water up through the rest of the house.
In the same way, what happens in your feet travels up the body.
Your feet are your foundation. They are the part of the body that directly touches the earth.
Your feet anchor the chain reaction that impacts all the joints and muscles. Issues with ankles, knees, hips, low back, shoulders, and neck often start with the feet.
The nerve endings in our feet dictate our proprioception, helping us determine where we are in space. Our feet provide our balance, our stability, our sense of grounding. They help us root where we are.
Without rooting, we can’t grow.
The Language of Feet
The language we use in every day life illuminates the importance of feet. Consider all the ways we use the metaphors of feet in daily life.
We use step out of our comfort zone and step up to the next level.
We step into opportunities and into the world.
We strive to put our best foot forward.
Our feet are our drivers — and it’s the right foot, specifically, that steps on the gas and drives us forward.
We stand our ground. We take a stand for what’s important to us.
If we’re hesitant about something, we might dip a toe in.
When we slip up, it starts from our feet.
When we lose our balance, it starts from our feet.
When we take the wrong path, it starts from our feet.
Our feet are always involved.
Over the past few months in my weightlifting journey I’ve learned that the feet are involved even in upper body exercises.
In a bench press, you need to drive through your feet.
In any seated exercise, the feet are anchoring to the floor.
Even when doing pull-ups, you eventually need to come down from the bar and land on your feet.
The Foundation for Life
Our feet are our foundation.
They anchor the system that moves our body and our life.
Without a solid and sturdy foundation, it’s almost impossible to step into the world and get traction with anything. Our capacity to move in life is dictated by our stability.
Don’t ignore your feet.