by Tao, Carrboro, NC
I’ve always told my yoga students that the worst thing that ever happened to our feet was the invention of really, really sturdy shoes. We became addicts, buying expensive running, biking, walking shoes and our feet became weaker and less flexible. We bought shoes and arch supports to correct supination or pronation and/or many of the other things that feet are usually meant to do. In fact, a recent article in the NY Times says, “the injury rate among runners is virtually unchanged since the 1970s, when the modern running shoe was introduced. Some ailments, like those involving the knee and Achillesâ€™ tendon, have increased.”
Although I highly covet my hiking boots, I go minimalist on my other shoes and make sure to be barefoot when possible. Of course, yoga is a great prevention and cure for foot health (and much much more) and can balance out the effects of time spent in shoes, if done consisitently (that would be close to everyday, yoginis!). As a teacher, I’ve seen weak or fallen arches come back, bunions disappear and ankles straighten. Once your feet are doing what they’re supposed to, your entire body will feel better. My own feet are genetically a bit wacky (dropped metatarsals) but after starting yoga, the pain that used to cause is 100% gone, despite the fact that I still run, jump and play on them.
But it sounds like I could do even more for my feet, like toss (recycle, actually), my cushy running shoes – there’s a group of runners who advocate running barefoot – claiming that foot, knee and other issues disappear when the feet have natural form and function. Go slow and you can build up your soles to handle trails or pavement, or you can opt (and splurge) on the back to basics design of the new shoes that protect your skin but allow you the benefits of being bare. I found the five-toe styles a bit too ridiculous to look down at, but I admit to loving the styles of Terra Plana, a shoe company which also strives for eco-sustainability.
Not a cheap price tag on the latest and greatest, but when it comes to shoes, I like to keep just a few pair of sturdy, functional shoes around that I wear for years at a stretch, instead of a closet full of fad followers, so in the end, it makes sense. Wearing Earth shoes the past several years (with recessed or “negative” heel design) already has me convinced that elevating our heels in shoes is not logical for our feet or spines, so it’s not a big stretch to take the next step to a more natural gait in another way.
What is the moral of the story? Our bodies know what they are doing and our technology is not always as smart as we think it is. It’s going to be more and more logical and important to think nature-based not only when it comes to our environment, but our health and bodies, too.