With snow forecast for New York this week, you might think of it as your big opportunity to walk the way your body was meant to-over your center. All that slipping and sliding really forces us to be over the center of gravity, something that most shoes with heels discourage us from doing. Wearing shoes with heels, even most sneakers, tilt us forward as if we’re standing on a hill. To keep from falling forward and tumbling down the hill inside our shoe, our natural tendency is for the hips to go forward, and chest to go back. This helps us to balance. It also creates a kind of collapse, since our hips aren’t under us and the chest is behind us. It’s the All American posture and you won’t see it in anyone who walks around barefoot or in flat shoes. Go to any Caribbean beach town where flip-flops and barefoot walking prevails if you need an example.
What this does…
Heels also tend to shorten the connective tissue of the calves and as a result the hip flexors, and when you’re standing with your hips shifted forward the upper hamstrings shorten which makes sitting difficult. When the hamstrings are tight they pull the sitbones under which makes an upright posture while sitting impossible without strain.
Gentle exercises to try…
Full body arching and curling is a fantastic exercise to find a balance stance, especially the arching part. Standing, try arching back, your tail back and up as if you have a 6 foot squirrel tail and you’re trying to touch the back of your head. Really exagerate it. When your head goes back shift your weight into your toes, this helps the sitbones to lift. With your tail back, weight in the toes, breath deeply, spiraling the arms back to open the upper ribcage. Inhaling is important because it opens the upper ribcage and supports the shoulders to rest more on the back. When you exhale, let your body spring back to neutral leaving your hips back, tail lifted. You should naturally find a less collapsed posture.
You can also go back and forth following the inhale with an exhale into the heels, rounding the shoulders, but make sure you end by inhaling and letting your body come back to neutral.
Calf stretches are good with the knee bent and the hips back.. straiten and bend the knees with the hips back, to work different parts of the calves. Be sure to put even pressure in the ball of the big toe as much as the pinky toe ball so your feet dont twist. This will help the hips rest more back over the center of the feet.
If this article finds you escaping the New York winter someplace tropical heels probably aren’t your biggest worry right now, but flip-flops might be.
For many people flip-flops or thongs force the wearer to lift their toes or scrunch them up (which is kind of like pushing your toes down while you lift them) to keep the sandal on. Walk down any street in New York in the Summer and you’ll see someone struggling to both hold their cell phone to their ear andbalance while they shuffle along in this year’s flip-flops. Holding that floppy footwear on is tough work and it’s kind of like multitasking for the feet.
Your toes were designed to respond to the ground, and they have a much easier time doing so if they aren’t having to wrestle with your footwear at the same time. Lifting your toes is something that most yoga teachers will ask you to do to find your arch. This is a great thing in yoga because it aligns thebones of the foot. If you tend to pronate, you probably have a little trouble finding the ball of your big toe and lifting your toes really helps to find that part of your foot without loosing the alignment of your ankle.
Unfortunately, all that toe lifting makes our ankles and arches stiff, and makes for a hard landing on the heel when we walk. When we are walking we want the arch to flex like a spring. The spring of the arch provides shock absorbsion for our bodies, but it can only happen when the foot is relaxed. If this is you, try this.. Standing, try placing the outside of your heel down first, then the outside of your toes,then the big toe ball and then the inside of the heel. When you press your toes down, you might notice that it’s easier to lengthen them out as you press down. This is the action you’re looking for in flip flops, instead of scrunching, pressing down as you lengthen through the toes.
This exercise can help whether you’re in shoes, barefoot or in sandals. When you’re walking, try starting by standing over the center of your foot (all four corners with equal pressure) with your knees strait but soft, feet relaxed. Once you’ve found this posture standing, begin to walk. If you try this barefoot on a hardwood floor your walk should go from loud and pounding to almost silent. This is because you are landing closer to the center of your foot, instead of the back of the heel. How you start your walk will essentially determine how you end up moving. If you start over your center, you’ll end up walking over your center.
While flip-flops aren’t the best for your feet, if you wear them, you’ll want to find ones with a tighter strap across the top of the foot for a snugger fit, or one that allows you to press your toes down to hold the sandal on. Your toes shouldn’t have to do anything more than respond to the ground, don’t make them hold your sandals on too.
I hope this helps,