I like my feet, always have. If you were to ask me, “What I thought was one of the best parts of my body?” I would answer, “My feet”. It’s not a foot fetish thing; I don’t necessarily like other peoples feet, in fact the combination of living in SE Asia and teaching yoga, gives me visual access to lots of feet. I see a lot of really bad feet out there. I just like my own pada.
As a yoga practioner I understand how important my feet are in my life and my practice. My foundation, my friends that take me on all my travels. I like to think that I have a good relationship with my favorite body part. I try to treat them good. I give them a little love every week. On Sundays, while I clean my yoga mat, I treat my feet, softly sanding down the rough spots, freshening up my pedicure and massaging coconut oil into them. A little oil of oregano or neem oil applied directly to the bare nail helps with any toenail fungus that pops up. For me clean feet equal a clean mind.
Want a real treat? Go get a foot massage. It is one of my guilty pleasures here in Thailand. Thai massage uses the principle that all parts of your body, internal and external are connected to your feet. An hour foot massage can be just as nice and as good for your whole being as a full body massage.
I’m surprised by the condition of the feet of others when I am in the yoga studio. I try not to look, but sometimes their feet encroach on my mat (if you know me, you already know that I have a thing about other people stepping on my mat). Some things are physical and can’t be helped, but toenail fungus, bad pedicures, gnarly callouses and just plain old dirt, these are all things that don’t have a place in a yoga studio, student or teacher alike. Do you walk through your home with dirty shoes on? Why do you come into the place you practice yoga with filthy feet?
A yoga studio is a communal place, where you are sharing more than your practice with your fellow yogis. Keeping your mat clean is important for your feet’s health. A rolled up wet mat is a perfect home for bacteria to grow in. Bacteria are probably one of the best reasons not to use the communal studio mat. Studies by podiatrists suggest that bacteria from mats transfer to your feet and unless you practice some place like Pure Yoga communal mats rarely get cleaned well. Perform an act of karma for your fellow yogis and your studio, clean the house mats before you leave the studio.
Our feet are an amazing structural achievement; designed with 10 toes, 52 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, 107 ligaments and hundreds of sensory receptors. Yet we have lost touch with them, we cram them into footwear that turns them into hoofs. We spend years inside our heads trying to figure out how to do some of the basic yoga postures, but we forget to look down and learn how to develop awareness in our feet. Learning how to properly activate your feet will allow subtle adjustment and gentle change to the alignment of your legs, pelvis and spine in standing, balancing and back bends.
A simple exercise that one of my favorite yoga teachers Kate W. Mak, in Calgary taught, is to kneel with your feet tucked under you in a dorsal flexion, slowly sitting back on your heels. Try to keep your spine aligned, shoulders over hips. A lot of people really hate this posture, it can be very intense, but she was right, I have learned to love it! It is an everyday occurrence to see normal people sitting like this in Thailand. It is the posture that you assume when you sit in front of Buddha to pray.
“Vande gurunam charanaravinde”, is the first phrase of the Ashtanga Yoga invocation, “I honor the lotus flower feet of all the gurus”. This says that we respect the teachings of all the learned ones that have come before us. Respect and get to know your feet, it is never too late.
The very least you can do for them and you is to get out and take them for a walk.