Here's another article I wrote on foot/pelvis/balance (are you bored yet?) This one is from July's LA Yoga Magazine (see link to article at the bottom). Perhaps most important piece of the article is the 60/40 "rule" of foot weight-bearing (not quite correct) explained. Enjoy!
If The Shoe Fits... by Katy Bowman
After you’ve twisted, lunged, lengthened and aligned, focused, prepared, repaired and reset, you must get off the mat. The notion of bringing a Yoga practice to the rest of your daily life (the part that takes place between classes) can improve personal relationships, success at work – and – your shoe rack through improving your relationship with your feet.
Postures that require grounding action in the feet, increased range of motion of the toes, and full lengthening of the arch are a delicious part of any practice. These foot movements are both challenging and especially rich in sensation, because of the sheer quantity of time we spend not using our feet. “The human foot,” according to Leonardo da Vinci, “is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” Made up of twenty-five percent of the body’s bones and muscles, and articulating around thirty-three joints, our feet have the potential to deform subtlety, thus sending valuable information to the body’s center of mass (located in the pelvis). The tiny stretches in between every one of each foot’s twenty-six bones are a gold mine of proprioception that allow the pelvis to make three-dimensional positional adjustments based on these tiny movements.
Optimal foot health, however, has been compromised in a very large way, due to the heavy use of footwear over a lifetime. Different characteristics of various types of footwear have unique effects on physiology and biomechanics; the limitations footwear places on motion of the foot (along with motion of the ankle, knee, hip and sacrum) are not equal across all types of shoes. The healthiest footwear is one that interferes little with your natural body movements.
Barefoot is Best. It would be unfair to discuss footwear without clearly stating that optimal foot health is ultimately reached through full, shoeless interaction between nature and foot. Foot health can become compromised, however, when you walk on unyielding, manmade surfaces that may or may not be speckled with broken glass and other dangerous items. Small doses of barefoot (wearing socks is okay, too) can be done in your home; just make sure the Jacks are picked up before you do. Minimalistic footwear brands like Vibram Five Fingers are also great options for using your feet.
Before you go baring it all, keep in mind the supporting structures of the feet have been, for the most part, inert for the bulk of your life. Loading fresh arches on long walks after removing a lifetime of support can stress and strain tissues. It is important to think about building strength in the musculature of the feet just as we would with any other part of our body. Start with smaller doses of barefoot walking and make sure you do lots of foot stretching in between walking sessions. Pamper your feet, which will help them be happier as they cart you around: A coconut oil foot massage and nontoxic pedicure can be a mini-vacation as Southern California heats up and dries out this summer.
Eliminate the Heel. Not quite ready to go au-naturel? There are shoes that closely mimic barefoot walking, such as Earth Footwear’s negative heel technology can really drive home the “weight should be in your heel” feeling. Podiatric journals have recently become riddled with articles illustrating that for every positive degree of heel (for a point of reference, the one inch found on a man’s dress shoe creates an average angle of twelve degrees) there is a resulting angle of deformation in the lumbar spine, pelvis, knees and/or ankle. There is no footwear characteristic that jars one out of whole-body alignment faster than the positive heel. If a dress shoe creates twelve positive degrees, just think about what a stiletto can do to deform the rest of the body. Pause and consider choosing well before selecting footwear that undoes all your hard work and increases mechanical stress on a cellular level.
Spread the toes. Toe abduction, or a movement of the toes away from each other, is a normal part of a healthy gait pattern. Years of carrying weight too far forward on the feet, wearing too small shoes as a kid (anyone else out there live on hand-me-downs?), and narrow toe-boxes on certain shoe styles have really limited the toe spreading motion. Selecting footwear that provides ample room to splay your toes when walking is the healthiest choice; ideally our toes should spread just as the fingers do.
If tight toes have become a habit, foot alignment socks (my-happyfeet.com) can work on spreading them for you. The perfect product for the hard-core alignment freak (me!), you can load muscle and fascial tissues while you sleep. Brilliant.
Be attached to your shoes. It is surprising how quickly the flip-flop has moved beyond the favorite pool accessory to the ultimate fashion staple. In California, I totally get it, although I think the New York professional scene may still be in shock. Flip-flops are usually enjoyed for their lack of restriction – lots of fresh air and minimal friction. They’re also time-friendly. Don’t have time to find matching socks and bend down to tie your shoes? Flip-flop may be your guy.
The only negative to the bikini of footwear is the fact that it doesn’t stay on your foot without some major muscle clenching and bony alteration. Research on gait patterns and poorly attached shoes demonstrates increased risk for hammer toes, plantar fasciitis and knee pain. I say keep your favorite flops around for water and beach activities and invest in the newer Roman-style sandals that offer the same open-air feel but with better binding.
Weight in Your Feet: 60/40? Where is the best place to carry the weight in your feet, for optimal foot health? The oft-given instruction for correct weight-bearing in the foot usually cites the 60/40 rule, which is widely misinterpreted as: Sixty percent of the body’s weight back in the heel and forty percent towards the front of the foot. This weight distribution, however, is not actually correct, and the reason why comes down to the actual scientific definitions of commonly used terminology.
The term “weight” literally means result of the vertical force, gravity, acting on the body’s mass. In order to achieve the aforementioned weight distribution, your center of mass would have to shift forward, removing the plumb alignment of the hips, knees and ankles. This forward motion not only increases the torque on the ankle, but also the torque on the lower spine and SI joints.
The optimal place to carry one’s body weight is actually toward the center of the heel bone. Keeping the weight of the pelvis over the ankle joint is the only way to ensure a straight leg and a healthy lumbar curve. However, having 100 percent of your “weight” over the heel does not mean the front of the foot is inactive. With the pelvis centered on a plumbline relative to the ankles, the forefoot (but not the toes!) can now actively press into the ground. The action of backing up the hips to ground the heels while simultaneously pressing of the forefoot into the ground creates an active, force-generating interaction with the Earth. This is so much better for the body than passively thrusting the hips forward.
An effective Yoga practice is one that improves one’s mindfulness, not only on the mat, but for the countless choices one has to make every day. When you understand the impact your shoes can have not only on your feet but on your entire body, then choosing mindfully means selecting the footwear (or lack of footwear!) that is most appropriate to your highest goals for yourself.
When I envision my highest goals, healthy feet, knees, hips and spine are always in the picture, for as long as I’m going to be using this body. That doesn’t mean you won’t catch me in flip-flops when I’m down by the beach in Maui. It just means that every step I take will honor the works of art that I am stepping on.