These Boots (and Feet) Were Made for Walking

fullsizeoutput_719Okay, lemme get one thing straight. The vision, hope, dream of my blog in this incarnation was not to share my life’s drama with the world (been there, done that, do NOT want the t-shirt) but rather, to intersect my writing with my emerging (haha. get it? GET? IT?) passion/mission/obsession with whole-body-health-wellness-through-movement-and-while-Pilates-is-one-way-to-get-you-moving-an-even-better-way-is-to-get-your-ass-off-the-couch/recliner/chair-of-any-kind-and-get-out-and-start-tree-climbing-cartwheeling-barefooting-or-heck-just-push-and-pull-and-reach-overhead-and-squat-for-stuff-throughout-your-day-not-just-in-a-gym-or-Pilates-class-ALL-of-which-Joseph-Pilates-far-more-than-he-ever-“did-Pilates” brand of religion. And, in the process, perhaps inspire a few others to think outside the “exercise” box and begin integrating whole-body movement throughout their day … a paradigm shift from “quantity” to “quality” where our movement, and ultimately—our lives—are concerned. The challenge has been trying to get all of that on my new business card. Gonna be pretty small print. On a really big card.

But then the world had to go and get all up in my business, hijacking my mission and my plans and skirting me off-track for a few weeks or so…

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But a girl can’t go into hiding forever now, can she? God knows I’ve tried for the past five years or so, but the peopley-things just won’t let me. Nor will my dog (if I could toilet-train him, we’d never have to leave the house). But, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans,” a very wise man once said, so the peopley things gotta be dealt with, which always takes more time than this girl wants to spend on peopley-things. For the record, it takes an enormous amount of time and energy and resources to confront an unethical landlord, break a business lease, haul studio equipment into a storage garage, scramble to find a new location (in a church, of all places!), sign a new lease in a space far smaller than the one recently vacated, clean and paint the new space, and then haul aforementioned equipment out of storage and into the new space (did I mention it was a church?!), and overhaul a website and online scheduling program, get a new logo designed and new business cards and brochures printed, reevaluate and rewrite the business plan/mission—oh, and at the same time, move to a new house and start reading books and writing stuff for grad skool that resumed this fall (six credits shy of thesis, peeps!) …. today, safely on this side of the shitstorm, all I can say in my defense is that it was a good idea at the time. And, that I didn’t do the confronting and lease-breaking and moving and painting and moving again all by myself. Friends and family and even strangers have been mind-blowingly supportive and encouraging and helpful beyond words … my advice to anyone trying to get on in this world, no matter what you’re facing is this: surround yourself with good people. In every aspect of your life, personal and professional. And by “good people” I mean others who genuinely want to help you, lift you, who go high when others go low. Oh—and be a good people yourself. For no other reason than because you want to. Period.

(At some point, I will write about the whole nasty ordeal with my ex landlord—the parallels between my experience and the hair-raising vaudeville show called the 2016 US Presidential election is disturbing and unsettling—the dangerous attitudes, beliefs and behaviors brought to light by this election need to be addressed. However, my story will likely end up as the final essay for my independent study coursework this term at Hamline, not here on the blog. But who knows—as my dear mom likes to say, “My women studies classes at MSU taught me that I always have the right to change my mind …”)

As of last week, I’m finally settled in the big ol’ church that so warmly opened their doors to me and my business (as they do for anyone and everyone. Unconditionally, without judgment, without motive. Good peeps at UBC—did I mention how important good peeps are in life? Very.), and I’m ready to take appointments and teach small group classes. I’ve joined the Dinkytown Business Association and as soon as my new biz cards and brochures arrive, I’ll be taking a li’l stroll through the ‘hood to start spreading the good Pilates and Nutritious Movement news. But the invitation is open to all, Dinkytownian or not: Please come and visit me in my new digs! Not only will I give you a

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The psychedelic church gym.

Pilates/movement session like no other (though, if you’re looking for a gym-like “workout,” you may want to look elsewhere, as that’s not my brand of health and wellness—I’ll make you sweat and tremble and curse at me, no doubt, but you’ll barely be moving when we begin; it can be rather humbling, albeit profoundly enlightening and life-altering work, if you’re up to the challenge), I’ll also give you a tour of the massive edifice in which my business now resides—the brilliantly graffitied gym, the real-live baptistry in the

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Not the actual UBC’s baptistry, but close; image stolen from the internet.

sanctuary, the Assembly Room where the Roots Cellars Music Series happen, all the way down into the deep, dark shadowy bowels where the massive steel monstrosity they call a boiler shakes, rattles and heaves hot air up into every nook and cranny of this precious old soul of a church…) We might get lost, which is half the fun!

But, back to our regularly scheduled program: the point of this blog, if there ever was one, is to help others contemplate and maybe even eventually embrace the concept that movement needs to happen—a lot and in myriad ways—throughout our days, throughout our lives, not just in the few hours a week we hit the gym or Pilates studio or yoga class or wherever our “fitness” world lives separately from the rest of our life. Whadda ya mean??!! Move ALL the time??!! Yes, I can hear your thoughts. Bu-bu-but what about my habitual binge-watching TV habits that I’ve so intentionally cultivated??!!!  you might find yourself desperately asking. Radical concept, this “move a lot, throughout your day,” I know. Hard to imagine, much less implement. I get it. So, I’ve decided to break the blog down into smaller parcels—body parts, if you will—to make these ideas easier to understand and hopefully integrate. And because so much of our overall health (and by “so much of our overall health,” I mean basically every. last. thing. in. our. bodies) reacts, responds and depends on the condition of our feet (and vice versa) I thought we should start there.

Specifically, we’re going to talk about my feet, but also your feet, by association. And that twenty-five percent of the bones in our body reside in our feet, which creates a mind-boggling thirty-three joints in each foot. And that the joints of our feet should be as mobile as those in our hands (which isn’t saying much for many of us, because nowadays, our hands and wrists and fingers are also chronically stiff and achy and aren’t nearly as strong or mobile as they could be, thank you, O Modern World with your seductive computers/smartphones/conveniences that are creating and reinforcing an insidiously sedentary, chronically-debilitating “new normal” lifestyle, which many of us brutally subject to periodic bouts of “exercise”) and that the mobility of our feet, made possible by muscle and tendon and ligamental engagement that creates our arches (not those artificial orthotics you’ve sent in to do the work of your muscles), is what allows our feet to mold around the varied surfaces upon which we walk (which again, is severely limited for most of us, so accustomed to our flattened, asphalted modern world terrain…), creating a constant rush of neural messages passing throughout our body, keeping everything alive and nourished—joints spacious and mobile, muscles flexible and toned, blood flowing freely, core strengthened, all beautifully, naturally…But that for many of us, our feet behave like two stiff paddles at the bottom of our bodies, woefully immobile because they’ve been trapped and contained and distorted by shoes for so many hours and days and years of our lives, and that other joints in our body (that aren’t  nearly so naturally plentiful or mobile) have to pick up the slack of the slabs we call feet and these poor joints—our knees, our low backs—can’t carry this burden for long. It’s too much to ask of a couple of flimsy body parts to do the job that is divinely designed to be orchestrated by our entire being—and that if we don’t address the state of our feet, we make it difficult, if not impossible, to address other issues within our bodies (tight hips, unstable pelvis and spine, misaligned shoulders and neck…). Remember that ol’ ditty, “Dem Bones?” It’s true, every word of it. Nothing is random, everything is connected.

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Pedicure, circa early June 2016. It’s now the end of October.

My feet are the consequence of many things—a long-overdue pedicure, for one. Sloppy painting practices (tape-schmape, man). Decades of living in heeled shoes—not just the obviously, dangerously-heeled stiletto, wedge or platform (which I still love, love, LOVE, though I wear less, less, LESS) but also more “sensible” or “healthier” varieties: flip-flops, clogs, athletic shoes; Borns, Aerosoles, Clarks. The consequences of these well-heeled (seriously, I’m on a roll here kids, and it’s not even noon!) transgressions are evident in my feet: chipped polish and ragged nails (wait, that’s the consequence of pedicure sins, not footwear). Uneven callouses (callouses are not inherently a bad thing, btw; where they are can give us some good info on how we’re using using our feet which can, in turn, tell us which muscles in our legs/hips might be weak or over-worked; the wear on the soles of our shoes can give us similar information). Paint splatters across my toes and stuck to my soles (yes, I’m standing on a tarp in the foot photo. I’m also likely standing on slopped paint, which was may or may not have been imprinted in little tracks not across the tarp, but across my studio floor). Bunions. Crooked toes. Stiffness. Aches and pains that start in my feet and travel all the way up to my cranium. But these things are dissipating (the aches and pains, that is, not the unsightly toenail polish) as I’ve been moving from a heeled-lifestyle to a more barefooted (read: more overall movement-based) one. My transition has been slow; inadvertent to begin with, but is becoming more mindful and intentional as I learn how profound the health of my feet is to my entire body.

A heel is a heel is a heel, y’all, in terms of shoes and how the rest of our body must contort and distort to adapt to our heel of choice to keep us upright—sometimes in barely-discernible micro-adjustments, sometimes in huge, desperate measures—all which have a profound impact on our overall wellness. High heels get a bad rap because of their very obvious impact on the body; however, even the heels of our “healthier” lower-heeled athletic shoes and loafers cause these reconfiguration of our bone, on a smaller scale. In heels, joints must reconfigure and become compressed (which in turn, compress and compromise the soft tissues around the joints) to adjust our whole body to the pitch-forward of heeled shoes; muscles grip and tendons and ligaments become stressed and stretched to desperately hold us upright without face-planting. Over time, after years of living in this compromised alignment, previously mobile joints become stiff and unmoving, previously stable joints become hyper mobile in order to adapt to this unnatural environment. Our bodies are stunningly adaptable; however “adapting” doesn’t necessarily mean an improvement.

In my hairdresser lifetime, I precariously hovered over clients for 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week in 2-4 inch heels, for nearly 20 years. I used to brag about my astounding high-heeled feats (as the owner of the salon, not only did I tend to clients’ needs, but I was often balancing on a ladder, changing tube fluorescent lightbulbs or shoveling the walk in front of the salon or engaging in other various maintenance duties between clients), often and proudly quoting cartoonist Bob Thaves, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backward and in high heels!” Those years, incidentally, overlapped my “hyper-exercise” days, too (a topic for another blog post at another time). What I didn’t brag about were the aches and pains I was dealing with, from the bunions and corns (YES. I said “CORNS.” ON. MY. LITTLE. PINKY. TOES. Like my GRAMMA used to complain about. God help me…) of my feet all the way to my head (headaches, neck aches) and parts inbetween. I developed sciatica-like symptoms in my right leg that became so debilitating that I sought medical help, spending a small fortune on various doctors’ visits, physical therapy, chiropractors, massage therapy … I’d find temporary relief, but the pain always came back, often with a vengeance. Not once did any health-care professional look at the shoes that I walked into the appointments with, and say, “Okay, your first exercise is to GET THE HELL OUT OF THOSE THINGS ON YOUR FEET. NOW.” Even if they had, would I have changed? I wonder. Like many people, I might have said “No way. I LOVE my heels. I look taller and slimmer in heels. And I’m short—I can’t do my job effectively if I can’t reach my clients’ heads! I want an easier/better/more convenient answer.” The “easier” answer, rather than being held accountable for my behavior (i.e.: footwear choices, in this case) comes in the form of medication, orthotics, more therapies, eventually surgery …

As luck (?) had it, events in my life ended up making this decision for me (though I really don’t believe life happens quite like that; again, another post for another time). When Bob got sick, I gradually transitioned from my beloved, preferred 3+-inch heels to flat footwear because 1. I quit working to care for him full time and I found out quickly that my new job of racing him to the ER 3x/week didn’t allow the luxury of picking out which shoes to wear with my outfit du jour (which quickly evolved from fashion to function, as well), and 2. teetering on high heels as I paced the halls of the ICU or the 7th floor of the oncology wing at the U of M for weeks on end or caring for Bob was conducive to basically nothing as far as his health was concerned. Incidentally, as I researched online for alternative therapies to help improve his quality of life while he was battered by cancer and the horrific things the medical world calls “treatments,” I also picked up bits and pieces about how I could slowly change things in my own life. I talked with friends who were also on similar paths (“same but different,” one dear friend often says), I read about the whole-body benefits going barefoot more and swapping traditional shoes for “minimalist footwear,” and how that simple act could be the single most impactful thing a person can do right now to improve overall health (why? Short answer: Shoes, especially heeled shoes, distort the geometry of the foot bones and inhibit natural movement of our feet—if our feet can’t move, other body parts will bear the brunt—parts that aren’t designed for great mobility–ankles, knees, low back. If our feet can’t move well, it’s very likely we have limited range of motion in our hips, as well. Without heels interfering with the body’s alignment, the whole body has a better opportunity to move through greater ranges of motion in a more balanced and controlled—read: natural—manner. Yes, that was my short answer). Joseph Pilates knew this, he wrote about it, he not only preached it, he practiced it (the whole premise of his work concerns whole-body alignment—he even invented specific apparatus to address dysfunctions of the feet, among a host of other ingenious tools to address other weaknesses and imbalances in these divine vessels carrying us through life).

When Bob was sick, I bought my first pair of Merrel minimalist shoes, and that was my literal first step toward whole-body wellness and an eventual shift from my sassy shoe collection (and incidentally, my “exercise” mindset) to better health via more “healthful” footwear. Today, my preferred foot state is “unshod.” Yep, I said “unshod.” As in an animal. As in freedom of movement. Except in places that post “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” And with this shift, in a relatively short time frame, the sciatica in my hip began to resolve. The corns disappeared (bunions still with me, still waiting for them to fall off in my sleep. I’m also waiting for my “un-delicate ankles” to suddenly become slender and gazelle-like). As the range of motion available in my feet increased, inversely, knee and low back pain decreased. This is no accident, I assure you, but it didn’t suddenly happen the day I slipped the Merrel shoes on my feet.

The more I learn about the body and its divine design, the more I realize how much our alignment matters to all our body parts, and it begins (but doesn’t end) with our feet. I had a discussion with Joe (my Joe, not Pilates Joe) recently; he said, “You know, you teach Pilates but I don’t ever see you work out,” and I had to think about that—to be honest, I can’t tell you the last time I actually “worked out.” But every day, throughout my day, I try to “work out” my body by integrating full-body movement with everything I do. I might very well do more deep squats throughout my day—to unload the dishwasher, to pick up a dropped pencil or my dog’s poo, and yes, I have and use a Squatty Potty—than most people do in an hour long workout. I likely also reach overhead more times in a day than most people do in a year. I’ve purposely begun rearranging my home to facilitate this enriching movement (a heart-felt shout-out to Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement, for that genius idea, and another to my Pilates teacher-mentor-friend, Rebecca Leone, who doesn’t “do” Pilates, either; she “LIVES” Pilates every minute of her life and it shows); instead of placing items that I use on a regular basis at chest-level (read: requiring little movement), I’ve rearranged some of my cupboards so I have to reach overhead or squat low to get them. I sit on my floor more than I do my sofa or chairs. But, there is a transition period to this way of living, like I transitioned from a heeled lifestyle to a predominately unshod one.

My personal mission is to integrate more movement so naturally into my life that “working out” becomes synonymous with living in my life. Not in a gym or even in a Pilates studio, but “out there,” in the real world. The way nature intend (hey—someone should use that line in a commercial).

The photos above compare and contrast the multiple-personality of my footwear collection. Yes, I still own many heels that live in my closet more than on my feet, and are slowly, pair by pair, finding their way from my closet to Goodwill. By 2020, I expect my closet to be free and clear of all heels. Except my red patfullsizeoutput_8d2ent leather Carlos Santana pumps. Even if I never wear them again, I will be buried in them.

Like anything in life, this is a transition and it takes time. I don’t expect anyone to suddenly empty out closets of heeled shoes and invest in all zero-drop shoes—for most of us, the resultant (whoa—wait. Is “resultant” a real word or is it a Donald Trumpism, a la “bigly” and “braggadocious?” hmmm…) shock to the body that has adapted to heels would be a lot to handle. Then again, I’m not you, so who am I to say it can’t be done? Take it slow. Go barefoot at home when you can. Start wearing a lower-heeled, more flexible shoe (with more room for the toes) now and then. Introduce new terrain to your feet (roll your foot along a tennis ball, or other surfaces).

My feet have come a long way in the past five years or so. My whole being has come a long way in the past five years or so, the result of a lot of work that began unwittingly passive and is evolving toward mindfully intentional.

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Are you ready, boots? Start walkin’.

Next time, I want to talk about “core work” as it pertains to Pilates and to life—it was hard for me to write this piece about feet and not wander off into “but I’m not moving mindlessly, moving just for the sake of moving” territory, which is integral but a whole ‘nuther subject unto itself…until next time, xxoo

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