Written by physiotherapist Karen Ogilvie
What are those things between your toes?? Are you getting a pedicure while you’re at work?? I get some strange looks – the bare feet is enough, but now my feet look like wide paws with bright blue spacers between them! As silly as they may look, I love my yoga toes, or Joy-a-Toes as they are officially named.
I’ve never been too keen on shoes. You can ask my mom; no matter how hard she tried, as soon as I was out of her sight, my shoes would be off! And why? I just thought it felt better. But now there is growing research to support being barefoot, or at least in wider, less supported shoes; and I think yoga toes just take it one step further.
Cramming our feet into shoes all day changes the position of the bones and muscles throughout our feet, which causes abnormal lines of tension in our feet (and throughout our body), inefficient lines for our muscles to work from, and potentially permanent abnormalities in our feet (flattened arches and bunions to name a few). Taking it a little further, being inside a shoe, our feet get less stimulation, meaning that our nervous system can become a little out of touch with our feet. And if our brain is not well connected to our feet, it lessens our ability to make quick or subtle changes when we’re walking on uneven or unstable ground. Now we’re at risk of an injury! A fall. Or an ankle sprain. Who knows what we could do?
I mentioned that shortening our feet (in shoes) can alter the tension throughout our bodies, and this is something that many forms of therapy try to address: rolfing, massage, physio and lots of others. Several fascial lines (streams of tissue that cover and connect our muscles) either begin or end in our feet. An obvious consequence of tight fascia in the foot is plantar fasciitis (pain at the base of our feet), but a tight, shortened foot can also be a factor in achilles tendinopathy, low back pain, or neck pain, and many other injuries.
So along with rolling a ball under my feet to move my plantar fascia, and massage the muscles of my feet, I’ve been experimenting with joy-a-toes to stretch and realign my feet. They took a some time to get used to. I started by only wearing them for an hour or so at a time, and worked up to wearing them for a full work shift, or during a yoga class. At first my feet felt a bit achy, but that has settled now, to the point where I think my feet actually CRAVE the stretch! I feel like I’m more aware of my feet as a whole, both while I’m wearing them and after I take them off; I am more in tune with my weight distribution over my feet, and I feel that my feet generally more active – hopefully getting stronger!
I found my Yoga toes at the Squamish Yoga Studio, with Sarah and Lydia. But they were created by a yogi named Gioia Irwin who has incorporated the ideas of tensegrity with her experience of yoga. You can check out her website at: www.joyatoes.com or just google: Joy-a-Toes. Or next time you see me “stretching my toes” ask me about them!
Have you tried these yourself? Feel free to add a comment below.