Thursday, April 05, 2007

Starting from the bottom

How aware are you of your feet? Experienced martial artists always recognize the importance of footwork, because it is the foundation of everything you are doing above it. Balance, stability, positioning, power, all rely on this.

Here are some thoughts I had yesterday about walking. It’s the most common daily exercise, even if it’s just getting up in the morning and going about your business.

When you walk, do you just put your foot on the ground, or do you pay attention to how and where you place it? Do you slap it down flat, or do you roll forward from heel to toe? Does your foot roll from one side to the other as you shift your weight? Do you distribute your weight evenly on both feet or are you weighted more towards one side of your body? If you are not sure of these questions, look at the bottom of an old pair of shoes. How they are worn will tell you a lot about your habitual patterns of stepping.

What are some things to do to enhance our awareness of our feet? One is to spend some time applying TLC (tender loving care) to your feet. After all, they deserve some attention after the daily grind of getting you where you go.

Massage your feet, paying attention to areas that are sore. According to reflexology, we have 72,000 nerve endings in our feet that happen to map out our internal organs. Massage will not only make your feet feel better but is also a way to affect organic imbalances elsewhere in the body by getting energy to flow better.

Since body parts are interconnected by tendons and ligaments, feel free to work from the toes upward, releasing tension as you go. Besides the toes, areas that often create problems are the arch and ankle.

Bend and flex your toes. You can do this while massaging the feet, and also while standing barefoot and rolling one foot at a time on the balls and knuckles. I frequently do this before putting on shoes, so my feet are de-stressed and ready to go. This is also good for warming up the ankle joint and calf muscles.

Speaking of shoes, they should be fit properly and be comfortable. Poorly fit shoes can bind and restrict movement of the bones and muscles in the feet and cause permanent distortion and damage.

Walk barefoot (or in socks) a bit each day, allowing the feet to stretch and spread naturally. If you notice pain or soreness in part of your step, that’s a clue to work out whatever tension is in that area. Letting something like that slide can become chronic, and eventually you’ll wonder why walking has become so painful.

As you walk, pay attention to how you center your weight, letting yourself roll forward with each step. For brisk walking, reach with your stride, and as you push off with the toes at the end of the step, allow yourself to feel the stretch in the front of the hip and thigh to complete the movement. Opening up this joint is important for athletic performance.

As for the knees, we tend to lock them when standing or walking slowly. When you walk more quickly, let them relax slightly, keeping a bit of flex. A lot of people experience knee pain, especially as they get older, and this is another area where a little attention can have strong benefits.

So this was a simple prescription for walking – push off with the ball and toes of the foot, relax the knees, stretch the front of the hips. See if it doesn’t improve balance and mobility in your martial arts movement as well.

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