Foot Fitness

By Heath and Nicole Reed
[Savvy Self-Care]

Can you feel your heart pulsing in your chest? How about in your fingertips? What happens when you notice your heartbeat in your feet? Consciously directing our attention on a point of intentional focus is essential to growing our intuition and expanding our sensory prowess. Likewise, reversing the polarity of our head-centric culture by “placing our brain in our feet” generates a cornucopia of whole-body healing possibilities. Reimagine new contexts for your feet and build an inner architecture for your consciousness that reliably allows you to presence yourself and feel good in your body.  

What Story Do Your Feet Tell?

When you consider feet, what associations arise? Clean/dirty, tired/happy, ugly/beautiful, and everything in between informs how we approach our clients’ feet and treat our own. The grandmother of Western reflexology, Eunice Ingham, declared in her seminal publication, Stories the Feet Can Tell Thru Reflexology, all of our feet have stories to tell.
Genius visionary, inventor, and early anatomical wonderer Leonardo da Vinci once said, “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” Indeed, Renaissance architecture—flying buttresses allowing for impossibly high domed cathedrals—extolled the functionality and beauty exemplified by the feet.
Daily, we traverse the earth with three primary foot arches, flying buttresses in support of our human architecture. In harmony and resonance with earth and sky, gravity, and ground reaction force, we walk, massage, dance, run, jump, and stand. In fact, we wouldn’t have modern “arch”itecture were it not for arches.

Foot Notes

Every time a step is taken, a chain of events is activated to support movement forward, backward, or in any other direction desired. Collectively, the foot and ankle structures host 26 small bones that form 33 joints and over 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons to connect and allow the dynamic nature of the foot to meet everyday demands. The “ground reaction force,” the opposing yet complementary force of gravity, rebounds from the heel strike, up the leg, to the hips, and to the opposite shoulder, neck, and down the arm. This may explain the asymmetries of pain and tension humans can experience when their relationship with gravity goes askew.

Healing Moves for Foot Fitness

Ida Rolf once said you either engage with gravity or you are compressed by it. In an effort to engage with gravity, we have put together a series of healing moves for the feet that rehab or prehab injuries, sustain a harmonious engagement with gravity, and promote multidimensionality of movement. In general, when rehabbing any area, we recommend moving in the following four-level progression of intensity.

Level 1: Low or No-Load
Range of motion (ROM) is within the natural movement possibilities of the joint (no forcing or hyperextending).
Foot roll.

A common “call for motion” repatterning popularized in the structural integration tradition, this simple and potent first-aid healing move for knee, ankle, and foot pain activates and coordinates the muscles of the lower extremity to recalibrate synergistic movement among these structures.
• In a standing position, place one foot in front of the other as if you are about to take a step forward.
• Balance most of your body weight onto your front foot.
• Begin to peel the back foot off the ground, slowly moving as though you are taking a step forward.
• Pause your movement at the toe tips just before your foot leaves the ground. Keep your middle toe in line with your heel as you roll from heel to toe tips. You may feel a gentle stretch in your toes.
 • Roll the back foot down. While keeping the vast majority of body weight on the front foot, repeat this gentle rocking forward and backward several times or until you feel an awakening and a shift in sensation in the back foot and lower limb.

Level 2: ROM, Coordination, and Flexibility
Toes up, foot up.

Another oldie but goodie from the repatterning coaching of structural integration, this healing move may be performed while sitting with your legs stretched out in front of you.
• Begin in plantar flexion, with feet and toes pointed away from you. Inhale and lift only your toes. Then, lift your entire foot into dorsiflexion.
• Exhale and press the ball of your foot away from you, but keep all the toes lifted. Then, point your toes all the way down into plantar flexion.
• Repeat several times. This is a gentle way to bathe the foot and ankle in synovial fluid while letting go of asymmetrical compensations, allowing the nervous system to relearn proper synergistic movement between toes, foot, ankle, and lower crus.

Level 3: Strengthening
Foot grabs.

This healing move generates strength and foot dexterity while reinforcing strength and flexibility of the foot arches. When the muscles and nerves in our feet are communicating and coordinating smoothly, we create more stability around our ankles, knees, and hips and greater support for our lower back.
• Sit or stand.
• Place a towel or blanket flat on the floor.
• Use your toes to crumple and gather the fabric into as small of a ball as possible.
• Then, unwrap the crumpled ball back to the original flattened position. Repeat several times daily for best results. 

Level 4: Stretching and Strengthening
Kneeling tucked toes.

• Begin in a kneeling position with your hands on the floor in front of you to support your body weight.
• While kneeling, curl and tuck all your toes under your feet and, if it feels safe for your knees, begin to lift up into a kneeling position so your hips come directly above your heels.
• Keep your hands on the floor in front of you for support until you are able to rest your hands on your knees (this is a Level 3 modification). This may take some time and may not be for everyone.
• Be patient and kind with yourself as you slowly open into your plantar fascia. Sustain the stretch for 30 seconds and work up to 3–5 minutes to help rebuild your arches and heal foot projects like plantar fasciitis, hammer toes, and pronation.
Practicing your favorite healing moves for five minutes daily will often provide better results than practicing for an hour every other day. Committing daily to a little self-care and TLC for your feet generates a strong foundation, a launchpad for a healthy spine, and a clear mind from the ground up. And, by regularly directing loving attention to all our parts, we build and fortify a conscious architecture of inner reliance, trust, and sure-footedness in our body and mind.

Heath’s Foot Story

In middle school, my pediatrician alerted me that my left foot’s arch was collapsing. “Nothing to worry about,” he said, just a change he noticed during that year’s annual physical. Later in my early 20s, I began to notice my toes were beginning to take the shape of what I later learned were hammer toes, much like my pop pop’s misshapen and crookedly arranged toes.
Though there was no pain associated with this, I figured I needed my feet to be happy at least another 60–80 years. So I chose to get proactive. My experiential and anatomical study of the human body began, with particular emphasis on the structure of the feet. I began to use my left foot as the laboratory, experimenting with all forms of movement, including yoga, medical qigong, myofascial, and chiropractic repatterning exercises. I hypothesized that I could actually regrow my arches and straighten my toes. And I did! After six years of patiently and diligently giving my feet my curious attention, I started to see results.

Heath and Nicole Reed are co-founders of Living Metta (living “loving kindness”) and want everyone in the world to enjoy the experience of befriending their body. The Reeds lead workshops and retreats across the country and overseas, including Thailand, Hawaii, and France, and have been team-teaching touch and movement therapy for 18 years. In addition to live classes, the Reeds offer massage therapy and self-care videos, DVDs, and online trainings, which can be found at