Last night I went to the Yellow Kite Books inaugural summer event, The Exciting Future of Wellness. It was a panel discussion involving 4 major influencers in the “wellness” scene: Jody Shield, Hazel Wallace (aka The Food Medic), Shona Vertue – founder of the body and mind-honing Vertue Method and, I was happy to discover last night, a strong feminist and coffee devotee, and lastly Rhiannon Lambert, a Harley Street nutritionist specialising in eating disorders and mental health–nutritional links (who, incidentally, used to be a classical singer). All highly inspirational (INSPOGRAM) influential women with fascinating and varied stories to tell about how they came to be in the wellness industry. All passionate about educating the masses and offering them tools to take their health and wellness into their own hands.
I’ve been a huge fan of Jody Shield for a while, and have been using her Life Tonic tools for a while to help lift my spirits and connect to my soul. I’ve always been a bit of a hippy, unashamedly so. And something she said last night reminded me of a blog post I wrote 4 years ago after Maurice and I had returned home after having spent 2 months in Canada, mainly running around barefoot. Coming back to London concrete as opposed to Canadian soil made me think about connecting to the earth with bare feet.
Last night Jody was talking about one of her favourite wellness tenets being kicking off her shoes, walking around on the earth and hugging trees. Shona Vertue talked passionately about how we all need to MOVE MORE and humans simply weren’t built for sitting at desks all day. Functional, playful, life-affirming movement. The kindred spirits on the panel made me smile and reminded me of my blog post: So I’m sharing it again here:
We’ve had a busy time since being back in Blighty. Maurice got the bends quite badly on landing back in the city from PEI, he seemed discombobulated at not having a football-field sized-expanse of green to run around and the freedom of the windswept red cliffs right on his doorstep. I’ve been feeling quite mournful that in London we haven’t got a garden and so haven’t been able to offer him the same delicious joy of running around unfettered, with nearly no boundaries and plenty of cats to disturb. So we have filled our days with plenty of trips to the swings, soft play areas, and generally anywhere that Maurice can feel joy in being active and unfettered. Unfettered, within limits…
It’s made me think a lot about the way that we connect with the earth in the city… or don’t. A few years ago I went on a yoga retreat in the south of France, near Perpignan. It was run by the lovely Vicky Oliver at Whyoga (whyoga.com), who I used to have the pleasure of practising yoga with every week when I lived locally to her classes (Wandsworth). My sister and I booked ourselves on this French yoga retreat as a frivolous indulgence. But when the time came around, I had had a bit of a shocker of a year, within 6 months my best friend died and I split with my boyfriend of 8 years, and the retreat hove into view on the horizon as a real form of relief and healing.
Every morning, Vicky took us through a walking mediation in the dewy sunny gardens of the beautiful chateau we were staying in. We had to walk barefoot, silently, for half an hour. Connecting to the ground through the soles of our feet, and to others only through eye contact and no words.
I personally have always found meditation quite tricky as an activity whenever I’ve tried it. I’m the kind of person who has to really work hard to stop the buzz and hum of thoughts, worries and to do lists from whirring around my brain. In a yoga class setting, stationary meditation has always left me feeling slightly like the dunce in the class, not able to quite lock onto the same groove as everyone else and constantly flittering and fluttering between thought paths and trying to rein my brain back to the point. [Which – as Jody Shield affirms, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong and should give up: no no, you just have to give your mind time to release the stresses it’s built up inside]
This walking meditation actually took me by surprise. Walking bare foot with care and attention on the soft wet grass every morning, making full contact with the earth, felt like a very soothing and calm way to begin each day. There is something inherently grounding about connecting your body to the world via bare feet. It makes you feel better. You are, quite literally, providing an earth for yourself, bringing your electrons back into order.
PEI allowed us to return to this every day, wandering around Country House and its grassy setting, or on the beach in bare feet, it seemed like an unnecessary chore ever to put socks on again. And I realised that it’s just so wonderful for Maurice’s developing feet to have had that pure unblocked contact with the ground, allowing his muscles to react to the undulating landscape under his feet.
This has amazing health potential, doing this every day…without being too hyperbolic about it, the Earth can offer amazing healing powers and is possibly the best antioxidant you can access. Apparently connecting through to the ground reduces the level of the stress hormone cortisol in your bloodstream, reduces inflammation, brings a levelling effect to your heart rate, encourages good sleep patterns (this didn’t appear to be the case for Mo…). And yet, in our daily life in the city, you’re so much less likely to connect to the earth without the barrier of concrete or shoe sole.
I can’t offer Maurice a daily walking meditation on grass while we live in this flat in Peckham, sadly. And I suspect it would have to be a running meditation with him anyway. But, I am trying to make sure that all of his walking around at home is done in bare feet while his little feet develop and beyond. At least so he maintains a connection to the ground underneath him, directly feeling the ground beneath his feet which physically and metaphorically will hopefully encourage him to feel grounded not floating…and which will encourage good development of the muscles of his feet.
Whenever I practise and teach Pilates, this is done barefoot. Working barefoot offers greater challenge for your muscles, working all the muscles around the ankle joint and leg, and challenging your balance and coordination. It means that you need to work everything a little bit harder than if you were wearing chunky trainers. But it also means you have to connect with your feet in a way that you might never think to in your daily life. My Pilates teacher used to spend about 20 minutes at the beginning of each session on foot exercises. Isolating the mobility of your toes, working the arch of your foot. We have the same number of bones in our foot as in our hand, so technically can achieve the same dexterity within the muscular structure. But how often do you do play the piano with your toes?
Try a mexican wave with your toes now. Even if you’re wearing shoes (although it’s better without), try to create a mexican wave from big toe to little toe. You may be surprised by how difficult this is. My Pilates teacher always used to say that any lack of mobility in the feet over time travels up the body and creates a shuffling old person with a humped back. Alarmist, maybe. But possibly also there is truth in it.
So, every day, try and have some consciously barefoot time. Connect through to the ground, even if that’s through to wood/tiling/laminate. Connect and lengthen all ten toes down. Then lift them all up and wave them down individually. Draw up through the arch of the foot as if you’re trying to suck something up from the ground, that lifting feeling connects directly to your central pelvic floor engagement. It runs with the idea that Pilates delights in, that there is no superfluous element of your body’s muscular system, everything is equally important and contributes to good movement patterns and a healthy supple body and mind.
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