My name is Ondine Constable. I'm a teacher of Nia—a fusion of dance, martial arts, and healing arts. I love the way it makes me feel—energized, relaxed, and strong. It's a means for fitness and creative expression that I can enjoy throughout my life.
I love to share the experience and see my students' faces light up with the Joy of Movement! (Please see my Profile for info about Nia classes.)

In this blog I share personal experiences that enrich my life, including Nia, Transcendental Meditation (which I have practiced for 40 years), and my exploration of natural approaches to health. I offer ideas that I hope will bring you greater health and happiness. Your comments & questions are welcome.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Barefoot conditioning—Getting in touch with your “hands that touch the earth”

Decades ago, I was lying on my dorm room floor, staring in astonishment at the bare feet of my friend Elspeth, who stood in the doorway. Much of her childhood took place on the beaches of Australia, unfettered by shoes. I was experiencing a revelation, a vision of the perfect specimen of healthy feet. No corns, red pressure points, or tormented toes. Who knew?!

Now as a teacher of the Nia Fitness Technique, I find bare feet even more fascinating. Feet are meant to move freely, like hands. They communicate with us through sensation, the voice of pleasure and pain, asking us to pay attention and make adjustments. Together with the legs, feet provide the foundation for the architecture of our bodies.

And like a building, a weak foundation causes problems throughout the entire structure.

Clinical evidence suggests going barefoot strengthens our feet by allowing them to move the way they were designed. International fitness educator Stacey Lei Krauss states “Barefoot training allows freedom of the toes so they can fully extend, flex and grip. This movement enhances stability in the joints of the foot, which is transferred through the ankle, leg, knees and hip.”*

Not only is walking barefoot good for the feet, but evidence suggests wearing shoes weakens the feet, leading to other problems. According to Nike research running injuries, sprains, bunions, hammer toes, shin splints and plantar fasciitis are almost non-existent in barefoot populations, said Ms. Krauss, a Nike Elite Instructor. “By insulating the sole from the ground with an athletic shoe, sensory feedback is diminished and the natural function of the foot is impeded.”

Researchers at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, compared the feet of 2,000-year old skeletons and three modern population groups - Sotho, Zulu (cultures who typically go barefoot) and European. Their findings? Feet were healthier before shoes were invented.**

At Rush Medical College, scientists compared shoe-wearing to bare-footing, and to their surprise found “peak joint loads at the hips and knees significantly decreased during barefoot walking, with a [12%] reduction in the knee adduction moment.” Their conclusion? “Shoes may detrimentally increase loads on the lower extremity joints.” ***

Some people feel that going barefoot is impractical in most cases for safety and hygiene. Fortunately there are many ways to gain the benefits of barefoot conditioning. The Nia Fitness Technique is an excellent choice.

Twenty-five years ago, two aerobics instructors, Carlos Rosas and Debbie Rosas (owner of a chain of successful fitness studios) took off their athletic shoes and created what they termed “Non-Impact Aerobics” (Nia), a fusion of dance, martial arts and healing movement practices.

Now referred to as Neuromuscular Integrative Action, Nia is a cardio workout that’s FUN! Nia teaches you to sense for stability, mobility, comfort and, dare I say, pleasure in your feet and ankles during stances, walking and stepping motions. Of the 52 moves incorporated in the Nia Technique, 27 are specifically designed for the feet and legs.

In my experience, Nia has relieved chronic ankle pain from an old injury. And I’ve fallen in love with my own feet.

Here are some Nia exercises (Source: The Nia Technique by Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas, details these and other foot exercises; Published by Broadway Books, available at Amazon and bookstores):
• Move your feet like hands - wiggling toes, spreading the toes, grabbing as if picking up pennies or scrunching a towel.
• Every time you step, lead with your heel and imagine your foot as the mouth of an alligator opening.
• Keep your ankles pliable and strong by rising up onto the balls of your feet as if reaching for something on a shelf, then slowly lower your heels down.

And additional tips for healthy, happy feet:
• Flex your feet and stretch your calves before getting out of bed - especially helpful for plantar fascitis (pain in the arch and heel, acute in the morning).
• Create a barefoot-friendly yard, preferably without toxic chemicals. Take your feet for a walk and be thrilled by the sensation of grass, moss, sand, or smooth pebbles.
• Refresh achy feet with a soak of Epsom salts and essential oils of lavender or peppermint: cool soaks in hot weather; warm soaks in cold weather.
• Massage a few drops of sesame or almond oil on the soles and toes before bed - a great way to enjoy quality time with your feet.
• Favoring an anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce arthritic pain: fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, wild Alaskan salmon, ground flax seed and/or omega 3 supplements; avoid red meat and fried or processed foods; drink pure water.
• Wear shoes that allow the natural flex of your arches, that don’t pinch your toes or shift weight to the forefoot. Some interesting shoes have been developed to support “barefoot” conditioning. Ask a podiatrist or knowledgeable shoe salesperson. See and

Love your feet, and they will take you dancing through life.

Note: This article first appeared in the New Life Journal, October 2008.

View my website or for class information.

* The World at your Feet, by Stacey Lei Krauss; American Fitness Magazine, April 2007
** Shod versus Unshod: The emergence of forefoot pathology in modern humans, B. Zipfel, and L. Berger; peer-reviewed and published in The Foot, International Journal of Clinical Foot Science, November 2007
*** Rush Medical College of Rheumatology, Chicago; Najia Shakoor, and Joel Block

Click here: Article by Dr. Mercola on barefoot running.

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