It seems these days that primal is all the craze. If you’re in the loop you’ve read Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, or if you’ve ever picked up a weight you have probably heard of the Paleo trend. These are trends that are about getting back to simpler times, not needing high-tech shoes or equipment and not consuming processed foods. If it comes in a box don’t eat it. If your shoe’s came out of a box don’t wear them. Seems like boxes are bad. The idea is that 4 walls limit your thinking even all the way down into how your muscles think. By confining our feet we limit their strength and potential. This really isn’t news to a yogi. We have been going barefoot – all natural since yoga came into existence. There is nothing more primal then going barefoot. There are other things that we do in yoga that keep it primal like dog pose, camel pose (Ushtrasana), fish (Matsyasana), eagle (Garudasana), and duck pose (Karandavasana). Those are just a few of the animals we try to embody in the course of a good yoga practice. We don’t need anything except our bodies to do yoga, no weights, no prop’s, no mirror’s and definitely no shoes, so if you want primal this is the way go.
(Excerpt from Born to Run – “No wonder your feet are so sensitive,” Ted mused. “They’re self-correcting devices. Covering your feet with cushioned shoes is like turning off your smoke alarms.”)
What else about going barefoot ties into that primal urge? In the Ashtanga opening chant we pay respect to the dust of the guru’s lotus feet. When you see pictures of the great indian mythological Gods you don’t see any of them tucked into lotus with a pair of Nike’s on. After Gandhi died they bronzed a pair of his sandals, symbolising all the great work he had done while he walked this earth. Feet are considered a representation of the journey our great teachers have taken, the idea the dirtier the feet, the more they have experienced. There are other cultures that embrace this foot thing in different ways. In japan you never wear shoes into a home. In India you never wear shoes into the sacred space inside a temple. It’s also consider offensive to have the bottoms of your feet face your guru. But here in America our feet pretty much live inside a pair of shoes and these shoes go everywhere. We traipse all over the place in shoes that can be dirty and grimy, but supposedly comfortable. But are they really?
Many people visit their doctors because they have foot or knee pain. Take it from me, I have seen my fair share of feet over the 13 years that I have been teaching yoga and we don’t exactly have pretty feet. Proof of this is that many women try to decorate and disguise their feet by painting their toes all sorts of colors. We will put just about anything on our feet. But yet it can be hard to get some people to embrace doing yoga barefoot. Our feet are crying to be set free. Your feet can send pain to the knee and possibly all the way up to the back. Our bodies first defense against the stress of being bipedal begins at the feet. So many people don’t have a healthy defense to these stresses because their feet have become weak and even deformed.
It’s time for people to go bare. To let their feet get tough and strong, to let the toes stay spread apart instead of being squashed together, and to let the arch of the foot be just that – an arch. I see bad foot mechanics every class I teach. I see people who can’t stand on one leg because their feet are so weak. We should be treating our health and fitness in the simplest way possible and quit complicating matters with machines, shoes, and gadgets. Let’s just get back to pushing and pulling, jumping and pressing, twisting and flipping and contradicting. For every movement we do, we want to do one of opposition. If we point, we should flex, if we collapse we should extend, if we stand, we should fall. Ashtanga yoga has all of this, and then some. We drop back into back bends, we jump forward to standing, we point our feet, extend our spines and twist just about everything we can, all in an hour and half…and all barefoot.
The first series/yoga chikitsa alone has enough movements in it to make you realize that your feet aren’t well. This should make you stop and wonder. If your feet aren’t functioning optimally, then what effects are they having on your knee? Ankle? Back? My two greatest loves are running and yoga. The reason is… I need nothing to do either. I don’t need a gym, and I don’t need equipment. They both can be done from my home. I can step out my front door and go for a run, and I can bust out some yoga moves in the middle of my bedroom. They are both freeing to me because of this, which means they leave me feeling liberated. One of the goals of yoga is just that; to become a liberated soul- jivanmukta.
I believe one thing that can liberate you in life is when you eliminate excuses. There is nothing more freeing than not needing a lame excuse. We all know that 90% of excuses are lame. So one of the other beautiful reasons to fall in love with Ashtanga yoga is it’s a sequence designed for memorization. Once you have committed the sequence to memory you can do yoga anywhere, no excuses. I have done it on a beach, in a little cabin in the woods, in Honduras and a small island in the Atlantic just to name a few. Having no excuses is very liberating, I promise.
Yoga and running are not going to be comfortable but there-in lies the beauty. They aren’t supposed to be. It’s in the discomfort that you will experience your primal nature of being stronger than you thought you were. Discomfort and bare feet take you back to the root of your ancestors. They made the place you call home what it is. Their survival, and their hard work got you where you are. So every time you stand barefoot at the top of your yoga mat, you should feel plugged into to centuries of hard work and discomfort. And you should fear not just a little more of the same. Being comfortable never got anyone somewhere new, different or exciting. All the brave souls that didn’t have the choices you do, that had to go barefoot, that let their feet collect a little more dust, that had to lift one more bale of hay, that had to plough one more line in the field, that had to climb one more tree to harvest the coconuts. They gave you your freedom to stay liberated.
So out of respect to all souls past that laid the ground work for your comfort, let’s get a little uncomfortable. Let’s get a little more primal. Go barefoot. Spread your toes, pull up your arches and feel the sole of your foot tapping into souls of the past.
(Excerpt from Born to Run – “Just look at the architecture,” Dr. Hartmann explained. Blue print your feet, and you’ll find a marvel that engineers have been trying to match for centuries. Your foot’s centerpiece is the arch, the greatest weight-bearing design ever created. The beauty of any arch is the way it gets stronger under stress; the harder you push down the tighter it’s parts mesh. No stonemason worth his trowel would ever stick a support under an arch; push up from underneath, and you weaken the whole structure. Buttressing the foot’s arch from all sides is high-tensile web of twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints, twelve rubbery tendons and eighteen muscles, all stretching and flexing like an earthquake-resistant suspension bridge.)