Have you ever stubbed your little toe and suddenly noticed how much you actually use it? Ever cut a finger and find it impossible (or at least highly clumsy) to do even the most basic things? We use our fingers and toes so much that it’s easy to take them for granted. The truth is that fingers and toes allow us to do much of what makes us human, but that’s not all. Using fingers and toes with awareness makes us more expressive, more fit, and more connected to the world.
What with the World Wide Internet Web, there is plenty of information to be had about hand and foot anatomy and finger and toe function, as well as any number of foot and toe maladies and abnormalities (I’ll leave those searches to you). Nia has its own take on fingers and toes and dedicates some of the 52 moves to them, too. All of this is interesting and insightful and I’m all about inquiry so definitely explore what interests you.
But that’s not what I’m writing about.
I’m writing about what you can experience without knowing a blessed thing about anatomy or the Nia principles (cool as they may be). Fingers and toes are largely ignored in fitness and movement classes (and in life in general) which is too bad since they offer huge benefits for physical fitness, emotional expressiveness, and our overall presence and connection. Our ability and willingness to pay attention to these oft-overlooked phalanges can make a big positive impact on our day-to-day experience.
“It’s a pleasant thing to be young, and have ten toes.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
In our culture, our toes are almost always tucked away inside shoes but we talk about them all the time. Someone can “keep you on your toes” or “make your toes curl.” You might be a Red Sox fan “down to your toes” and plan to be until you “turn your toes up.” Toes are pretty communicative parts even though we rarely let them see the light of day!
One of the repercussions of wearing (often tight, sometimes high-heeled) shoes is that toes get accustomed to being crammed together. When this happens, we start to lose the strength, mobility, stability, and balance that are all available with healthy, relaxed toes. Toes are designed to work independently (just stand on one foot and feel each of them firing to keep you upright) as well as together. So it’s no surprise that yogis, martial artists, and Nia movers all take their shoes off for their practice.
As you stand and walk, notice if your toes tend to tighten up. See if instead, you can relax and spread them – whether you’re sitting at your desk, going for a run, or doing a heel lead in Nia. By relaxing and spreading your toes, you allow the lower leg to function as it’s designed without undue tension in the muscles and ligaments — and that increased ease reverberates through your whole body. Relaxed toes also allow the body to move more systemically since the whole nervous system can relax into the power, support, and balance that healthy toes provide. So if you want a better workout, let your toes relax.
Awareness of your feet and toes is a great way to center and be present. In any moment, but particularly ones that are challenging or emotionally charged, one of the best things you can do is breathe and feel your feet. Whether your boss just called you into her office, or you’re standing up to a podium to deliver a speech, you’ll bring your best self to the proceedings by feeling your feet before you do anything else. And if Great Aunt Lulu starts in about your hair cut again at the dinner table, wiggle your toes. It’s a great reminder to breathe, relax, and have fun no matter what deleterious things she may have to say about your style.
Who knew? Relax and wiggle your toes for more health and happiness! And check back in tomorrow for how using fingers with awareness can offer even more benefits to body, mind and spirit!