What it is: Foot clinics are just that — two-hour sessions where you focus on your feet. These are run by Lynn Shuck, who teaches Eischens yoga, a style that emphasizes body alignment and mechanics. People who suffer from back pain, weak ankles, aching knees and tight hips should take a look, Shuck said, at how they’re standing and walking.
The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and hundreds of tendons. “Feet are meant to withstand activity,” Shuck said. But for reasons ranging from a sedentary lifestyle to the shoes we wear, few people have strong, limber feet.
Strengthening and stretching our feet, zeroing in on micro-adjustments, can help rebalance an out-of-whack body and ease aches and pains.
Who it’s for: “This class skews older, injured or both. And by older I mean 35 years and up,” said Shuck, who has been teaching movement for more than 20 years.
What it’s like: This isn’t a class where you flow through a bunch of poses and break a sweat. Instead, you make a series of tiny and focused moves that, practiced over time, open up the feet and make them more able to do their job of supporting and moving your body.
Trial run: To start, Shuck asked the class of 10 about their foot troubles. Plantar fasciitis, arthritis, bunions, foot surgeries, weird toes and weak ankles all got mentions. After discussing alignment principles (how one problem in the body leads to others), Shuck had us stand and align the outside edges of our feet with a straight line. This felt weird, like my heels were too far out and my knees were too far in. But it also activated my leg muscles, my quadriceps pulling up from my knees, and suddenly, standing still felt like a strength move.
Next, Shuck had us roll our feet on a small rubber ball, massaging hardworking muscles and tendons, and mobilizing the joints. “There’s a lot of them in the feet, and we just don’t move them,” Shuck said. (A tennis, lacrosse or softer nerf ball all can get the job done, depending on your tolerance.)
We lifted our toes one at a time, harder than it sounds, and practiced walking on an uneven surface. “The more you do this, the more able you are to recover if you roll your ankle. If your feet aren’t mobile, your ankle takes the brunt of the twist, and you’re more likely to be seriously hurt,” Shuck said.
She showed us different calf stretches and an intense top of foot stretch. Then things got a little funny. We sat down and used our fingers to manipulate our toes, working them in circles one at a time, gently. We spread our toes apart because wider toes mean a better stance. “It’s how our feet are designed to be,” Shuck said, “toes wider than the rest of our feet.”
If the shoe fits: Finally, she had us fetch our shoes. Most running shoes, she said, do too much of the work of stabilization and impact absorption, which ends up weakening our feet and ankles. High heels throw off body alignment. Shuck urged us to consider wearing them rarely or giving them up altogether. Many dress shoes — for men and women — narrow or turn up at the toe, forcing those digits into unnatural positions that throw off our balance and cause pain. Even Uggs have padding inside the sole that keep them from the ideal “zero drop” shoes that have truly no heel.
She recommends minimal shoes, which allow the foot to move freely and land firmly. (There’s more information on shoes at her website lynnshuck.com.)
Next steps: Shuck cautioned that we likely wouldn’t be able to change how we stand, walk and move overnight. But she urged us to do the exercises every day. “Practice standing while you’re brushing your teeth; over time it will feel more natural. Roll the ball with your foot while you’re watching TV. Sit on the floor — it’s good for you! — and manipulate your toes.” Over time, she said, we’d be on better footing.
Upcoming clinics: Shuck offers her clinics mostly in the west metro. She has three scheduled: April 4, May 14 and June 11. (See the website for locations.) All clinics are two hours and start at 6:30 p.m. Register on Shuck’s website.