Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Ode to Feet

While sitting in a hotel in Washington D.C. waiting for rain to let up, I found myself thinking about my feet -- prompted by yoga and an old photo. And it became my October column for EVM:

Not long ago I ran across an old photo – dried out on the edges, decades before digital – that I’d taken of my own feet.

I remember the moment: I was lounging uncomfortably by an algae-infested pool in a nearly-derelict motel in a seen-better-times town in the redwoods. I was there with my then-boyfriend, a shaggy-haired Californian whose brothers had invested in the fleabag inn, the whole proposition spiked with other shadowy schemes like baggies of pot changing hands behind the tree trunks and afternoons in a mescaline haze.

I was not hippie enough for the scene, feeling my worrywart Ohio roots, a kid up for adventure but fretting about the consequences. I didn’t feel at home with any of those beatniks and they knew it.

So I stationed myself by the only square of honest daylight I could find, where the trees had been cleared to make way for the pool, and I painted my toenails bright red. My camera a reassuring straight girlfriend, I took a picture that grounded me, literally, in an uneasy moment. My feet I could call my own – my body my own territory.

I empathize with that momentarily alienated young woman, finding temporary solace in what she could see and stand on.

Now, of course, the photo also carries an inconvenient reminder: those are young feet, not the bunion-bent, calloused dogs I’m walking around on now. As if I didn’t already see it every time I look in the mirror, the photo is evidence – time marches on.

But I appreciate the feet I have, even today.

It’s odd, isn’t it, to have these protuberances so far away from our eyes, these odd bony tootsies we have to encase in cotton and leather every day to keep us moving through the world?

They are remarkable. Each one, a quick Google search confirms, has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments,19 muscles and 19 tendons. They can saunter, jump, run, dance, twist, turn, grab, slide, and even moonwalk. They respond hilariously to tickling and sometimes, despite their silly appearance, participate in, um, the occasional ménage a paws. (Stop groaning --I’m trying to protect the children).

Some people are ashamed of their feet. In yoga class the other day, where bare feet are required, a newbie said, “I’d rather not” when the teacher sternly ordered off the socks. She gave her a one-class pass, but we know she’ll eventually have to give in – we all do, unmasking our pale and naked soles.

My feet have long simian toes – both of my husbands claim – not at the same time, you understand, that I could play piano with my monkey feet. Until my inherited bunions made both big toes crowd into the others, I liked how my feet looked, the only place in my otherwise zaftig architecture you could find a touch of svelte legginess.

Most of my life I’ve simply taken my feet for granted, unless I stoved a toe into a bedpost or stuffed them into ridiculous high heels.

It’s only since yoga came into my life that I’ve come to bless my feet. There’s a pose called tadasana, the first step toward the standing poses that I find very challenging. Basically you stand up straight, your legs together and your arms stretched out, palms facing outward at your sides.

It seems like a simple pose, but like so much in yoga, it isn’t. There’s the whole question of balancing the feet. Spread out your toes, Rachelle orders. Balance the balls of your feet! Place your weight evenly on your heels! Be aware of the outsides of your feet! Roll your outer ankles in!

Her steady stream of pelted imperatives mystified me at first. My ankles have an “outer” and “inner” to think about? I have to spread my toes from the outside in? I have to care about those fleshy mounds behind my toes and find an even balance?

Tadasana, so seemingly elementary, still sometimes drives me crazy. I lean invariably to the right, my left foot refusing responsibility like a lazy teen. My weight wants to go to the balls of my feet, my heels gliding up as if ready to pounce – or keel forward.

But one day I started to feel the power in my feet – the remarkable, utilitarian beauty of the body’s design – the possibilities to anchor myself, feel myself grounded, deeply, to the earth.

The first time I felt it – energy arrowing from toe to brain, a flash of love and solidarity, I actually teared up. I could feel my body and mind finally, affectionately, strongly connecting.

I went to the foot doctor, who treated my mangled arches like ladies-in-waiting and started me on the road to better metatarsal health. And when I stand up now I salute the way those many bones and muscles work together. I take tadasana with joyful and attentive gratitude.

So, my feet waited a long time to be acknowledged since that poolside moment in the redwoods. Apparently it’s not too late to cultivate – okay, I waited until the end to say it – a good understanding. Getting old, a person needs to stand up to the world, to the world’s assaults. That begins, it turns out, with those funny looking kids at the end of the legbones, Thank you, feet!

1 comment:

Gill said...

I love your blog! What a refreshing piece of writing. I'm starting to love my feet too...