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Feet First

Whose footprints are those?

In December 1983 I bought a pair of high heels in a tiny alcove of a store on Wisconsin Avenue, the Georgetown shopping district steps from my university. I was a freshman, out selecting Christmas gifts with money I had earned in my work-study job driving a bus to take home to my family. The shoes, grey and navy blue, incidentally my school colors, were not leather—I couldn’t afford leather—but they were the highest heels I had ever owned. I paired them with a grey wool skirt, a cream silk shirt, stockings, my dark blue wool dress coat, the cashmere muffler I swiped from my father, and mirrored aviator sunglasses—it was the eighties after all.

I felt remarkably grown up flying home and perhaps was disproportionately ridiculous wobbling off the plane in Iowa, where we still walked down stairs and across the tarmac, in those heels on two inches of ice in temperatures sixteen below before the wind chill. But of course, the airline misdirected my luggage for several days. To stay warm, my brother loaned me a V-neck sweater and I wore my mother’s boots.

The most amazing part of that memory to me, all these years later, is that I stayed upright in a pair of shoes that were nothing like the shape of my feet and pinching horribly. I have wide, flat feet—the feet of a platypus. For years I bemoaned my feet—without arches I couldn’t run fast or comfortably or jump well at all. Most shoes were not designed to fit me. Dress shoes were even less available. I was never able to be a shoe girl—generally speaking I’ve owned at any one time: a pair of sneakers, perhaps some boot for staying warm, a pair of flats, and a pair of impractical shoes that seemed like just maybe they fit in the store.

When I started practicing yoga it was a toss-up whether my teachers would zero in on my feet or my knees first (they hyperextend). Iyengar yoga teachers are renown for their observations of their students’ body parts and not necessarily in a way that makes the student feel blessed. What they will do is help you overcome your irregular parts, propping you this way and that way, cautioning you to lift your inner ankles or otherwise adjust the realities of your body for comfort and integration in yoga poses.

Most types of yoga teachers will talk about the four corners of your feet, the inner and outer heel, the big toe mound and the little toe mound. They may talk about three bindi, or light points, a triumvirate from which we lift upwards. They may remind practicing yogis that there are 26 bones in each foot, 250,000 sweat glands, and toes that take half the body’s weight when we step forward. They will—or at least I will—invariably remind you to lift those toes, root down through the four corners of your feet, even when the feet or foot may not be on solid ground, and spread the toes wide and enthusiastically.

I had been studying yoga for about four years when a family vacation took us to the Delaware shore. While everyone slept, I tiptoed out for a sunrise walk on the beach. I walked along the deserted shoreline, the waves curling at my toes, the sun glinting up over the horizon. When I had walked as far down the beach as I dared, I turned around and started back, crisscrossing footprints headed in the other direction. The footprints puzzled me because I was alone on the beach and yet they didn’t look like mine. These footprints reflected feet that had shape and an arch even, not the ovals my feet marked in the sand. And then I looked behind me: to my astonishment the footprints that lead right up to my feet were the same. For the first time I could remember, I had made foot-shaped prints. They were mine!

One of my early teachers had sparked fear in me when she opined: Will yoga make your feet wider? Yes, but you’ll also learn to wear more comfortable shoes. When I heard that, I worried. I didn’t want wider feet. To be fair, in my case I don’t know that yoga has made my feet any larger than, say, two pregnancies did, but yoga has given my feet two things: arches and love. Sixteen years of practice have taught me to love my improbable feet.

I still have, in my closet, one pair of ridiculously high heels that “fit” in the store. They were five dollars. I have two pair with more realistic heels that I wear for dressy occasions, one pair of professional clogs, one pair of winter Merrills, and a pair of fancy ergonomic flip-flops. I keep my sneakers in the basement next to the treadmill, and I have a pair of winter boots I wear for shoveling snow. I’m not a fan of socks because I end up peeling them off all day long, but I like legwarmers. And now I look forward during yoga practice to seeing my feet.

My toes lift and move in many directions, somewhat independently from one another. My feet are still technically flat, but I can draw arches into them at will and propel myself forward reliably. I can stand on one foot more easily than the other, but my balance continues to get steadier, not worse. My feet are capable and I connect easily to both the four grounding corners and three lift-off points of light. They rarely hurt and tire long after my brain is begging for sleep. Yoga offers many gifts, not the least of which is how it changes your relationship with your body. I haven’t learned unequivocal love for all of my body’s quirky parts, but those platypus feet are two of my all-time favorites.

My feet, toes spread enthusiastically, on one of my favorite yoga mats.

My feet, toes spread enthusiastically, on one of my favorite yoga mats.

The new moon ushers in the Chinese New Year of the Wood Sheep. It’s another super moon, too, close to the earth in its orbit. The universe keeps offering us opportunities to get clear and ride the energy to whatever’s next. Feeling grounded by these feet of mine and flying high on the sales of my book (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/516628), I’m excited for whatever the next chapter might be. Thank you for traveling along with me, Rxo

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About Robin Bourjaily

I currently perform my own stunts as a mother, writer, editor, yoga instructor, and certified Yoga As Muse facilitator. Overneath It All is a medium for sharing my stories--my commitment is to post on the full and new moons, plus or minus a day or two, and the occasional personal holiday. My novel, Throwing Like a Girl, is now available in e-formats on Smashwords. Please visit https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/516628 to download. Thanks for checking in. xoR

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