The Health Of Your Body & Mind Starts At Your Feet
Work from the ground up.
Move over bedazzled ear seeds and premium probiotics, feet are the next health frontier. Many may assume mental and physical wellness starts with the top of your body, the brain being the most complex organ, but Eastern medicine makes a case for more of a ground-up approach. Our feet are far more than meets the physical eye. Yes, they are our body’s structural foundation, but through the Eastern lens, they hold an intricate map of our entire body — doorways to greater health and healing physically, mentally, emotionally, and, perhaps, even spiritually.
With 26 bones, 33 joints, and 2,000 pores (some of the largest in the body), it’s not an exaggeration to call our feet intelligent. “The feet are very sensitive parts of the body. They’re on the ground all of the time and take in a lot of energy and information,” says Erica Matluck, naturopathic doctor, nurse practitioner, and founder of Seven Senses. Although we may not necessarily think of our feet as communication devices, we can all agree there is a palpable euphoric rush that transpires when our toes touch sun-warmed sand or a grassy lawn. This isn’t solely the self-care hype going to your head, but a very real rush of serotonin and feel-good chemicals, thanks to Mother Nature.
“(In Eastern medicine), we believe that the feet are connected to different parts of the body, organ systems, and skin,” says Juhi Singh, TCM specialist, acupuncturist, and Chinese herbalist. “We believe that by pressing certain points on the foot, hands, or ears, you are tapping into meridians” — various energetic channels of the body. This therapy is known as reflexology, a pressure-point method that dates back to 2500 BC Ancient Egypt. By applying pressure to different parts of the foot, you are tapping into those meridians in order to access greater chi — known as your body’s “life force.” The more your chi flows, the more you’re able to embody a balanced state of well-being.
Specifically, six meridians pass through the feet: liver, spleen/pancreas, stomach, gallbladder, bladder, and kidneys. There are the yin meridians, characterized as slower feminine energy, on the inside of the foot, and yang meridians, characterized by dynamic masculine energy, on the outside. Feminine energy is associated with more nurturing, fluid, and creative qualities, while masculine is more powerful, focused, and logical. By massaging these areas of our feet, we are connecting with these subtle energies.
“Generally the heel is related to your low back and sacrum,” Singh says. “The inner part of the foot is where you can find the stomach and intestines. You then move up to the esophagus. … Working from the heel up, you’re basically working from your lower back up to the head. Your nose and throat are at the toes.” Digestion, allergies, stress, fertility, and menstrual regulation are all common treatments that are worked on through these various epicenters of the foot.
Although reflexology research lacks conclusive evidence, small-scale Western studies recommend it as a complementary method for relieving stress and anxiety and improving circulation in the body. It’s also a relatively inexpensive and natural therapy.
On a more spiritual level, when we connect with our feet, we are energetically connecting with our foundational self and the world around us. This can also be interpreted as the root chakra, the first energetic center out of the seven primary chakras of the body. “The goal of the root chakra is to get to a place where you can feel safe being who you are. … We can use the sensory sensitivity of our feet to inform our well-being … to help us discern how open you want to be,” Matluck says. The root chakra is the first chakra to develop from conception to age 7. Many healers believe in order to balance the other chakras, you first must balance the root — gleaning how important this epicenter is.
Further driving home the mind-body connection is Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them, which unpacks exactly how our emotions hold energy. Hay believes when emotions aren’t fully felt or processed, they can compartmentalize in our body manifesting in disease — or “dis-ease.” The author explains that deep fears of the future and not stepping forward in life can lead to foot problems due to pent up energies and emotions.
Think about how much time you spend walking, standing, or wearing, say, those high heels that stress you out every time you sling them on. “We’re stimulating different organ systems and different physiologic processes just by walking and standing around,” Matluck says. “So many decisions that we make pretty unconsciously are impacting every organ system in the body through the feet.”
Our physical system is undeniably interconnected to our mental, emotional, and energetic body. “Mental health and physical health are under the same umbrella as neurology — the nervous system. Our nervous system sets off an alarm, and then our endocrine system then translates that feeling into chemistry (hormones), and that impacts our mental state,” Matluck says.
Perhaps we are tiptoeing toward a foot health tipping point, one where we can tap into greater holistic well-being. Cue the rise of bedazzled foot seeds!
See below for integration rituals to help you take the next step toward greater foot health.
Foot Baths: Salts, Oils, & Herbs
Indulge in a warm foot bath filled with salts, herbs, and plants. By soaking your feet in warm water you are allowing your feet to rest and recharge, and thus extending this effect to your overall body. “The water element is connected to the kidneys,” says acupuncturist Samantha Story. “Mugwort is also a warming agent in Chinese medicine.” Indeed, the flowering plant is often used in TCM to protect against illness and alleviate cramps.
Singh recommends using kosher salt or sea salt in foot baths as well. “You want to mimic the ocean; it cleanses the energetic body,” she says. Given that our feet are highly absorbable, try essential oils like peppermint for circulation or lavender for stress.
Reflexology therapy is focused around the feet and hands. You can find this therapy at most massage studios, your local nail salon, or even give it a try at home. By applying gentle pressure across your feet and hands you are connecting with and activating different parts of your body — various organ systems.
For stress: The solar plexus (your power center) and adrenal points are found in the center, right beneath the ball of your foot.
For digestion: The small and large intestines lie right above your heel, toward the inner part of your foot.
For detox: Target the outer edge of your right foot, directly below your pinky toe and the ball of your foot. This area is connected to your liver.
Acupuncture encompasses many of the same benefits as reflexology, but extends to activate points all over the body through needles, beyond the feet and the hands, to restore holistic homeostasis or balance.
Think of this therapy as a stronger and longer form of reflexology, spent with needles inserted and activated. Acupuncture follows the same meridian method as reflexology, treating various health concerns like digestion, sleep, stress, and fertility through the feet, in addition to activating through other parts of the body.
Massage & Acupressure
If you don’t fancy touching your feet, opt for tools to keep your toes and feet engaged. “Try a golf ball and roll your foot across the ball… you’re stimulating all of the pressure points at one time. This activates and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system [or the rest and recovery state],” Singh says. You can also check out the Aligned Domes by Lauren Roxburgh. The domes can be used to perform self-massage on almost any body part to help calm the nervous system, promote blood flow, and flush the lymphatic system for a rejuvenating sensory experience.
This rooting ritual — connecting directly with the Earth’s elements — is otherwise known as “earthing.” If you go forest bathing barefoot, your body is tuning into and absorbing the Earth’s natural energetic frequency, filling your body with a myriad of science-backed benefits, including improved sleep, reduction in pain and stress, neutralized free radicals (which harm healthy cells), and more.