I struggle with postures that are part of literally every yoga class (sigh…). Granted, I can do a headstand, handstand, forearm balance, I can jump back into plank from crow pose… And while that all looks nice and fancy, it’s not really the purpose of a consistent, balanced yoga practice. And indeed, I’m usually the first one who starts shaking in any of the warrior postures. Oh, and chair pose? Please, my legs are burning, can we skip it?
Of course the issue is my lack of lower body strength. All postures requiring upper body strength came to me easily, but my legs have always been weak. No amount of practice seemed to be able to fix this, and my body always felt somewhat imbalanced. Lots of Ashtanga yoga has further increased my upper body strength (think of all these dozens of chaturangas each and every day…). And while I maintain that yoga is the perfect method for strengthening and relaxing the entire body, my husband believes that only yoga simply isn’t enough to drastically increase leg strength.
Our conversation went something like this:
“I can’t hold any of the standing postures for more than a few seconds without shaking. It’s terrible!”
“You need to start running.”
“But I hate running!”
“Do you want stronger legs?”
“Well, then you need to start running. And if you want to take it further, run barefoot.”
Of course he didn’t mean literally running barefoot. What he was talking about were barefoot shoes, shoes with minimal cushioning and zero drop, meaning that the heel isn’t surrounded by thick padding and is on the same level as the front of the foot. These shoes are built in a way that you’d always land with your toes first, encouraging a “gripping the ground” sensation with your front foot, activating the entire foot, building strength and flexibility (think of the thickly padded shoes as a kind of cast for your feet) – and, the key – therefore activating the leg muscles. You can actually move your toes and your ankle is free to absorb and cushion the shock – the amazing structure that is your foot can simply work the way it was designed by nature.
Doesn’t sound like much, right? I mean, come on, I’ve been walking for over 30 years, how can walking or running with these shoes make such a radical difference?
Well, I started with 30 minutes and was unable to walk properly for a few days. I then switched back to 10-15 minutes barefoot walking, and built up to 1.5 hours afterwards, very slowly and gradually.
Was it worth it? Definitely. My standing postures improved heaps, and I’m now able to hold warrior postures and chair pose just as long as most others in yoga class. I also gained stamina and my body feels more balanced overall. What’s the downside? Well, if there’s one, it’s the loss of flexibility. Unless you’re stretching properly after your barefoot walk/run, your muscles will tense up. Not much, and if you’re not a keen yogi you probably won’t feel a huge difference, but if you’re used to doing crazy pretzel like postures you will really notice a physical shift.
So where do you get barefoot shoes? I’ve started with Merrell (purely because my husband swears by them) and have been using them for over a year now. There are other brands but what I like about them is that you’re able to find women’s shoes that are not pink or purple! 🙂 If you’re thinking of barefoot running or walking but aren’t quite sure yet, there are also a few shoes that are designed as ‘transition’ shoes, with a bit more cushioning, but still the zero drop that encourages landing on the balls of your feet.
Do you feel your practice is more geared towards upper body strength? How do you ensure it’s all balanced? Oh and I’d love to hear about your barefoot experience! 🙂