Interview with Mara Fusero, Feldenkrais® Trainer
Conducted by Yulia Kriskovets
How would you define healthy feet?
I think healthy feet are feet that are able to answer any question that comes from the ground. It could be a pavement, rocky road, or sandy beach. In order to support a person in the best way in his or her relationship with the ground, the soles of the feet have to adapt rapidly to the shape of the surface they meet. I used to say that our hands are like water, they adapt to the object they touch. It is the same thing with the feet. Unfortunately, in the last hundred years, we have walked on flat surfaces, so our feet forgot what it means to adapt to a variety of different surfaces. Our balance does not get challenged much, because we mostly walk on flat surfaces. And when we occasionally get to walk on the beach and encounter uneven terrain, we are thrown off, because the feet are stiff and there’s not much differentiation between different parts of the feet. It is as if we always have horse hooves on our feet.
You can check the skin on the sole of our feet. So frequently, the skin on some parts of our feet hardens and becomes thicker. Our body is very intelligent: if there is more pressure on a big toe, our body produces a callus or a hardening on that big toe, to protect that part of the foot. Usually, people go to get a pedicure and get that callus removed. However, if we accept the idea that the body is sending us a warning, saying “Pay attention, you are putting too much weight on this place”, then it would be a much better alternative to go to a Feldenkrais Practitioner to learn how to recover the optimal distribution of the weight on our feet. If our shoes are worn out more on the right side of the heel, it means we are putting more pressure there. There will be the same response in the soles of our feet and the soles of our shoes. My shoes show me how I use my feet. You can buy a new pair of shoes, or you can change the unbalanced distribution of your weight. That unbalanced distribution could be rooted in an old injury or a habit of using one’s jaw.
Is there a connection between our feet and our hip joints?
It is fundamental for the health of our ankle joints and hip joints to introduce a lot of variations in the positions of our feet. There is an important connection between the ankle joint, knee joint, and hip joint. It is not easy to change the position of our hip joint, because the head of the femur is placed very deep inside the acetabulum (its socket). It is much easier to bring about the change through the feet. It is also hard to change the position of our knees, if we don’t change the functioning of our feet which, in turn, will affect the hip joints. In short, I would call the feet “healthy” if they have a clear relationship with the knee joint and the hip joint. These three joints are especially important for the balance of the pelvis. The pelvis is positioned on top of our hip joints. The pelvis is the base of our spine. There is a direct connection – from feet, to knees, to pelvis and to the spine – with the ultimate goal of supporting the head that floats on top of all these parts. Freedom in the head translates into the freedom of eyes, ears and nose, which allows us to monitor the environment around us. Healthy feet connect to our ability to use our head as a telescope, with all its teleceptors (like the periscope of a submarine). One influences the other.
What are the best shoes to maintain the health of the feet?
I think we need to consider their shape, because each person’s feet have a unique shape. In short, the shoes need to support the soles of the feet, as well as adapt to the surface we walk on. If you go for a hike in the mountains, the shoes have to adapt to the terrain and the feet to the shoes. I think wearing Vibram five fingers when we are out in nature can be very useful, as they give the feet an experience of adaptation, as they take the shape of the surface you walk on. Of course, wearing these shoes on the streets of New York doesn’t make a big difference, because the ground is flat. I think shoes don’t need to have heels; this may cause a lot of issues, in my opinion. If your heel is lifted for a long period of time, whether you are aware of it or not, you will be shortening the muscles of your calves. As a consequence of this, the hamstrings will get shorter as well and the gluteus muscles will work differently. This will affect the lumbar spine. We were not made to wear heels. Our heels are made to stand on the ground. So many people choose high heels for aesthetic reasons, which is absolutely fine, but in my opinion, it is very important to pay attention to not overdo. Another problem with wearing high heels is that when you lift the back of the foot, all the weight goes onto the front of the foot, and it can bring about a lot of pain in other parts of the body.
How do you undo the negative effects of wearing high heels?
We have to recover this sort of shortening of the muscles of the back of the legs, due to wearing high heels. It is very important that, after wearing heels, one could wake up the feet and all its parts by manipulating all the joints in the feet with the hands. It is necessary to recover from short-term heel use. The shortening of the chain of the posterior muscles of the legs does not help our balance. If you wear heels for two hours a day, then a good option would be to lie on the floor, even just for a few minutes, and practice an Awareness Through Movement® lesson to improve the intelligence of the feet. I like to think that the feet are very intelligent. If we think of child development, babies do not come into contact with the floor for quite a long time. They lie on the floor with their feet in the air, with their toes moving. However, they have a strong connection with the muscles of the soles of their feet. They use their toes in the same way they use their fingers. When babies are sucking, they contract their lips, they move their hands and feet, and they contract their pelvic floor. It takes a few months for the baby’s brain to realize that the feet can touch the floor and to build a relationship with the floor. Then, babies start turning onto their stomach, push against the floor with their big toes, roll onto the back and prepare the foot for standing and lift their pelvis in the air. The organization of the feet is not something we are born with. It is important to know our feet, and not theoretically, but by exploring the relationships between different bones in the foot and by separating movements of toes and other parts of the foot.
In Feldenkrais® lessons, we often interlace fingers and toes together and we also interlace the toes of both feet. There are so many Awareness Through Movement lessons about interlacing fingers and toes. In each of my Feldenkrais trainings, I have observed at least one person who could interlace the toes of both of his/her feet without any help from the hands; they would do it similarly to how a regular person would interlace its fingers without thinking. I am personally not yet able to do this. I can interlace the two big toes and sometimes the second toes as well, but I am still working on it. Everything we can do with our hands, we can learn how to do it with our feet.
What are the best ways to keep feet flexible?
It is important to frequently explore your feet with your hands with a soft manipulation: move the bones of the feet and delicately slide the soft tissue around the bones. You can help maintain the flexibility of your feet through the manipulation with your hands. Another important thing to do is to very frequently change shoes and sometimes go barefoot at home. I sometimes suggest to my clients to make a soft ball using a sock and put it under the sole of the foot while doing chores at home to imitate the uneven terrain of nature and to provide the stimulation associated with walking outside without shoes. For people in need of rehabilitation after an injury, it would be important to receive Functional Integration® lessons and do Awareness through Movement classes.
What are your favorite Awareness Through Movement® lessons for healthy feet?
I find lessons that explore the flexion of the toes and the plantar fascia very relevant, because we get to practice what we don’t do on flat surfaces. I am not saying that working with extension of the feet is not helpful but working with its flexion is more important. Moshe Feldenkrais taught so many lessons named “Pillows and Swings” that focus on flexion and extension, rotation, pronation and supination of the feet. It is, of course, belittling to think of these movements only in terms of the feet. It’s important to find connections between feet and other parts of ourselves, e.g. lips and tongue. I am a fan of the pelvic floor explorations and I always try to clarify the connections of the pelvic floor with other parts of the body. The muscles of the soles of the feet are part of the same network of the “ring muscles” (the sphincters), this means that, each time we press on the floor, we need to connect with the activation of our pelvic floor.
What do you think about shoe inserts, are they needed?
It depends. In most cases, if you wear an insert, there is no need for the brain to be engaged, because the insert is doing the job of the brain. My professional attitude is that I never go against what the doctor says. I am not a doctor, I am a Feldenkrais® teacher and I work with the process of learning. This is my framework. As I work with my clients through Functional Integration techniques, I help them uncover the possibilities of using the brain and muscles for the task they are currently performing. The first step would be to learn to do what the insert is doing passively, and to do it actively. Once that is clear and the muscles regain the confidence of doing the job of the insert, then the insert itself becomes redundant. At the beginning, the insert can be necessary, like when you need a crutch after breaking the leg. But as you learn to use yourself more effectively, that need may go away. It’s also important to consider that people usually wear inserts in street shoes and, when they are at home, they don’t wear any. Even in cases where one leg seems a bit shorter than the other (unless you had a surgery that brought about a structural difference in the length of the leg), the insert is not needed. We often feel that one leg is shorter because of our neuromuscular organization. In that case, experiencing asymmetrical Awareness Through Movement lessons could be very useful. Our perception of the length of each leg may change during the lesson. I often help my clients equalize the perception of length for each leg. Frequently, I work with people who experience a difference in the length of their legs in standing position and, at the beginning, in the sitting position. I then let them experience the perception of their sitting bones as “the feet of the spine” (if a baby is not able to sit on the sitting bones, he/she will not be able to stand on its feet. Everything becomes much clearer then, and I can proceed to working with the feet. And after some time, my clients no longer feel comfortable wearing the insert.
Any parting advice for SenseAbility readers?
Take care of your feet, they are as important as our hands. If you can, walk on natural and uneven terrains. If it is safe, walk barefoot at times. An advice I often give to my clients is to create a sensory box that will contain rocks, sand, and other natural objects. As you watch TV or talk on the phone, you can walk in that box, walk in place. Make things simple. A few minutes a day will make a big difference. It is important to do this every day. We need to reconnect with our feet every day.
Dr. Mara Fusero graduated from FPTP “Paris 1” in 1988 and, since then, she has never stopped practicing the Feldenkrais Method. In 2010, she was certified as Feldenkrais® Trainer; she is now Educational Director of several Feldenkrais Trainings both in Italy and in Spain and teaches in other Trainings all over the world. Mara is a certified physiotherapist and psychologist and her teaching method and general approach are characterised by her deep respect for the original essence of the Method and her vast knowledge of functional anatomy. She runs her private practice in Milan. Mara is also a certified JKA ® Practitioner and Therapist, Teacher of Perineè, Integration y Movimiento ® (PYM) and a Bones for Life ® Trainer.