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HealtyToes.com

What are those things?!?!?  They are toe stretchers.  They help stretch out toes that are cramped together, and help release and relieve sore feet and ankles. 

I’m writing about this today because I’ve recently had healthy toes and toe stretchers on my mind. 

  • WEAK ANKLE: The ankle I fractured last year still bothers me occasionally, and my first reaction is to spread my toes (on both feet).  Why do I do this?  Because I feel great when I spread my toes: I take a nice deep breath, my feet feel more relaxed, my ankle feels better… and I actually feel good all the way up my legs to my back.  Toe stretchers would allow me to spread my toes–and get the benefits–without effort.
  • BUNION: I asked my mom about her problem ankle.  She showed me her feet, and lo and behold, the big toe on the foot with the problem ankle turns in; she’s starting to get a bunion.  The toes on the other foot, however, are lined up nicely, and she doesn’t have any ankle problems on that side. I think toe stretchers would help her toes align better, which will stablize her foot and strengthen her ankle.
  • PLANTAR FASCIITIS: A student in a wellness class asked about addressing plantar fasciitis.  I think toe stretchers can help address this.  (Also, rolling your feet over a tennis ball can help relieve some pain, too.) 

I have to say that I personally have not used these, though I’ve tried them on once and they felt great.  You can read the account an MD has written about her decision to try them to prevent stiff feet, and how they beat her trip to the orthopedist.

They are available in several brands, which look pretty similar: Yoga Toes (which you can only buy on their website), Healthytoes (which is available on Amazon and less expensive than Yoga Toes) and Genki-Kun (which claims to be the original from Japan; their sizing is confusing).

To Buy:
Healthytoes BLUE color, Small or Large
Healthytoes PINK color, Small only

  • SMALL fits Women’s shoe sizes: 5.5 to 10.5; Men’s shoe sizes: 3.5 to 9.5
  • LARGE fits Women’s shoe sizes: 11 and up; Men’s shoe sizes: 7.5 to 10+
  • (SIZING TIPS: Sizing is approximate and may vary according to width of foot. The majority of Women with medium-width feet will wear a size Small. 99% of Women new to toe stretching should order the size Small.  — From the Healthytoes website.)

Genki-Kun products are available, too, but their sizing is confusing.

Yoga Toes sells directly; more expensive individually, but there’s a discount on volume.

A few days ago, I talked with a mother of a 7-year-old boy who has experienced a great deal of anxiety in situations that are new: places, people, scenarios.

This mom told me that what has really helped him cope better is the simple — yet not always easy — act of deep breathing.  She was shocked to learn that indeed, her son didn’t know how to breathe deeply.  His breath was extremely shallow.

Here is how she has helped him to learn to breathe more deeply.

  • He lies down, and she places a book on his tummy — right on top of the bellybutton is a good marker.
  • He is encouraged to take a breath that’s deep enough (to fills the belly) and make the book go up.
  • This mom also used her hand, instead of a book. She placed her hand firmly on her son’s tummy so that he felt the resistance and could breath into her hand.  This is probably a great step to take when deep breathing is difficult to attain at first.

The new school year has started, and this deep breathing has helped a 7-year-old make that transition with greater comfort.

How could it help you or a child or adult you know?  You can do this yourself, either lying down, or sitting up or standing, with your hand on your belly.

It’s hot hot in the Bay Area.

I was up early (for me) to volunteer at an energizer station for Bike to Work Day.  We handed out goodie bags, fruit, coffee cake, and WATER!

It’s a reminder for me to STAY HYDRATED.  This is a frequent mantra of mine, in person and on this blog.  But I think it merits repeating, a lot.

  • Are your lips dry?
  • Do you have a headache?
  • Are you feeling spaced-out?

Could be that the heat or dry air is affecting you more than you think.

If it helps to use some visual reminders from the Five Elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine, imagine this.  In the Five Elements, the relationship between the Water Element (associated with Winter, flexibility, energy, kidney, bladder, etc.) and Wood Element (associated with the Spring seaon, growth, creativity, planning, gallbladder and live, etc.) is not surprisingly, that water helps wood grow.

So if you’re feeling wilted, give yourself some water.

We all know that exercise helps, but according to a short article titled You Name It, and Exercise Helps It in the New York Times, “People with chronic health problems can improve their health and quality of life by learning how to exercise safely.”

“The data show that regular moderate exercise increases your ability to battle the effects of disease,” Dr. Moffat said in an interview. “It has a positive effect on both physical and mental well-being. The goal is to do as much physical activity as your body lets you do, and rest when you need to rest.”

The reality of life is that we’re busy and that squeezing in exercise can be a challenge at times.  I like to walk, and because I live in a city, there are many places I can walk easily.  Therefore, I like to integrate errands with walking briskly.  I finish an errand, get some exercise, and keep my car off the road.  Productivity and goodness for my health as well as the environment.  Win-win-win.

With that thought, I’ll pack up to walk to the post office now.

I just made two cross-country flights to visit my friend, and unfortunately came down with cough and fever during my visit.  I suspect I had already caught whatever it was before I stepped on the plane.

Anyway, I’ve written before about the important of good hydration during airplane flights.

But this time, in addition to drinking lots of water, I did an experiment in steaming myself, because my throat and upper respiratory/chest area was hurting. 

I did this before I got on the plane.  I boiled a pot of water and put it on the kitchen table, then carefully leaned over it with a towel over my head–to create a little steam room–and inhaled the soothing steam.

Be careful that the water is not too hot!  And of course, always supervise if kids are doing this or if you kids around.  

And then on the plane, I asked for a cup of hot water–which they were happy to give me–and I cupped my hand around it to create a tiny sauna between the cup and my face, and breathed in the steam.  Of course the water was not as hot as direct-from the kettle, and it cooled pretty quickly, but in the context of the desert-dry airplane air, it felt great.

As some of you know, I spent the past year in braces.  And last week, they came off!  (If you want to read the chronicle of the year, read my What’s In A Smile blog.)

As most braces wearers will tell you–especially adults–much of the time in braces is spent fantasizing about the foods we’ll be able to eat post braces.

On the top of my list were dried dates, which I love love love.  But I abstained for the year of my braces treatment because those chewy gems would have gotten stuck all over my braces brackets and wire.  I guess I didn’t want to spoil a joyful eating experience.

A few days ago, I received the 15-pound box of dried dates from my date supplier in Southern California, the Date People.  (I freeze most of the dates, and also will share with friends.)  Rather than get just one variety, as I had in the past, I ordered the 4-variety pack.  I didn’t know what it would include.

I opened the box and immediately ate one each of the four types–deglet noor, zahari, halawi, bahri–which range from light, firm and not too sweet, to brown, round, plump and chewy sweetness.  Because I had ordered the chewy/sweet ones in the past, that’s what I thought dates were supposed to be.  So my immediate reaction to the firmer deglet noor was disappointment.

But you know what?  I have come to appreciate those more understated deglet noors.  I find them nutty and refreshing.  This reminds me that flexibility comes from being open to variations on a theme.  In this case, the theme was dates, and I got the benefit of “stretching” as part of a variety-pack.

There’s nothing as lovely and cozy as a well-known routine, and beloved treat.  And it can be difficult to let go of that security to try new things.  But by trying new things, we discover new possibilities. 

So consider how you could add the spice and potential new discovery by going for variety.

  • Next time you’re at your favorite restaurant, order one thing tried and true, and one new dish.  Or invite along some friends so you can try the dishes your friends like.  You may discover a new top favorite.  Or not.  In which case you still have one dish you can enjoy whole-heartedly.
  • Is there a neighborhood you like to walk around?  Or a park that you regularly visit?  Change it up by taking a different route to get there, or vary the path you take when you are there.  At the fork in the path, take the right instead of the left.

Here’s to celebrating the wonderful variety that is all around us, and within us.

The thing I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine is that it’s based on nature and the world, so just about anything in the world can relate back to its principles.

Last week, I went to see (again) my favorite parts of an exhibition by the Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, at the SFMOMA. (Exhibit info here.) I didn’t know of this artist before this exhibition. They are big pieces. Color. Angles. Curves. And all kinds of materials, including water.

In one installment, (called Beauty), you walk into a darkened room where you see light passing through a misty “curtain” of fine water droplets, cascading down from above, onto the absorbing floor. The water drops reflect the light, so it appears like a wall, but really, it’s an illusion. We can walk through that “curtain”.

In another room is Notion Motion.  When we walk on squeaky floor boards in front of a screen, the screen shimmers in different patterns. Depending on the location of the floor board; the amount of squeak. It turns out there’s a shallow water pool on the other side of the screen, and the shimmering is a reflection of the ripples on the water.

Another work which I only peeked into was an ice-sculpture. Actually an ice-covered car. Both times I passed by, my inner-cozy won out over my experience-adventurer.

Anyway, I’m writing about these water-related art objects, because they got me thinking about the Water Element. Since Winter is the season associated with the Water Element, how a propos, I thought, that I was drawn to water in different forms.

The cool thing about water, is its flexibility. It can take so many forms. From fluid liquid water to solid frozen blocks; from refreshing cooling mist to dangerously scalding vapors. In each form, it has a beauty and a power.

So, when our Water Element is in balance, or doing well, flowing, as it were, then our flexibility should be good. Physically, especially along the spine. Mentally and emotionally. Being able to flow with the ebbs and flows that are natural in our daily lives.

By the way, boundaries are also an important aspect of this. Think of it: A river that is healthy is full and flowing within its boundaries. But one that gets out of bounds can wreak all kinds of havoc, as has been experienced in many parts of the world.

To support the Water Element, here are a few wellness ideas:

  • Support your energy. We know how grouchy and inflexible we can be when we’re running on too little sleep. Get enough rest whenever you can.
  • Keep your spine supple. Do some simple stretches.
    • Sit on the edge of a chair, with feet flat on the ground. Stretch your arms up alongside your ears, high overhead, and take a deep breath in. As you exhale, stretch forward and down as low as you can go with a nice stretch along your back. (Only go as far as is comfortable. Don’t strain if you have lower-back pain.)
    • Do some simple twists. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, and swing your arms back and forth. Or, sit on the side of a straight-back chair (the back of the chair should be at our side), and raise your arms overhead, with a deep breath in. On the exhale, twist toward the back by placing one hand on either side of the chair back to help you get some leverage. Don’t yank into the twist!
  • Hydrate! Drink water. I hear/read so many conflicting reports/study findings about this. So I just tell people to pay attention. Most of us don’t drink enough. Are your lips dry? Do you get headaches? Is your mouth dry? Is your skin dry? Try increasing your water intake. Replace some other fluids, like coffee/tea/juice/cola, with water.

Reflexology is the art/science of applying pressure to the soles of the feet and palms of the hands. While it is not “officially” part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in the way that acupuncture and acupressure are, reflexology applies pressure–sometimes light, sometimes heavy–so it feels a lot like acupressure.

And it’s a modality I like to use when I’m working with clients, and also to teach students in classes.

I sometimes get asked about those reflexology massage sandals. Some of them are made of wood with little pegs or beads for the “points”, and drawings of the mapping. See this example, which is an actual board. I received a similar one as a gift. It’s good as a reference, but is VERY painful to stand on. Plus the foot size it too big for me.

acu sandal

However, I have found some plastic sandals with little nubs that stimulate the entire sole of my foot. I love these sandals. I notice I breathe deeply when I put them on, and my feet feel great. I must admit the first few times I put them on, they were VERY uncomfortable after even just 10 minutes. It takes a bit of time to break them in.

The pair I got only cost about $15 at a local shop (Soko Hardware in Japantown, 1698 Post St., SF, 415 931-5510), but I was told that they are so popular they are difficult to get. Here they are online.

I found Okabashi, a company that seems to sell a whole line of sandals based on this concept; I don’t know them, but want to offer as a resource, too. If you have used Okabashi sandals, please post a comment to share your experience with them.

I got through the weekend, and this afternoon’s comfort-cookie crisis with Trader Joe’s Druid oatmeal cookies. As I was savoring the lovely chewiness of my third lovely cookie with tea, I had an “aha!” moment about the sweet-tooth comfort-food connection.

In the Traditional Chinese Medicine system, sweetness is associated with the Earth element. So when Earth element (associated with the Stomach and Spleen meridians) is out of balance, sweet cravings often ensue.

When might Earth element be out of balance?

  • The Earth is associated with home, the place we feel “homey”, so a move to a new house, or traveling could cause a tip in balance.
  • Or maybe you have too many ideas flying around your head, and you don’t feel “grounded.” You might reach for a cookie or ice cream.
  • Think about a plant; only when it is strong and grounded in the earth can it grow up and out.
  • For women, the Earth element is also related to the menstrual cycle, which helps us understand PMS sweets-cravings.

In my case, since I broke my ankle last week, my connection to the Earth has diminished. I can’t put both feet on the ground. I’m hobbling around on my right foot and two crutches. And even though I’m mostly stuck at home, it’s difficulty to feel homey. My foot is up in the air. My energy is way above the floor; I think it’s in my shoulder area because my shoulders are tired from using the crutches. Oy!

So, a few thoughts on balancing Earth energy:

  • First of all, it’s OK, I say, to eat my cookies! As long as I’m enjoying them, and in moderation. (I’ll run out at any rate, and can’t exactly run down to the store to get some more. That’s the silver lining.)
  • Now that I’ve identified this Earth-imbalance, I can be mindful about other ways to address it:
    • Enjoy healthier sweetness. Fruit. Dried dates. I’ve been eating fruit puree (frozen mangoes and blueberries) with yogurt.
    • Squeeze my muscles; the Earth element loves this. My right leg is working really hard, as are my arms, so I’ll give myself a little massage later.
    • Create routine, especially since I’ve had to adjust and adapt so much of the way I normally do things. I wrote about this, plus other tips in a post related to the Earth element.
    • Energize the Three Mile Point (Stomach 36). Sit down with feet flat on the floor. Make a light fist and rub vigorously along the outside of your shins, a couple of inches below your knee.

OK. So I now have a plan to help address my un-earthiness, and tame my cookie monster!

The news of the recent loss of a colleague’s Father reminds me that in Chinese Medicine, the emotion of grief is associated with the lung meridian.

So, while only time can heal the pain of loss, filling your lungs deeply with the gift of breath can help during such a difficult time. 

Breathe in.  Breathe out. 
Breathe in.  Breathe out.
Breathe in.  Breathe out.

And celebrate your Mom or Dad.