Stressed out? Tensed up? The toes know
Quick. Without moving, concentrate on your toes … yes, your toes. What are they doing? Are they relaxed, casually lined up in a row, loose, comfortable, chilled-out? Or are they curled up, cramped up, jockeying for space with all kinds of tension?
I know it’s a bit odd to think of your little piggies in terms of their emotional well-being, but I’ve found getting an M.O. on my toes helps me figure out if I’m unwittingly tensed up – and carting around unwanted anxiety.
Other parts of the body are also great barometers of emotional health. Furrowed brows, locked up jaws and tight shoulders can all indicate that all is not right in your world. But for me, keeping in touch with my toes seems to help me get an instant read on my subconscious stress.
About 12 years ago, I worked for a man who taught me this technique. I don’t know where he learned it, but it’s one of those things that’s stuck with me. “Relax your toes,” he’d say when he’d notice I was stressed out about something, letting the pressures of the day get to me.
Sometimes, it’s not easy to relax your toes. When I was a kid, I took a lot of ballet and dance classes and was in toe shoes by age 9. Dancers have to learn to tense their toes and make them rigid in order to get on point. I’m sure some of that training gave me an extra tendency to carry tension in my toes in later life.
There are other times when toes naturally want to crawl into collective balls and hide. I can still remember going to the dentist’s office as a young girl. When that Novocain needle came out and that drill – that shrill, whiny drill – started in, my toes were plenty curled. My fingers and hands were clenched up, too, at that point. As a grown adult with plenty of dentist’s appointments under my belt, I still catch my toes going into the curl when I’m laid back in the dentist’s chair. But now, I can make a concerted effort to notice that I’m creating more stress than I need to – and generally, I can straighten those puppies out and shake tension off.
Next time you’re skiing, make a mental note to check the status of your toes. Your feet will likely already be traumatized from going through the putting-on-the-boots ritual. As you crank your turns – especially while going fast or skiing the steeps – notice your toes. Like in running, cycling or riding horseback, a healthy balance of tension and relaxation is good. Too much is not. There’s a name for it when you strike the right balance. You’re skiing or running or riding “in the groove.”
Another excellent place to check toe status is driving on the highway. As a matter of fact, I bet that if CDOT would make speed-limit-style signs that read, “Relax Your Toes!” every 10 miles or so we’d have less 1) road rage; 2) accidents; and 3) speeding tickets.
The boss that taught me to pay attention to my toes was killed about five years ago in a plane he was flying solo. Since then, I think about him and his advice.
Sometimes, when my toes are way-uptight, his memory reminds me to chill out, that we’re all in this together. My inclination tells me that, as he was going down in his little plane, his toes were curled into tight, cramping balls. My heart tells me he was saying to himself, “Relax your toes.”
Carrie Click is a Post Independent staff writer. Her column appears on Tuesdays.
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