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I have webbed toes. Not all my toes, just two of them on each foot have skin 1/3 to 1/2 to way up. Though my feet are bare in public most of the time, I don't think most people notice my webbed toes. When I was three years old I was fascinated by my webbed toes. I knew the webbing was an abnormality, but I like them a lot anyway. I felt it was special. It gave me a visual distinction. And in a three year olds reasoning, I thought it would make me a better swimmer. My webbed toes are hardly a thought anymore, though I look at my feet and other peoples feet a lot these days.

Being a Yoga instructor I've begun to see feet. I've begun to more fully appreciate all those little bones and muscles and tendons. I've grown enamored of feet. I love my feet. I love other peoples feet, too.

Sometimes I see feet that are adorned with paint and rings and sometimes forgotten and neglected. So many people seem to be ashamed or shy to bare their feet. In contrast, I've heard that in societies where women are required to wear burkas (full body covering) their feet can often be seen as they walk. Their feet indicate their wealth and health. If they are wealthy their feet will often be adorned in beautiful sandals, toes painted and skin lotioned.

When I see media photos of people in the war zones I always look to see their feet. Sometimes the feet are covered in boots, or sneakers. Often they are in sandals or barefoot. I wonder about their life, thinking that I can know some truth by knowing what condition their feet are in.

I'm intrigued by the ways in which the feet are treated. What do the feet touch or wear? Who sees them? Who touches them? I think about a religious sect called the "Jain's" in India; whose members don't wash their feet but they sweep the earth in front of them, so that they can avoid stepping on any living thing and harming it. I wonder about women in the United States in the 1950's wearing stiletto heeled shoes to be in the fashion of the time. I recall the stories about great Holy man named Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

And today, a 9 year old boy in Pakistan who in bare feet searches for metal shards in a salvage yard to pay for food.
I think Hatha yoga can change the way we view feet and walking in the world. In my Hatha Yoga practice I sometimes stand as a mountain. I focus on feeling the surfaces of my feet where they connect to floor. I practice moving and lifting the muscles of the foot. Sometimes I fold into a squat, flexing and balancing. I come away with a renewed appreciation and compassion for the feet during almost every practice. The postures of Hatha Yoga practice force us to be aware of the common tools of living that we share with other people no matter their country or creed. Feet, legs and hips are common to us all.

There is a saying that goes "to know a person walk a mile in their shoes". I think this asks one to imagine yourself in their life for a period of time. It is an avenue to find some understanding of the other person. If you can know your own feet, you can know some truth about anothers feet. Perhaps you can know that person in some way without personally meeting him or her.
The more yoga I do, the more I can imagine living the lot of that barefoot child salvaging metal in Islamabad, Pakistan. Or my Grandmother who crippled her feet wearing stiletto shoes to the office for 20 years. Or the disciple having his feet washed by the Holy man. Or the Jain monk who no matter how uncomfortable does not wash his feet but carefully brushes the earth in front of him before each step.

There is a story told by Dainin Katagiri in You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight;
A Zen master said to a monk, "You must see the universe in your cup." The monk looked into his cup, but didn't see the universe there, so he threw the cup away. The Zen master said, "Oh, poor cup. We think the cup is too small to hold the universe. Intellectually, we can't see how it could fit. But wherever we go, the whole universe always appears-in a cup, in a window, in a smile, in a word."
I've an idea for a new yoga bumper sticker/button "The universe in your feet. Please step with care."


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