Cold Extremeties + How You Move

I've just gotten in from a walk. Skies, cloudy. Temperature, 41° F (5° C).

I chose to wear my Vibram Five Fingers because I prefer them to any shoe I own and my feet have been cooped up in (minimalist) boots for some time now. Having worn my Five Fingers in temps below 40°, I knew I'd be good to go with two pairs of socks.

But I'd forgotten about the mud.

It rained cats and dogs yesterday and, intent as I was on getting off pavement, I found myself having to navigate some seriously soppy patches of trail. Which got my feet wet. Which changed the whole equation. After a mere half mile with water through my socks, my toes were screaming in pain.

Dealing with cold is not my strong suit. It's why any vague care about appearance goes out the window when temps begin to drop. Warmth is a high priority for me and I get distracted easily when some part of my body starts to chill. I have been known to become a little, shall we say, snappish with those around me under such circumstances.

So I wiggled my toes and willed the blood to find them. But find them it would not. The pain just kept intensifying.

At some point I decided that I would rather think about something other than my cold feet and my mind drifted off to a blog post I wanted to write about this resource guide for living more resiliently. I was planning on taking photos of all the ways I use a foam dome (calf stretch, squatting, spinal mobilization, head bolstering, hip bolstering, train tunnel constructing) but right in the middle of this thought I realized that I had entirely forgotten to pay attention to my alignment while walking. My feet were swinging wildly and I could feel I was lifting my leg out in front of me and my ribs were all sheared. I decided that paying attention to how I was walking would be a better use of my mental faculties.

  • So I straightened the outside edges of my feet until they were parallel
  • I widened my feet a bit so they were closer to pelvis-width apart
  • I dropped my ribcage until the lowest ribs weren't sticking out in front of me
  • I stopped lifting my leg forward to take a step and instead focused on using my hamstrings to push me backward (posterior push-off is the term for that)

Much to my amazement, within minutes, my feet were no longer so cold. The burning sensation went away and I was left with damp, chilly feet, but a chill that was totally manageable and non-distracting.

This, my friends, is the miracle of alignment.

I didn't need a thicker shoe or even a dry sock. I didn't need my heart to pump harder to distribute blood. I didn't need to wiggle my toes (although that was a good start). I didn't need a medication to improve circulation. I needed particular muscles to stop working so hard and others to start working more. I am guessing I was originally over-contracting my psoas, iliacus and rectus femoris (all crossing the front of the hip, along with the femoral artery which supplies the feet) and totally disengaging my hamstrings and calves (back of the leg, along with the femoral artery once it gets toward the knee). I was probably narrowing the blood vessel with my chronic hip flexion and then not asking it for blood with my disengaged posterior leg muscles. This is my habitual gait when not being mindful.

My feet, post-walk, with barely-red toes.

My feet, post-walk, with barely-red toes.

I am always wildly fascinated by these experiences because they tell me in a new way what I've already learned: The way you move, the way you use your body impacts all of the systems in your body, in this case, the cardiovascular one.

It is often incredibly simple adjustments that reap HUGE rewards in this work. My walk wouldn't have looked all that different to someone passing by, but the shift entirely impacted they way blood was flowing. Doing this for one cold walk was really helpful. Doing this the rest of my life might be the difference between fully functioning feet into old age and endless visits to the doctor.

 

It's because of the power of this work and the fact that really simple changes can make significant differences that I am thrilled to be offering a new 4-week online course, Launch Your Resilient Life. Consider it your body alignment accelerator, incorporating essential exercises with manageable lifestyle adjustments that will lay a firm foundation for a healthier you. Class starts on Feb 9 and more details will be coming soon. In the meantime, go on over and get my Top 5 Must-Have Resources For Living With More Resilience. It'll help get you on your way.