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Gardening from the Ground Up: Paying Attention to Your Feet

You know it’s summer when you’re barefoot as much as you are in your shoes in the house and in the garden. A friend recently said to me that he was practicing walking barefoot around his garden pathways to prepare his feet for summer. He mentioned that he definitely experienced a heightened awareness when his feet were in direct contact with the ground.

Last summer, I read some studies on the many documented health benefits of walking barefoot or for those of us with arch support issues at least having one’s feet come into contact with the earth. I subsequently tried to incorporate some time with my bare feet firmly planted on the cool green grass everyday – while the results are purely anecdotal, I was certain I felt calmer and more relaxed after each session – even if they were just a few minutes long.

As gardeners we are often reminded to stretch, to vary our activities, to take care of our hands with gloves with cleaning scrubs and healing lotions, as well as to wear hats and sunscreen to protect the skin on our faces, necks and arms, but it’s rare that we are told to pay much attention to our feet even though we are on them and counting on them all the time. We need them to garden from the ground up.

Native American Chief Sitting Bull is famously quoted as saying: Healthy Feet can hear the very heart of Mother Earth. And healthy feet – and therefore bodies – are at the heart of a fascinating public education garden at Kunsting Park in Elk Grove.

Based on the ancient Asian tradition of reflexology, the garden is a small section of a larger community park deep in the middle of a housing development. The Reflexology Path Of Health has a pleasing design of concentric circular and swirling pathways each created out of differently sized and shaped stones which visitors are encouraged to walk over either barefoot, in socks or in very thin soled shoes.

When I visited the garden, a family from India – grandparents and small children included – had left their shoes at one end of the garden and were walking the garden pathways to the far end. While the young children were dashing about laughing, the grandparents were walking the pathway with intention – slowly allowing their feet to feel every sharpness, every roundness – allowing the weight of their bodies to create a massaging effect on their feet.

Because your feet have an amazing quantity and complex arrangement of nerves associated with almost all other parts of your body, this massaging effect is believed by reflexology practitioners to produce a more harmonious flow between the energy centers of your entire body thus allowing for better overall health. According to the University of Minnesota, “reflexology is thought to have been passed down through an oral tradition, and possibly first recorded as a pictograph on the Egyptian tomb of Ankhamor in 2330 BC along with other medical procedures. Reflexology symbols are also thought to be recorded on the feet of statues of Buddha in India and later China. The Chinese classic, the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, which was written around 1,000 BC, has a chapter on “Examining Foot Method” and is the beginning of discussions in print about the connection of life force and points and areas on the feet.”

UMN in the “Taking Charge of Your Health” section of their website, goes on to elaborate about the healing practice of reflexology: “Some people confuse reflexology with massage. While both massage and reflexology use touch, the approaches are very different. Massage is the systematic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body, using specific techniques (for example, tapping, kneading, stroking, and friction) to relax the muscles. Reflexology focuses on reflex maps of points and areas of the body in the feet, hands, and ears using unique micromovement techniques such as thumb or finger walking and hook and backup to create a response throughout the body. In short, massage therapists work “from the outside in,” manipulating specific muscle groups or fascia to release tension. Reflexology practitioners see themselves as working “from the inside out” — stimulating the nervous system to release tension.”

If something as simple as walking barefoot in my garden with purpose and being more mindful of my feet on the ground beneath me can help relieve tension and boost my overall health and well being, I will make every effort to put my best – healthiest – foot forward and try.

Kunsting Park is located at 10069 Wild Orchid Way in Elk Grove. It is open dawn to dusk every day of the year.

For more information on the science and practice of reflexology try: http://reflexology-usa.org.

To submit plant/gardening related events/classes to the Jewellgarden.com on-line Calendar of Regional Gardening Events, send the pertinent information to me at: Jennifer@jewellgarden.com

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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California. It is made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time.