I've been asked about a variety of resources and where to get them. Some are for yoga practice. Some are for therapeutic work. The following is a very incomplete list of links to check out some of this stuff.
For your yoga practice:
My favorite yoga prop and mat resources are Hugger Mugger and Yoga Props which have both been around a long time. I am a big fan of going to the source rather than Amazon, but you are welcome to shop there, too.
- Yoga blocks come in different sizes, most often being 3x6x9' or 4x6x9" and they are not too hard to find in stores such as Target, Dick's Sporting Goods, as well as online through various yoga prop companies.( I am not a fan of the cork blocks, pretty as they are, simply because they are heavy and we often are lifting blocks up off the floor in my classes. Those blocks hurt when they land on you.)
- Yoga mats are also available in different thicknesses and materials. I prefer the really dense black mats by Manduka. They are not cheap, but they really last and the density makes kneeling on hard surfaces much easier, even with my occasional bursitis flare-ups. The most common sticky mats are perfectly fine, but will need to be washed prior to the first use in order to actually be sticky. Look around in class; ask if you can stand/kneel on someone's mat.
- Yoga straps or belts come in a variety of lengths. Those sold at local retail stores will be 6' or 8' long. I prefer 10' or longer. These will need to be ordered online.
- Sandbags are handy for getting weight resistance when you don't have a partner. Most of mine weigh 10#, but I have one handmade sandbag that is #14. Many suppliers sell them empty and you buy sand to fill them yourself. I recommend buying very small gravel instead of playground sand. The ones I purchased unfilled are in need of repairs after several years, but the sand has jammed the zippers and I cannot empty them to fix them. Hugger Mugger and Yoga Props both ship filled sandbags.
For your feet:
The following are ways to create more foot mobility and strength. They can increase circulation, ease foot pain, help you achieve better balance, and a host of other benefits. How quickly you progress is dependent upon how stiff your feet are and the kinds of shoes you've worn and for how long. It takes a very long time to counter the damage stiff shoes, high heels, flat floors have done to our feet. Go slowly and start where you are.
- Super Balls: The least challenging-to-purchase tools you should have are a high-bounce ball (super ball) to roll under your feet daily, and a blanket or beach towel to fold up and walk on daily. This is more than just massage for your feet. Rolling your feet and walking on uneven surfaces both help to rearticulate all the stiff and restricted joints and muscles (33 joints, remember?) in your foot.
- Toe spacers: Your toes have been compressed together for years by shoes AND socks. There are various passive and active ways to work on getting those toes to spread back out into their correct alignment. Other than the toe socks, you need to very gradually increase your time with toe spacing. No more than 10% increase in time every week. In other words, just because you can wear them for an hour doesn't mean you can suddenly wear them all night.
- Toe socks create a little more space between your toes and make a surpising difference in countering the compression of your toes. My favorite brand is Injinji (http://www.injinji.com). They make men's and women's sizes, as well as different heights (crew, low-cut, etc.) and fabric weights. You can purchase them locally at REI and at some running shoe stores, as well as online.
- My Happy Feet are socks without toes. They have thick terry cloth spacers that go between your toes. They are a passive way to create better toe alignment since the terry is fairly thick, not good for walking in. I wear them at night while I read before bed, while watching TV, or if I'm working at my computer at home. These come in different colors and sizes. Order at https://www.my-happyfeet.com.
- Joy-a-Toes are for barefoot active use, even during yoga class. I just got a pair this month, size small. While the spaces created are bigger than those of CorrectToes (next item), I find them to stay on better while I'm active. That said, you can't wear them inside shoes. And several of my students prefer the CorrectToes. To each his or her own. Find them at http://www.joyatoes.com
- CorrectToes are the platinum standard of toe spacers, designed for active use inside your shoes. They are a very soft silicone that can be trimmed to fit your toes better. They come in different sizes. That said, unless the toebox on your shoes is very wide, you might not be able to wear them in your shoes. They can be found at https://www.correcttoes.com. Another site with information about CorrectToes (and minimal shoes and other good foot health info) is https://naturalfootgear.com.
Minimal shoes have specific features:
- They hold on to your foot, not the other way round. (in other words, not flip flops or clogs)
- They have no heel (zero elevation).
- The sole is very flexible.
- The toe box is the widest part, wide enough for you to wiggle your toes.
- They have minimal-to-no padding or arch support.
- The toes do not curl up at the front. (Go check your athletic shoes. They curl up.)
Transitioning out of stiff shoes with heels and narrow toe boxes will take time (months and years). You cannot expect a foot that is not strong or mobile to be suddenly fine in a shoe that meets all the above specifications. Think of transitioning to stronger feet, instead of transitioning to less shoe. Your transition may begin with a lower heel if your heels have always been high. Or you might look for a wider toe. Or perhaps you start with a more flexible sole. Go slowly. As your feet get stronger, your needs will change. Pay attention to your specific issues. If you have very little padding on the bottoms of your feet or any nerve damage, you may always go for slightly more cushioned insole. There is no absolute. Start where you are and keep heading toward mobility for your feet and toes. (I wrote a blog post on this very subject.)
For narrow feet, Converse are a pretty minimal shoe with zero heel elevation that are pretty easy to find and purchase. They have zero support, so are really only for feet that are already pretty strong and mobile.
I have also had some luck in regular shoe stores when sandal shopping. Just keep in mind the features listed above.
Altra running shoes can be found locally at some running stores or online at https://www.altrarunning.com
Other websites for minimal shoes:
Oesh - http://oeshshoes.com (women's shoes only)
Otz Shoes - https://otzshoes.com (these have a cork insole that needs to be removed to make them minimal shoes)
Unshoes - http://www.unshoesusa.com (sandals, moccasins)
Xero - https://xeroshoes.com (sandals, running shoes)
Bedrock - https://bedrocksandals.com
Vivobarefoot - https://www.vivobarefoot.com/us
SoftStar - http://www.softstarshoes.com (adult, child, custom shoes)
Lems - https://www.lemsshoes.com
Steger Mukluks - http://www.mukluks.com (winter boots, moccasins)
Earth Runners - www.earthrunners.com (sandals)
This is a sampling of what's out there. You'll find more once you start looking. Each website I've tried has very clear instructions about sizing, often using templates. They also have very specific return policies so check that, too.
I have been studying online with Katy Bowman, a biomechanist who has deepened my understanding of the importance of alignment. After 20 years of teaching an alignment-based yoga practice, it is exciting to have so much still to learn. Her work is NOT yoga, but instead what she calls Nutritious Movement. I cannot recommend her enough.
For everyone, read Dynamic Aging. This was just published in February.
Other good choices are Move Your DNA (a new, expanded version was just published 5/1/2107), Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief, and Whole Body Barefoot.
These can be purchased directly from Nutritious Movement, along with assorted shirts, props, and other cool titles (or you can get them on Amazon).
If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to push that "contact me" button to send me an email.