Walking on Air

“I have spread my dreams under your feet:

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

The Cloths of Heaven/W.B.Yeats

WHY DO so many of us dislike our feet?  When people come for a treatment, here at Reiki in Leeds, they are often bashful about having their feet touched, or even looked at. “Oh, I hate my feet”, said one woman, who had the daintiest, most well-groomed pair imaginable. Her feet were bare and she shrank from my touch. But not for long. Soon she settled into the feeling, and I could almost feel her feet giving a sigh of relief: at last, someone is paying me attention! This is a reticence I have never understood. Since training as a contemporary dancer, over thirty years ago, I have learned to respect and honour my feet. They are the body’s great asset: holding us up, taking us forward, one step at a time. It is time to consider feet quite differently – to kick off the too-tight shoes and walk on the grass, barefoot, whenever it is warm enough to dare. Otherwise, let them breathe indoors, from big toe to little pinky, spreading and widening the sole, feeling the support of the ground beneath you. The foot has wisdom in it, and it does us good to listen.

Treading softly in the forest

The T’ai Chi that I have long studied as part of my movement practise, was brought to England over half a century ago, by a redoubtable Norwegian woman called Gerda Geddes. She was exceptional in many ways, a dancer, psychoanalyst, anti-Nazi activist, and then a passionate advocate of  T’ai Chi for most of her long and elegant life. In her tiny book, ‘Looking for the Golden Needle’, she talks about her childhood, when she walked in the forest with her grandfather, who taught her to study the footprints of animals – and to tread softly herself, so as not to disturb the flora and fauna living and breathing, so delicately, all around her. She writes that this early experience came in handy, when she began studying T’ai Chi with a man called Master Choy in Hong Kong in the 1950s.

The openness of the foot

She says: “What my teacher stressed most to begin with was the importance of the foot; how it touched the ground, how each step must be soft and gentle and flowing, how I must be aware of the contact of the sole of the foot with the ground, of the energy which is drawn into the body through the sensitivity and the openness of the foot. Now this was a teaching I understood. It was as if my grandfather’s wisdom was coming back to me through this old Chinese gentleman. It was a language I already knew from childhood.”

A well of energy

In the many Eastern techniques – acupuncture, reiki, yoga, t’ai chi – that are so good for raising and balancing our energy, the foot always receives its justified moment in the sun. There is a potent acupuncture point, in the centre of the ball of the foot, called ‘Bubbling Well’. It is a kidney point, and the meaning is clear. There is power in this place: a well of energy, that can be drawn on, by the insertion of an acupuncturist’s needle, or the movement, heel to ball, ball to heel, that takes place in T’ai Chi, or the gentle, insistent holding of the foot at the end of a Reiki treatment.  Feet are powerful. We need to learn to harness that power more effectively.

Feet receive, hands transmit

The warmth of a reiki practitioner’s hands is well documented. They can channel a wonderful, flowing stream of energy and vitality  through into a client’s body. And there is undoubted intelligence and wisdom in every person’s hands: we communicate a great deal through them, all the time, not just in a reiki room, but in ordinary conversation, as we gesticulate, demonstrate, remonstrate and acquiesce. But if our hands are to transmit energy and information,  in the most effective and clear way possible, then they need help. Right at the other end of the body, the feet do that job. They receive the support of the ground beneath them – drinking it in, like a plant’s roots drawing up moisture from the earth. Feet receive, hands transmit. A perfect partnership: if we let it  happen.

Cherishing the moment

The last place I visit on a journey through a person’s body during a reiki treatment, is the feet. I spend a lot of time there. As I said, I like feet – and I think they deserve the attention. People’s feet are often cold. And they often react with a small, almost imperceptible startle, when I lay my hands on them. But softly, slowly, they begin to respond. The warmth begins to gather. The toes begin to lengthen and spread. The sole of the foot begins to breathe through the pores of the skin, and a kind of peace begins to flow. It is a simple moment. A cherishing of our roots.  Holding the foot is a lovely thing to do, for others, and for oneself. A kind of earthy reverence.

Walking with care

Most of us don’t have the luxury of walking barefoot through forests every day. Our feet are encased in shoes that often constrict us – particularly the little toe, so vital for balance – and we bang those shoes down over concrete and stone, on pavement and road, up into high rises, and down into basements. Cut off, most of the time, from the soil beneath the concrete. But there is a way to tread softly, even in the city. A sense of awareness helps – particularly of the soles of the feet. Allow them to soften a little as you walk, and you might find they ache a little less by the end of the day. And let them go free, whenever you get the chance. Naked and strong. There is so much more to a foot than meets the eye. And so much sustenance to be gained, from the earth beneath them.

The path untrodden

Meanwhile, as Chuang Tzu – quoted by Gerda Geddes – remarks: “The foot treads the ground in walking, nevertheless it is the ground not yet trodden on which makes up a good walk.”

Visit my  page Reiki in Leeds here for further information on my work, or to book a reiki session.

Looking for the Golden Needle: An Allegorical Journey’ by Gerda Geddes (MannaMedia, 1991)


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I am a writer, dancer, T'ai Chi and Reiki practitioner in Leeds, West Yorkshire. I am dramaturg and performer at the Performance Ensemble and teach at Leeds Playhouse. Otherwise, I am either writing freelance books and articles, or digging in my garden, or learning fiendishly hard Hungarian grammar. Hungary is my favourite place, after Yorkshire!

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