Caring For Your Feet With Self-Massage
The other night as I was coming down from an unexpected panic attack, I realized I was unconsciously massaging both of my feet. The effect was soothing. After about ten minutes I felt as if the state of panic I had been experiencing was moving down my body from my head and leaving me through my feet.
To some metaphysicians, the feet provide a map to the rest of the body. Ailments found elsewhere can be treated through applying therapeutic pressure to the correct area of the feet. If this system holds true, where some areas of the body like the sciatic nerve or other areas of the back are difficult or impossible for most to reach themselves, the feet provide a gateway many of us can reach ourselves.
But whether we are exploring the metaphysics of body geography or just unconsciously massaging ourselves to balance stress, caring for the feet with self-massage can be a wonderful skill to practice. In this post, I’ve collected a few techniques I use on myself that you can likely adapt for your own practice too.
Let’s Start With Grounding
For most of us, our feet provide a connecting point between us and the solid ground beneath us. In essence, our feet are our body’s gateway between body and planet. The material comfort of the planet in comparison to our high-anxiety lives is perhaps why the feet play such an important role in humanity’s many energetic grounding practices. They help us move from the social world of our species back into the interconnected and nurturing world of our ecosystem.
For some, grounding is a metaphysical term for pushing our excitement, anxiety, tension, and extra energy downwards back into the Earth. I think a better way to conceptualize the energetic work here is to start with imagining everything we do and think in the social world as contributing to a lifting of our consciousness. Think about it. At work, we worry about what our boss will think, how well our peers are doing, and what our futures will be like. At home, we worry about our neighbors, the cleanliness of our house, upgrades and home projects we need to take care of, and whether or not we’ll even continue living in this space. The pull to the future in these stresses mirrors the often heavenly oriented pull of spirituality too, where we worry about salvation, the apocalypse, moral choices we make—ultimately, either past wrongs or future outcomes. Grounding is any act that brings us back down into the present moment.
Most commonly for the audience I expect to read this, grounding takes the form of taking a few moments to stand barefoot in the grass and catch your breath. Grounding can mean washing your hands and face or watching a sunset while laying in your yard. For Pagans and other contemporary magicians, grounding may take on a more ceremonial process. In the past, when I’ve talked to amputee and wheelchair using friends about grounding, I’ve learned that some of these folks visualize an energetic pathway connecting from their body through their prosthetic limbs or chair which directly touch the ground, much the way any magician may use a tool like a wand to direct their energy work.
Some Muslims, Baptists, and Pagans alike all use ritual foot washing or periods of going barefoot to prepare themselves for worship. We may choose to incorporate these practices into our own grounding techniques, but another option many of us have is to practice self-massage of our feet.
When it comes to actual massage of the feet, my tendency is always to start with a few gentle glides over the entire foot to prepare it for bodywork, just as I’d do with any limb on any body I’m working on. The first area I focus on after that is the arch, or the central part on the foot’s underside.
Clinically speaking, there’s a lot of information stored in the arch of the foot. Just by observing its shape, we can hypothesize types of injuries or pain its person is likely to experience. The arch of the foot also holds the weight of the person, and metaphysically speaking, this is where we might also expect to touch emotional and other unseen weights of the person carrying them.
From a seated position, bring one foot up to rest just above the knee of your other leg. Using either or both hands, you can gently grip the center of your foot so that your thumbs are resting on its underside. Next, you can slowly move your thumbs in a circular motion while applying whatever level of pressure you feel comfortable with. These arch circles can warm up the area and loosen the muscle for more focused work, especially if they haven’t been massaged in a while.
You may also try extending your thumbs horizontally across the base of your foot’s arch, or some combination of this technique alongside the aforementioned circles.
Healing the Heels
Usually when giving a foot massage, I find that the heel holds the heaviest energy and the tensest muscles. These parts of our feet put up with a lot of friction and abuse!
In the same seated position described above, you can use use one of your thumbs to massage a few circles across the base of the heel. Slowly move your thumb’s path outward in the shape of a spiral to wake up the rest of this area. Next, you want to massage tiny tight circles along the sides of the heel using your thumb.
Metaphysically, this part of the foot corresponds to the hip region of the body. It’s our lower intestines, our bladder, tailbone, and the sciatic nerve so many folks have trouble with. Breaking up the stagnant energy and muscle tension in the foot may help give these other body pain locations a pathway to exit the body.
Fine-Tuning With the Toes
In reflexology, the toes are the part of the foot where we can reach through to headaches, sinus troubles, and neck pain which correspond to the tips of the toes, center of the toes, and base of the toes respectively. For me, I like to conceptualize toe work as the fine-tuning of the massage. When I do massage sessions, I save the feet for last because of the map they can provide to the rest of the body. It’s a way for me to check-in with the work I’ve done and get a feel for how it’s effecting the person already. The toes are the last bit really, the foot’s representatives for the upper body ailments people often seek out massage for.
Being so tiny, toes require a delicate approach when massaging. Some bodyworkers like to rub their hands on either side of each individual toe, but for other folks receiving like me, the thought of that just freaks us out! When working on your own toes, you’ll have to experiment with what you like. That said, without rubbing on both sides of the toe at the same time, you can still do some gentle work with a single thumb. Using the same circular massaging I’ve described previously, your thumb can gently check in with each toe.
If you are attuned to any sort of energy work, the toes may give you an idea of where body energy needs help exiting. Usually when I finish a foot massage, I will do some hands-on energy work at the base of the foot and then along the shoulders or neck as needed. The energy of the toes can help you find these areas.
Of course, if any of this seems out of your depth, you can always book an appointment with a local massage therapist or reflexologist instead. If you live near me, you can set up an appointment using this handy app.
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Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org