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Surviving Pumps

By Candace Conino

Whether you’re buying cross trainers or stilettos, there is a lot more to choosing shoes than color, style, and the way they fit your feet. The wrong shoes can look fabulous but make you feel awful all over. Here are some savvy shoe shopping guidelines based on principles of the Feldenkrais Method. Take them with you on your next shoe shopping expedition and have some fun discovering if a shoe really fits.

The next time you’re trying on shoes, experiment a little while the salesperson is off searching for your size. Kick off your shoes, pull off your socks and stand barefoot. Notice the way you stand without the interference of shoes. First, take a moment to notice the way that your weight is distributed on each foot. Is your weight more toward the inside of the feet (pronation) or more toward the outside (supination)? Is your weight back on your heels or more toward your toes? Can you freely shift your weight on your feet in all directions? Can you feel how your knees, hips, and back adjust to your movement?

Next, notice your toes. Ideally, each toe acts as
a little rudder, directing the forces of movement through your skeleton
to keep you balanced on your feet. How many of your toes are in contact with the floor? Wiggle your toes in all directions and find out how many of them are free to respond to your movement. After a thorough toe wiggle, stand quietly again, feel the distribution of your weight on your feet again and shift it around. Did something change once you got your toes moving?

For a moment, remain standing in your bare feet and squeeze your toes gently together. Hold them as if they are in shoes with pointy toes and notice what changes for you. What happens to your weight distribution? How free are you to shift around on your feet? Does your breathing change? Does something in the shape or the muscle tone of your back change? Walk around with your toes stuck together and feel your stride length, your balance, and the amount of work in your hips, back, and neck. Then, liberate your toes and walk again.

Which style of movement feels more comfortable? Once you have established a sense of yourself without shoes you can begin searching for shoes that serve your personal needs. Try on your first pair, stand up, and take time to go through the same process that you just did barefoot. Are you more or less free to balance and shift your weight in these shoes? Are your toes at your service or are they in shoe prison? If these shoes pass the first test, then imagine the activities for which you might wear this particular pair.

Spend some time auditioning these shoes for their role. If you’re buying pumps to wear with a cocktail dress, don’t just walk around in the store, but also stand still on a hard floor as well as on a squishy carpet and wait to see how you and the shoes settle into this position. Look up, look right, look left, shift from foot to foot, then finally sit down and stand up several times.

If you’re buying everyday shoes you should do the standing test as well. Also, walk around slowly, walk quickly, change directions abruptly, stand on your tiptoes, squat down, lift something and carry it about, and sit with your legs stretched out and pretend that you’re driving the car. Don’t be subtle, make the shoes prove their suitability.

After you’ve put these shoes through their paces, take them off and stand barefoot again. Indulge in some exuberant toe wiggling. Do you feel a sense of relief or liberation? Do you become significantly more comfortable and relaxed? If so, you were working to wear those shoes, and the shoes were not working for you. Close your eyes and ask yourself honestly, “Am I better off with them or without them?” Then move on with your new awareness and choose something exactly right for you.

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