Our feet are amazing structures with powerful symbolism. They allow us to walk upright and can transport us towards or away from people, places and situations. Both feet and toes are associated with specific elements. In their barefoot state feet connect us to the energy of the earth – an ancient bond being reborn in modern times as ‘Earthing’. Acupuncture meridians starting in the feet connect our energy points internally. Reflexology and Applied Kinesiology also work with feet, energy flow and the five elements. These relationships highlight the importance of feet to our well-being. They may also help explain why feet feature in many phrases about how people feel and behave. Welcome to the fascinating world of feet, energy and the elements.
David Bangall Mowaljarlai was an Aboriginal elder of high degree from the Kimberley region of north-western Australia. He spent his life teaching people, both white and black (his descriptions), about Aboriginal identity and culture. One of David’s observations that stays strongly in my mind was how he could sense the health of the earth through his bare feet. When he was attuning with the bush, David would perform movements with his feet to create greater spiritual intimacy with the earth. Stamping the feet gave David connection to the land, spiritual quickening, and focus to the mind. He said “You feel you want to get deeper, so you start moving around and stamp your feet – to come closer and to recognise what you are seeing” (Source: earthsong.org.au)).
The health benefits of walking barefoot on the earth have recently been demonstrated by modern science. It has taken a while to learn from ancient insights into the energy of the Earth. Researchers have established that the Earth’s surface possesses a limitless and continuously renewed supply of free or mobile electrons (Chevalier et al. 2012, Journal of Environmental and Public Health). If we form a physical connection with the ground, especially through our feet, this “electrical nutrition” can restore and stabilise the bioelectrical circuitry in our bodies. Accessing the earth’s energy has been linked to better sleep and reduced pain amongst other benefits. Damp grass, soil or sand is considered more effective to walk on as it increases conductivity.
For those who don’t have access to a patch of lawn or beach, or are just not the barefoot type, earthing/grounding products are available to use in the comfort of your home. The items shown below include a sleeping mat and a mat to rest your feet on when using your computer. The mats are connected to the earth via a wall socket – crucially, with the power off. Earthing blankets are also popular for animals with inflammatory joint conditions. In addition a range of ‘barefoot’ foot pads and shoes are available that are designed to closely approximate barefoot running or walking conditions. The sale of earthing products seems to have taken off!
The relationship between feet, wellness and the elements has been part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Acupuncture, a key component of TCM, is designed to clear energy blockages and encourage the normal flow of Qi (energy) through the body. The system is based on inserting fine needles along one or more of the meridians identified through the body. The type of treatment is determined by the balance of YinYang and the five elements/phases (Earth, Water, Fire, Metal and Wood). Each element is related to different organs and systems in the body. Energy flows related to the elements can be interrupted by disease and manifest as a disturbance in the body’s energy field. It is these disturbances that acupuncture treats.
Like Acupuncture and Reflexology, Applied Kinesiology identifies and balances energy blockages in the body. It does so by testing the muscles of their clients so they can obtain overall better health. The procedure was developed in the 1960s and again makes reference to the five elements, particularly in relation to emotions. It was in a book on Professional Kinesiology that I came across the numerous English phrases related to the feet. These included ‘Stand on your own two feet‘, ‘Cold feet about it‘, Stepping out‘ and ‘Carrying your own weight‘. Personally I like the phrase ‘Feeling grounded‘. For Kinesiologists foot-related phrases like these indicate if their clients are moving on in life or staying firmly stuck. Each of these healing systems treat the body holistically emphasising that feet are intimately connected to the energy systems in our bodies.
Another dimension of the interplay of feet, energy and the elements is the foot movements of tai chi – the “Five Elements in the feet”. The following information comes from an article from ‘internalgardens.com‘ that describes these connections in detail. It documents that Zhang San Feng, the founding father of the art of tai chi chuan, related the five basic directions of tai chi footwork to the five elements: metal = advancing; wood = retreating; water = facing the body left; fire = facing the body right, and earth = either moving up and down, or pausing at an equilibrium point. The article ends with the question: How much awareness do you place on your footwork? This is a question that we could ask of the work of our feet more generally.
Last but definitely not least I come to the specific elements associated with the feet and toes. In my wildly popular post titled ‘The elements at your fingertips‘ (nearly 25000 views and counting in Sept 2020), this is where I started – with the image below.
A similar image for the elements associated with our toes follows, encompassing the same five Indian elements as the fingertips (ether = space). The foot diagram was part of a presentation at a Reflexology meeting in Brisbane, Australia. The author noted that the toes begin with the spiritual Ether at the big toe and move outwards to the grounded Earth at the small toe. The diagram demonstrates that in the context of the feet, Reflexology draws on both the Chinese and Indian elements in its practice.
The Southwest Institute of the Healing Arts (SWIHA) in Arizona labelled the toes the same way, referring to them (from Ether to Earth) as the destiny toe, the communication toe, the ‘just do it’ toe, the relationships story toe and the trust (on the left) and prosperity and abundance toe (on the right) for the little toes. To find out more about the history of these elemental connections I would need to buy the SWIHA book on Toe Reading, or attend one of their Toe Reading Reflexology Classes. Elsewhere I have read that the foot in its entirety is related to the element of water. I would like to discover more about that dimension of the elemental story of feet.
Our feet and toes are made for walking, and running, and dancing. My explorations highlight the importance of our feet to our well-being and their connection to the elements, particularly the energy of the Earth. I leave you with the image above and the last stanza of a poem titled ‘Earth is Singing Today‘. Fittingly it comes from a book by Adele Coombs titled ‘barefoot Dreaming‘. The energy of the elements is everywhere.
‘The air is charged with the energy of life,
making music for the Sun-maker.
The whole earth is making the music
and I am dancing‘.