What Your Feet Can Tell You About Your Overall Health

One of the most important things to understand about wellness is how each part of your body plays a role in your health. You may be surprised to learn how some of the smaller features of your body, features that may not always draw your attention, can actually provide clues to your overall health. Your eyes, for example, can reveal to your doctor valuable information about your blood pressure and even diabetes. Your feet, as well, can offer insight into your health.

Let’s take a look at some common foot symptoms and what your feet might be trying to tell you:

Wounds That Won’t Heal

If you have a wound or ulcer on your foot that isn’t healing, you might want to check your blood glucose levels. Open sores, particularly on the bottom of the foot, are an extremely common problem in people with diabetes, and can be caused by everything from circulation issues to neuropathy related to diabetes. All of this, of course, can turn serious. Diabetic neuropathy can also cause foot tingling or numbness. If any of these things occur, visit your GP to discuss the problem, as well as your blood sugar control. Open wounds can end up causing dangerous infections.

Toenail Problems

When examining your feet for problems, take special note of your toenails. Spoon-shaped nails could be a sign of a nutritional deficiency, such as anaemia caused by a lack of iron (or its opposite, hemochromatosis, too much iron), as well as a variety of other conditions. Toenails that are strangely coloured, particularly yellow, could also indicate medical problems, some even serious. This is another time when you’ll want to pop into your GP for a quick foot check-up.

Foot Spasms, Tingling, or Pain

Foot spasms or pain can be a sign of a long day at the office, or an athletic injury, but just like the other symptoms on this list, it can also be a sign of something more concerning. Nutritional deficiencies, circulation problems, injuries, and more can all result in pain or tingling. One condition, plantar fasciitis, is a common cause of heel pain and results from inflammation of the connective tissues on the bottom of your foot. Your GP can help sort it all out.

Swollen Feet

Swollen feet can be another signal of circulatory problems and definitely warrants a visit to your GP. If swelling and even pain is felt more in your joints, like your toes, you might have a form of arthritis. Of course, swollen feet can also just be a sign of too much stress on the feet, but if you’re noticing the symptom regularly, a check-up can help ease your mind.

Freezing Feet

We’ve all had those moments where our feet are icy, and chances are good that you just need some extra layers on your feet, but if your feet are always cold, you could have anything from a thyroid condition to, yes, the aforementioned circulatory issues. If you’re overly tired or have noticed unusual weight gain alongside your freezing feet, you might ask your GP for a thyroid check. If you’ve noticed other signs of circulatory problems, like foot swelling, you might also want to mention this to your GP.

Flaky Skin on Your Feet

A common cause of flaky feet is athlete’s foot, a scaly, red foot condition that is so named because of its association with sweaty feet inside of too-snug shoes. Athlete’s foot typically starts between the toes, and causes unpleasant sensations, like burning and itching. Luckily, your GP can prescribe an easy fix for athlete’s foot, such as an ointment.

Of course, you can also have certain types of skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis on your feet, as well. Either way, there’s certainly no need to suffer when you could see a medical professional about the problem.

Time for New Shoes?

Poorly fitting shoes can be quite damaging to the feet. Bunions, corns, and calluses all can result from wearing shoes that don’t fit properly. If you do end up with these conditions, there are a few steps you can take (after, of course, investing in new shoes!):

  • For bunions, special shoe inserts can help while your toes heal. Your GP may also recommend a splint to help straighten the toes.
  • For bunions, corns, and calluses alike, pamper those feet. The use of a warm foot spa, followed by the gentle use of a pumice stone, can help heal and soothe these skin conditions.

What About…the Smell?

No one wants to talk about smelly feet, but odour is another area where your feet are trying to tell you something! Poorly smelling feet can result from conditions like Athlete’s foot or just basic daily sweating. Ease the problem by regularly wearing clean shoes and socks, switching out your shoes everyday, keeping your feet well groomed, and letting your feet get some air by going barefoot when you can at home.

Who Knew Feet Could Tell You So Much?

Your feet are at the lowest point of your body, and as such, they can be important signals to problems with the body’s circulation, thyroid, nutritional profile, and so much more. If you’re concerned about what your feet might be telling you, contacting your GP is never a bad idea.

Your feet are a reminder to take care of yourself from head to toe (literally). Curious about more ways to improve your health? Follow my Facebook page and check out my thoughts on mindfulness, hypnotherapy, and the benefits of tai chi.

6 Misconceptions About Tai Chi

Tai Chi is many things to many different practitioners. For some, it is a powerful Chinese martial art. For others, Tai Chi is a meaningful health therapy or fitness plan. Even as Tai Chi has remained in the news as a valuable, healthy exercise for mind and body, there are still numerous misconceptions about this ancient art.

Let’s dispel some of these Tai Chi myths.

Misconception 1: Tai Chi Is Too Slow to Offer Any Health Benefit

Often, a person’s initial understanding of Tai Chi comes from something that they’ve seen on Youtube or in movies. They may have even watched a fitness video of Tai Chi and felt like the slower, continuous movements of Tai Chi couldn’t possibly be offering the workout they desired.

This is one of those areas where looks can be extremely deceiving. On the contrary, Tai Chi is actually one of the most beneficial activities that you can do for your overall health. Research has found that Tai Chi benefits memory, even possibly delaying the onset of conditions like Alzheimer’s. Additional studies have found that Tai Chi contributes to lower blood pressure, reduced inflammation, greater balance and coordination, increased muscle strength, and wider flexibility.

Tai Chi is, of course, not an intense physical activity. Instead, it is often referred to as a kind of meditation in motion that still offers incredible cardiovascular benefits. However, it is the very difference between strenuous exercise and Tai Chi that helps offer these benefits. Intense aerobic exercise has its place of importance, but the calming, strengthening, mentally focused activity of Tai Chi provides separate, even unique benefits — the full spectrum of which research is only beginning to uncover.  

Misconception 2: Tai Chi Is Not an Effective Martial Art

Tai Chi is absolutely an original martial art, dating back to 13th century China, in fact. While Tai Chi is perhaps more often undertaken these days for the myriad health benefits, the martial art aspect is still a key component of the movements and forms. You must learn the basics of Tai Chi before you can proceed more deeply into Tai Chi as a form of self-defense. These deeper techniques include actions known as sparring and push hands, as well as expanding upon the visualization techniques and foundations of the art that you learn early on when beginning Tai Chi. Ultimately, it’s down to the individual martial artist rather then the art itself. A diligently practitioner of just a few years in one martial art would easily defeat a poor practitioner of 20 years in another art.  So making comparisons is never really a valid thing to do.

Misconception 3: It Has to Be Done Outside/In a Group/In a Certain Environment

The beauty of Tai Chi is that it can be practised anywhere, from the park to your own home. While a class is extremely beneficial in helping you learn the proper techniques involved in Tai Chi, and to experience partner movements and other Tai Chi activities, once you’ve learned these techniques, you can easily practise them at home on your own, as well. Tai Chi can be whatever you need it to be to fit your lifestyle.

Misconception 4: Only Certain Ages (Usually Older) Do Tai Chi

Tai Chi is for everyone! While it is of high benefit to elderly individuals for its gentleness and specific health benefits, including research showing it can even reduce the risk of falls and strengthen the mind, anyone of any age can — and should! — consider trying Tai Chi. This is an extraordinary exercise that will change your overall health for the better regardless of age, fitness level, or even injury restrictions.

Misconception 5: You Have to Have a Specific Uniform to Practise Tai Chi

You do not have to wear any specific uniform to practise Tai Chi. Generally, loose clothing is recommended due to the flow of energy (known as Qi) that is an essential part of Tai Chi practise. You can choose to wear shoes, particularly if you do practise outdoors and to assist with balance in your movements, but many Tai Chi practitioners choose to perform their movements barefoot. Eventually, as you find yourself enjoying Tai Chi and wanting to feel more connected to the art, you may wish to purchase traditional Tai Chi attire, but it certainly is never required.

Misconception 6: Tai Chi Is Just Like Yoga

Tai Chi and yoga are both wonderfully beneficial exercises, and even have similar goals, but they are also completely different. While yoga consists of specific postures that are often held for certain lengths of time, Tai Chi is more dance-like, consisting of a constant flow of movement without those same pauses.

Most of the moves and poses of yoga are practised on a mat, while Tai Chi is typically spent standing and moving around, quite possibly making it a little easier for those who might find spending time on the floor to be difficult. There are a variety of styles of both Tai Chi and yoga. If you take yoga, you might consider trying out a Tai Chi class to note the differences and determine your preferences.

Tai Chi Can Make a Difference in Your Health and Wellbeing

If you’ve never tried Tai Chi, or are looking to return to Tai Chi practise, consider attending one of my classes in York. I offer classes three days a week, and am also available for a 15-minute phone consultation to discuss your specific needs and goals beforehand.

You’ll be amazed at how this ancient art form can completely transform your life.

To learn more about the benefits of Tai Chi, as well as other wellness tips, follow me on Facebook.

The Best Slippers to Wear When Performing Tai Chi

You’re more likely to know the practise of T’ai Chi Ch’uan as Tai Chi, a traditional Chinese martial art that has developed a worldwide following. Its slow, deliberate movements allow practitioners to appear as if they’re doing a graceful dance. Tai Chi actually has multiple different styles, including some that are fast-paced and others that involve partner exercises, as well as the more widely seen slow-paced individual practise. These styles can use anywhere from 12 to 100 movements, so you’ll want to research to find the right style for your needs.

Tai Chi continues to grow in popularity as its benefits to both physical and mental health become more and more apparent.

Philosophy of Movement

Many modern Tai Chi styles trace their roots back to one or more of the five traditional schools, all of which trace their origin to Chen Village. The original basis of Tai Chi as a martial art was to achieve a yin/yang balance in combat. The idea was that if a force was to meet another force the results would always be negative, but if you could instead meet a force (such as an attack) with redirection or cause it to exhaust itself, you could end the encounter without a negative result. This philosophy can translate physical encounters, as well as life in general, and the bodily awareness gained through practising has many benefits of its own.

Physical & Mental Benefits

Ancient Chinese medicinal beliefs held that illness could be the result of a blockage or imbalance in a person’s Qi (pronounced Chee), or life energy. Tai Chi is intended to increase and balance the flow of this Qi, helping to alleviate ailments. It can also be adapted for just about any fitness level. It is useful for improving your balance and flexibility, something just about everyone can benefit from, but it is especially beneficial in older adults as it can reduce the risk of falling.

The relaxing nature of the movements and the gentle exercise could help to lower blood pressure and promote weight loss. The movements are low-impact, so they are perfect for those with joint issues or arthritis and could even help to alleviate pain. There are even seated versions of the movements for those with mobility issues. In studies, practising has even been shown to improve the symptoms of both fibromyalgia and COPD. Just about everyone can find something a physical beneficial from Tai Chi.

A common phrase used to describe Tai Chi is “meditation in motion,” and for good reason. Beyond the many physical benefits to practising, there are a host of psychological benefits, as well. Tai Chi’s slow-paced, deliberate movements can provide a focal point for meditation. It is not uncommon for practitioners, once they become comfortable with the movements, to slip into a meditative state where their sole focus in on their body, the way their weight shifts, and their breathing as they sweep through their movements.

Exercise has been known to reduce stress and improve mood, and Tai Chi is, at its core, a form of exercise. Moreover, because of its accessibility, almost anyone can benefit from its uplifting effects. The focus on breath and movement has been known to help with managing anxiety and promoting an overall sense of well-being. Regular practise could even contribute to more restful sleep.

Preparing Yourself – Finding the Right Footwear

Unlike many forms of exercise, there are not many requirements for getting started with Tai Chi. It can be practised indoors or outdoors. It can be practised with a group or on your own. It also does not require a lot of equipment, but one thing that you may want to consider investing in is a good pair of Tai Chi slippers. Most commonly, people wear trainers to exercise, but these have been designed to be at least somewhat slip resistant, which can cause issues when you’re attempting the more advanced Tai Chi movements, that involve quite a bit of pivoting.

There are three main kinds of Tai Chi slippers: cloth, rubber sole, and athletic. The athletic looks sleek but tends to be a bit pricier. The rubber sole is typically mid-range pricing wise. While a good idea for practising on damp grass or other such surfaces, the rubber sole may not allow you to turn quite as easily. Cloth shoes like these cotton sole slippers are my own personal choice as they provide an immediate connection to the ground, allowing you to still feel it beneath you even through your footwear. They’re also lightweight and allow your feet to breathe as you practise, reducing moisture in your shoes. Additionally, these are inexpensive and easy to both carry and pack up. It is important to note that size is difficult to guarantee, but a good retailer knows this and will often have a flexible or even free return policy to account for sizing issues.

Are you just getting into Tai Chi or have you been practising for a while? Do you have questions about what kind of benefits practising could have for you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and follow me on Facebook for more health and wellness tips.

The Benefits of Weleda Arnica Massage Oil

As a Tai Chi instructor, I can’t stress enough the importance of physical activity to enrich your body and mind. However, when deciding to undertake an activity, the mantra that I tell all of my students to remember is the seemingly simple, “If it hurts, don’t do it!”

Exercise is meant to be mindfully enjoyed, not dreaded, and there are a variety of steps that you can take to feel more comfortable before and after physical activity.

Researching your activity, allowing yourself the proper time to warm up, and listening to your body are all ways to care for yourself and make your exercise regime one that you won’t want to quit 4 days later.

Have You Tried Massage Oil?

Another option that may surprise you is massage oil. Weleda Arnica Massage Oil may be just the tool you need to reduce soreness and promote relaxation before or after physical activity, or even just at the end of a stressful day. This oil contains plant oils, including sunflower and olive oil, mixed with the popularly medicinal arnica flower.

Arnica flowers are beautiful yellow flowers, related to sunflowers, that have traditionally been used for everything from pain relief to vision problems, including vision problems that occur post-stroke. This makes arnica a powerful flower that can potentially help alleviate complications from serious conditions. These special flowers have even been used to reduce bruising and help with the pain of arthritis. Weleda’s arnica oil combines these flowers with healthy plant oils to create a massage oil that is healing, soothing, and marvellously reinvigorating.  

Mindfulness and Physical Activity

Exercise is often thought of as a completely physical activity, but this of course isn’t at all true. Physical activity can help reduce stress and improve mental health, giving you the overall full body wellness that you deserve. While any exercise will provide these benefits, there are certain exercises that seem more geared toward accomplishing both than others, simply by the very nature of the activity. Tai Chi, swimming, and walking are just a few examples of activities that encourage participants to slow down and focus on their bodies and their environments.

As the fitness magazines make clear, physical activity is so often viewed as something that should be taken to extremes. We’re told to run as fast as we can, for instance, and for as long as we can, without regard for how our minds and bodies are feeling. When performing any kind of activity, use it as an opportunity to also train your mind. Notice your breath and be present in the moment. Try to clear your mind, letting thoughts come and go as you focus on your exercise routine. My soon-to-be-released book will go into greater detail on mindfulness, but taking these steps now will allow you to be at peace in mind and body, giving you the maximum benefit from your workout routine.

Massage Oil: Beyond Pain Relief

Weleda’s Arnica Massage Oil isn’t simply healing. It’s also another way to relax and  practise mindfulness. You’ll first want to warm the oil by placing a few drops into your hands and gently rubbing them together. Then, you’ll want to carefully massage the oil into the muscles impacted by your workout, or the parts of your body most impacted by workday (or general life) tension. Really pay attention as you massage, allowing your mind to breathe in the arnica, and using this as an opportunity to practise mindfulness. Note the feeling of the oil on your fingers, guiding yourself to be present in this moment.

Have you tried a massage oil like Weleda’s arnica oil as part of your exercise plan? How do you practise mindfulness during physical activity? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook for tips, tricks, and updates on my upcoming book.

If it hurts, don’t do it!

About 10 years ago down in London when walking home after a morning of teaching Tai Chi I found myself alongside my most elderly student. After a short time, I noticed that even though I was about 40 years her junior I was putting in quite some effort to keep up with her. Initially I was okay with this until I discovered that she would be walking about 80% of my route which meant continuing to go at a pace that was becoming embarrassingly uncomfortable! This was further exacerbated when she told me how she was a member of a local 70+ ramblers club, and that she was going to have to leave them because she was finding it difficult to keep up, what with being well into her 80s and also now having a dodgy knee…

Now, even with all my years of training in a variety of sports and specialised activities, and despite being outshone by anyone who’s seriously older than me, I still think that walking is one of the best exercises around; provided you’re sensible.

As with all exercise I always apply what I call my ‘golden rule’ which I also teach to all my students: “If it hurts don’t do it”.

This is a simple mantra that usually serves to protect most people apart from those that don’t listen to me and those that don’t listen to their own bodies. One such episode occurred when one of my younger students (she was only in her 70s) was informed by her GP that she had a raised cholesterol level. Being the type of person that she was my student went into a panic and without further consultation decided she best take up jogging. Fine you might say, until you understand that this is not by itself the best way to reduce cholesterol, nor is it a good idea to take up jogging if you have no experience of it, especially if you are in your 70s. Surprise, surprise, she put her back out within a hundred yards of her house.

After talking with her I ascertained that in her ‘panicked state, my student ignored all of the cardinal rules of any physical exercise:

  1. Understand what you are doing, or get expert advice if you’re not experienced
  2. Gently warm up before throwing yourself headlong into the activity
  3. Relax and enjoy it
  4. And finally – for the third time: “If it hurts don’t do it”

One of the main points I took from this is that although learning Tai Chi will automatically and unconsciously have beneficial effects on all areas of your life you still need to consciously apply it to gain the full benefit. Who knows, she might not have even made the hundred yards if she hadn’t been a Tai Chi player? The other point being that if you build up slowly you can achieve amazing things – and it really doesn’t need to hurt!

As I am a pragmatist rather than a purist I recognise that amongst my Tai Chi students, and indeed amongst the rest of you, there will be some people who feel the need to do other forms of exercise, e.g. long-distance running. Therefore, I thoroughly recommend a book entitled ‘Chi Running’ (link opens in Amazon.co.uk) which I have used myself on those occasions when I need to go at more than a snail’s pace. I don’t do serious amounts of running but I take the same view as I do with swimming, i.e. I can swim well enough to save my life in reasonably non-extreme circumstances such as falling into the river from a pleasure boat. Likewise, with running I can still catch a train when the taxi taking me to the station is forced to stop after knocking down a jogger trying to reduce their cholesterol. Fortunately for me it was less than a hundred yards to the station…