My box of rocks!

My box of rocks!

This is my box of rocks. It is one of my favorite toys/tools in my living room. Enjoying it daily improves my back and ankle stability, making my core work better and decreasing the chance of any injury between the toes and belly button (and some above). It improves my balance, and overall movement among other benefits. So how does my box of rocks give me anything like the benefits I just described? I walk in/through it. I stand in it. I put my feet in it and grip the stones with my toes and wiggle through the small pile I’ve assembled. The benefits come largely through something called proprioceptors and other mechanoreceptors. These are a range of nerve cells through your skin and deeper tissues that let your brain know what’s going on. How fast tissues are moving, how much pressure is being exerted on them, temperature and texture, and these nerve bodies are also what let you know where your limbs are and what they’re up to, even when you’re not looking at them.

Unfortunately for essentially the entirety of the Western world, and most of the entire human population at this point, many of these nerve bodies have been handicapped severely. Humans have been walking the plains, forests, deserts, and other natural settings for over 200,000 years as the specific species branch we are today, and over 2,000,000 years as something pretty similar to what we are now. There have been some adaptations and evolution, of course, just within the homo sapiens sapiens branch, but almost the entirety of our existence and ‘design’ in whatever way you mean it, walking on the Earth. Whether this was sand, dirt, rocks or plant life our feet have always been our connection to the world more directly than anything else. The texture and hardness of the ground, it’s drops and inclines. All this information, this data, and so much more is collected in our feet through their direct and uninhibited contact with the ground to message the brain about the environment and make decisions about not only where to put our feet step after step, but to set timing and organization for contracting muscles around the core, spine, hips and legs to not just move you but keep the fine detail of muscle use to keep things stable and safe no matter the movements you’re going through.

Shoes have existed for quite a while in our ‘modern’ culture, but as shoes have evolved they have become more and more rigid on the bottom as well as padded, cutting off our connection from the world. They have become more ‘shoe shaped’ instead of foot shaped, pinching our toes, lifting our heel, taking over the responsibility of holding up our own arch, and many other issues that places the foot in a rigid position where it doesn’t even have it’s full range of motion AND for those nerve bodies does the same thing as wearing earplugs would do to our hearing. Some gets through, but not much, and probably not enough! On top of this, over the last several decades every surface of our world has become completely flat and quite hard. Even carpet which is a bit padded is completely flat. Concrete, linoleum, hardwood floors. Our feet weren’t meant for such surfaces. Imagine watching nothing but the TV guide channel all day on TV, your brain would just eject! And this is what our mechanoreceptors are doing, to the detriment of out entire body.

So where does my box of rocks come in? Reawakening those mechanoreceptors, the proprioceptors and getting the foot working again. The name of the game is barefoot nerve stimulation. Simply walking through it each time I pass to the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, or out the door without shoes. And when I’m outside, hopefully walking in grass and dirt and anything else I can manage. Have back pain? Hip, knee or foot pain? This is part of your equation and part of the solution. Pick up rocks in nature, or even go to a craft store and buy some. Mix up the sizes, shapes and textures. Make some a bit sharper (but not puncturing sharp!) and rougher with others smooth. Some tiny pebbles, some medium sized rocks. I just put this together the other day, it will be growing and diversifying but it’s a start! If your feet are less prepared for such stimulation and the toughness of the rocks, start with smoother ones and just stand in it. Or even put it in front of your chair at your desk, kick off your shoes and socks, and just let your feet play! Pretend they’re swimming and let them grip and move through the stones on their own.

It seems silly to some, I’m sure, but it can have a profound effect and takes hardly any effort at all to make part of your daily routine. Leave it in the middle of a room, or in front of your desk chair and it’ll be hard to forget.

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