There are lots of surface-level ways to get prettier feet, whether it’s by using pumice stones, Baby Feet, or a great pair of clippers. But my issue — bunions, or at least the fear of bunions — runs deeper. I inherited this fear from my grandma. For as long as I’ve known her, until she got them amputated, she had hammertoes, which means that her second toes (the ones she no longer has) curled over the next-door big toes, forming a sort of toe mountain. The fear passed down to my mom, whose biggest vice has always been buying shoes but now only wears the comfortable ones. She’s so far managed to avoid hammertoes, bunions, and the deformities of middle-aged feet with a dedicated shoe-shopping mantra (“But how do they feel?” she repeats again and again) and one secret weapon: YogaToes.
They’re named after their inventor’s Iyengar yoga practice, which encourages the use of props to help make the most precise poses, from the stretch of the toes to the curve of the spine, and they look weird — like a gel ladder, a little bigger than the size of your foot, with just-thick-enough rungs that sit between each toe to stretch them outward from each other while also pulling them up away from the balls of your feet. These, too, have been passed down to me.
In the beginning your feet will need to adjust. At first you might only last ten minutes with a stretch this good (full disclosure: even after years of use, I usually don’t stick them between my pinky and fourth toe because I still can’t handle it), and after the first couple of times you might feel a phantom separator even after you take them off. It feels like it’s working, stretching. And after a couple of wears they’re comfortable enough to throw on as you relax on the couch, read a book, kick your feet up out of the bath (or in it; they’re waterproof), maybe even as you eat dinner. My mom and I have taken to sending feet selfies — photos of our legs crossed elegantly in front of the TV, our toes looking beautifully stretched out between their little gel rungs.
When it comes to scientific research to back them up, one small study from 2012 found that using YogaToes eased painful foot contractions in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Otherwise, doctors say that, in general, stretching and exercising toes keeps them relaxed, which is a good thing. As for whether such stretching can slow the progression of hammertoes or bunions, we can’t say for sure — although in the Amazon reviews, you’ll find celebratory comments about hammertoes finally touching the ground again and uploaded before-and-after pictures of realigned bunions. (They’re also beloved by ballerinas in the Washington Ballet, the team trainer of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the performer Sia.)
But for me, the practice is satisfying even in the absence of science — a feeling akin to putting yourself in a full backbend or stretching your fingers allllll the way apart after a long day of typing. And I got all the positive reinforcement I needed this summer, when I was sitting by the pool with my mother, and she told me I had the nicest feet in the family.
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