"When the weather gets nice, there are young girls walking on Bleecker street [in their high heels], and you watch them all wobble. It is so not sexy!" Yamuna Zake, a long time healer and practitioner, tells me at her quiet West Village yoga studio.
I am, self-admittedly, one of those girls. I own fifteen pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, none of which I can walk in. "They're cab-to-curb heels only," I tell her, to which she replies that she can walk over a mile in her red-soled shoes.
And she’s willing to share her secrets during an hour-long yoga class that aims to teach participants how to strengthen their feet and, yes, walk a mile in their tallest stilettos.
"What usually happens is that women have to stop wearing high heels by the time they're 40 or 50 because their feet hurt," she says—which is quite impressive for a 59-year-old woman (I joke with her that my 23-year-old feet are already in pain).
But, like the rest of us who are willing to suffer in the name of fashion, Yamuna is no exception. "I'm a fashionista," she says. "I want to wear what I want to wear, when I want to wear it. I don't want my body telling me I can't wear something anymore. I don't want a doctor telling me I can't do it anymore."
Regardless of how en vogue they may be, high heels have earned a seriously bad rep. Biomechanist and foot expert Katy Bowman claims that high heels are as bad for your body as smoking. Other experts have stated that heels can increase women's susceptibility to other medical conditions such as arthritis, muscle damage, and trapped nerves. London's Royal National Orthopedic Hospital even released an x-ray video that highlights how damaged a foot and ankle can actually be from the shoes.
"I get trashed for saying that heels aren't bad for you," Yamuna explains in response to the negative energy surrounding high heels. "But your feet should be able to do whatever you want, just like any other part of your body. You go to the gym and exercise numerous parts of your body—why don't you do that to your feet? They should be the strongest, most flexible part of your body. They have to support the rest of your structure."
So, on a cold Wednesday evening, it became my mission to finally be able to easily strut down the street in my Louboutins; I brought with me one of my most difficult pairs: six-inch, single-sole stilettos that left my feet feeling like a ballerina on pointe.
Yamuna's class began with simple exercises, becoming conscious of how we're able to move our feet—working on separating our toes, shifting our weight between the balls and the heels. After a few warm ups, we migrated towards the tools, two black half-spheres and two squishy, spiked ones. The black ones were used first to understand weight shifting, posture, and maintaining balance on the outer, middle, and inner aspects of our feet and toes. Although a bit painful, when I stepped off of the tools and onto the wood floor, my feet had never felt so grounded. My steps were softer and lighter—the stretching seemed to be working.
Similar exercises were practiced on the spiked tools, with focus on getting up on our toes, which was again challenging in terms of balance and pain. Beauty is pain though, right?
Then comes the "runway." We each grabbed our pair of shoes and headed for the lengthy hallway, where, one-by-one, we practiced our walk with what we had learned about balance, posture, and flexibility. One girl wearing a pair of t-strap, red, satin evening shoes learned how to shift her weight more properly, while another in black platforms worked on adjusting her posture.
As for me? I think I may need a few more classes with Yamuna to sport those stilettos. However, I did rock a pair of new, five-inch heels the next evening, and my feet were fairly comfortable. If the heel hadn't broken off after four hours of wearing them (sigh), maybe I too would have been able to walk a mile.