MEET YOUR FEET

Yoga Tips for a Solid Foundation ( #1)

These are my son's feet, not mine :-). We always keep the feet in mind in Yoga. Why is that?

These are my son's feet, not mine :-). We always keep the feet in mind in Yoga. Why is that?

My son and I have been walking around barefoot outside more often now. That wasn't easy to do in the winter, and it is quite fun to walk barefoot with the ground slightly damp (or even muddy). I am more aware of how I lift my arches and bear my weight when I walk barefoot. And since I am barefoot in Central Texas I am also more aware of anthills in the midst (smiley face).

My posture journey began almost a year ago when I registered to learn a method to improve my overall posture.  Since then I have had to revisit how I carried myself as I had to undo a lot of what I learned. Why so, you may ask? My physical therapist observed that the posture I worked so hard for might not have been the best for me.

When you are in the business of being aware of your own body and educating clients on how to be cultivate their own body awareness, it can be extremely frustrating to acknowledge that maybe some instructions do not work for your own body. 

It was a very unsettling experience for me to change my own posture habits - but I knew that #1: If I wanted to get out of pain, I had to better be kinder to myself, and #2: if I really wanted to help my own clients move, breathe, feel and be better - that I had to work on my own self-improvement. 

As I continue to manage my chronic pain, I passionately believe that how you stand and carry yourself can have structural consequences. And a yogic discussion on how a person stands typically begins with the feet. Students/clients hear a variety of instructions in a yoga class on what to do with the feet when standing. Here are some examples:

  • "Ground the four corners of your feet." (my feet have corners?)
  • "Root through the three points/corners of your feet." (What points?)
  • "Stand with the big toes together, heels apart." (why?)
  • "Stand hip width apart." (what is hip width apart?).

Let me take you on an experiential journey to become acquainted with your feet and how you stand. You can listen to these instructions in the audio clip, but I have also broken down the practice here.

Instructions:

  1. Stand the way you normally do and look down at the position of your feet. Are your toes pointing mostly forward? Are your feet turned to the side? One more than the other? Are your arches lifted - collapsed - can you tell at all?
  2. Close your eyes or gaze softly at a point a foot or two away from your mat/feet. (Now, dont look at your feet).
  3. Rock your feet from front to back and side to side. Where do you bear your weight? Do you bear them more over the balls of your feet, the center of your heel? The inner sides or the outer edges?
  4. March your feet in place, and rock from front to back and side to side again. Are the backs of your knees soft or tight? What happens to your sensation of weightbearing when you allow your knees to have a microbend (a "soft" bend). What happens in your hips when the knees are soft, versus when you tighten the back of your legs?
  5. Continue to march your feet in place, softening the knees as you do so. Notice if you feel that your pelvis/hips dropped. Are you thrusting your hips forward or back? Place your fingers over your hip creases. With soft knees, push your hip creases slightly back so that your torso leans slightly forward. Do not lean from your waist. Did you lock your knees? Did the arches of your feet collapse? Did your knees bow out or lock?
  6. Aim to bear your weight across the ball of the big toe, ball of the little toe and the center of your heel, Keep the back of the knees and the hip creases soft.
    • Option 1: Allow the center of your heels to bear more weight. What happens? What do your toes want to do? 
    • Option 2: Experiment with grounding the ball of the big toe down versus lifting the ball of the big toes slightly - what do your toes want to do?
  7. Now stop rocking.  Lift just your big toes (or at least try). What happened to the arches of your feet? Bring the toes back down. Now lift all the toes off of the mat, then lower each toe back from pinky side first. Keep the back of the knees and hip creases soft.
  8. Open your eyes. Glance down at your feet. Are you in the same position that you started with?

Do this exercise and notice:

  • How do your back and neck feel when you soften your knees and hip creases.
  • Do you naturally prefer to have your feet together, or wider apart when you are standing in place?                                                         
  • Do you favor one side when you balance your weight?
  • Are your toes mostly pointing forward?
  • Do you lock your knees?
  • Are your hip creases tight?
  • Look at the shoes you wear the most as well. Which parts of the sole are most worn out? 
  • What would it take for you to keep your arches lifted, not lock your knees, and not drift your hips too far back or too far forward - and feel comfortable?
  • When you sit down, are you conscious with what you do with your feet?

Take a look at this graphic and revisit how you bear weight on your feet.

 

As a therapeutically-oriented teacher I favor teaching clients how to ground through the three points of the feet, and to stand hip width apart so that the hip, knee and ankle are aligned, toes mostly pointing forward. 

Alignment would be different for people whose legs are bowed out, or who have knock knees ( I would focus on the alignment of the hips in relationship to the ankles), and there would be refined guidance for people with collapsed or high foot arches. Other displacements may be due to hip, knee or ankle issues (or issues with the pelvis itself) and what would be key for these cases as in every case, is if there is strain across the joints.  I continue to experiment with keeping my own feet in a kidney bean shape, and I try to not bear too much weight on the ball of the big toe. The forefoot is more delicate than the heel and it is the heels that are designed to better transmit and receive weight.

In my next blog article my focus will continue to be about feet, posture and what can help you feel more grounded!

(Left) Before I understood how to stand according to the Gokhale Posture method;                                (Right) After completion of the workshop. Notice how wide apart my feet are and that my ankle joints are aligned with my hip joints.