BUILDING A STABLE FOUNDATION
The human body is a spectacular feat of nature. Each body part is unique, yet works in complex symbiosis with all the other parts. Even after years of study we’re only just touching the surface of understanding the specific roles of each element of the body. The feet, one of the most fascinating body parts, often get ignored until we have an issue with them! They carry our entire bodyweight on a very small surface area, which through the invention of shoes, is reduced even further.
Our feet were cleverly designed to carry our bodies barefoot. Back when we were barefoot, the intricate muscle and bone structure rose to the challenge of constantly changing surface areas and textures. These days, our feet are constricted in shoes for most of the day and rarely experience anything other than perfectly flat, hard surfaces. When we walk or run, our feet flex and extend; they also rotate from supination (outer rotation of the foot) when we connect with the ground, to pronation (inner rotation of the foot) when we push off from the ground. This circular movement absorbs the force of impact and stores energy to propel you forward into your next stride. Notice this complex movement of your feet the next time you’re walking or running.
To keep our feet healthy, it’s important to give them a chance to spread their surface area and breathe at the end of the day. Take your shoes off when you get home and make a connection with the earth, even if it’s with socks on in your kitchen while you make dinner. Lift and stretch your toes out as wide as you can and place them back down one by one; feel your inner arches become light and listen to your feet sing with happiness!
Start your yoga practice by exploring the three points of each foot: the ball of the big toe, ball of the little toe and middle of the heel; and root down into them equally, while at the same time feeling a lift in the arches. There are three arches in our feet: the familiar medial arch (inner arch), the lateral arch (outer arch) and the transverse arches (mid foot arches). When we root down into the three points, the arches natural lift into a triangular dome shape. This action is called Pada Bandha (foot energy lock) – it brings an awakening of the leg muscles that travels up the entire body. Building strong and flexible feet will help you find your foundation in your yoga practice, cultivating a flow of energy from the ground up. You’ll find that when you take time to focus on the placement of your feet in standing – and even seated – positions, the rooting-down effect will naturally help you achieve better alignment of your body.
Illustrated above are a few poses you can use to connect with your feet in your home practice. Start in a seated cross-legged position, lift up your right leg and hold onto your right knee. Flex and extend your foot a few times, followed by some foot circles to wake up the ankle joints. Repeat on the left side. In Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Facing Dog try placing a block under the back of your mat and notice the difference it makes when your heels have a surface to press into. From kneeing, tuck your toes under to stretch out your arches. Then place them nail side down to counteract the arch stretch and lengthen out the front of your feet. Place a brick between your calves in Utkatasana/Chair and press down firmly into your right foot; circle your weight into the ball of your right foot, the outer edge, the centre of your heel and the inner edge. Repeat on the left side. Staying in Utkatasana, lift your heels and feel the micro-movements in the balls of your feet at they work out where your balancing point is. Finally come into Malasana/Squat with your hands on the floor for balance, open your knees out to the sides and walk your feet together until the soles of your feet are touching. Slowly start to find your balance and work towards holding your hands in prayer position at your heart.
Having an awareness and appreciation of your feet will not only benefit your yoga practice but also your day-to-day activities. Print out this foot sequence and try to incorporate some of the asana into your home practice. Maybe even commit to giving your feet an Epsom salts bath once a week and feel the benefits of giving them the love and attention that they truly deserve!
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Ruth Delahunty Yogaru