Yoga for the Sole

I have an obsession with feet lately!   And the more I learn, the more I appreciate these wonderful parts of our body for all that they do for us!  Last night I taught a yoga class dedicated to the feet and shared my newfound wisdom as we stretched our lovely feet!  Here’s what I have learned:

Our feet are amazing!  They keep us grounded, they are our foundation yet they also allow us to be mobile!  Our feet, and especially our toes allow us to balance.  Our feet keep us aligned.

Keeping Grounded:

Our feet are our connection to the earth.  They keep us grounded when we need to stand firm.  Many times in life we feel afraid or stressed or overwhelmed and just want to run away…can you stay grounded? Present? Breathe and approach the situation with equanimity?  If you are interested in the chakras at all, have a look at the first chakra (muladhara root chakra) which is concerned with survival, stability, physical needs, security, and connection with the earth.  Our feet give us stability and connect us to the earth.  Questions to contemplate for the root chakra include:

What do I need?

What keeps me grounded?

How do I connect with my physical body?

How do I connect with nature (think walking barefoot in the grass!)

What makes me feel safe and secure? What gives me sustenance?  How can I share my strength and stability with others?

Mobility:

Our feet take us places.  We walk, we run, we leap, we dance.  We often neglect our feet, hiding them in uncomfortable and ill-fitting footwear and not really giving them any attention until there is pain or injury or some kind of a problem…  our feet and toes are essential elements in body movement. They bear and propel the weight of the body during walking and running. They help maintain balance during changes of body positions. The function of the toes, especially the big toe, is to help us balance and to propel us forward during movement. Feet create mobility and supply us with direction. Going back to the root chakra:   Balancing the first chakra means going to the places that scare you, sitting there, breathing, feeling your body, feeling your feelings completely, not wriggling away, not plotting your escape. A healthy root chakra is connected to both the earth and the sky, the grounded, solid quality of reality as well as the expansive spaciousness of acute awareness.  There are times in all of our lives when it would be easier to run away… can you stand your ground?  Conversely, do you know when enough is enough and it is time to walk (or run) away?

Balance:

Our feet are the foundation for our bodies. Just as a foundation of a building must be level and stable to support the structure above, the feet must be balanced and sturdy to support the legs, spine, arms and head. If your base is tilted or collapsed, a reflection of this will appear up through the body as misalignments. The body lines up over the feet -when a foot goes out of alignment the ankle, knee, pelvis and back follow. Analyzing the way we stand, walk, run and sit helps determine the cause of misalignment, which is most likely the culprit of pain. Finding and correcting the misalignment usually relieves the pain. In relation to the root chakra, The feet and legs play a vital role in balancing the first chakra because first chakra nadis flow from the tailbone down the legs into the feet.

Fun Foot Facts For Ya!

Really interesting facts about feet:

  • Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 muscles (intrinsic and extrinsic), 31 joints and over 100 ligaments. The feet contain a quarter of all the bones of the body (52 bones in a pair of feet);
  • The foot contains two kinds of muscles, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic muscles are short muscles that run between the foot bones, while extrinsic muscles are leg muscles that extend into the feet and control movement of the feet;
  • There are 250,000 sweat glands in each pair of feet that release nearly a cup of moisture every day. There are more sweat glands per inch of our feet than anywhere else in the body;
  • There are 3 arches not 1 in the foot -The arches are crucial in giving the foot flexibility, absorbing shock, distributing the weight of the body and adapting the shape of the sole of the foot to the surfaces it encounters while walking

Foot Problems:

Our feet are amazing yet we truly do neglect them… in fact we torture them!  Cramming them into shoes that do not fit properly, neglecting to care for the skin by moisturizing and properly hydrating, and omitting this important part of the body from our exercise regimens.  Many people suffer from foot problems and it is when faced with the pain and discomfort that we truly appreciate how we take our feet for granted!   Our body reflects everything we do with our feet. If our feet are tight and clenched, our whole body mirrors this tension. When our feet are tired, our whole body is tired. When our feet are out of alignment, our whole body is out of alignment. Our feet are also mirrors of our general health. Signs of diabetes, arthritis, circulatory, and neurological diseases often appear first in the feet.

Popular foot problems include:

  • fallen arches
  • bunions
  • plantar fasciitis
  • heel spurs
  • hammer toes
  • claw toes
  • sprain or broken bones

How to Care for your Feet:

  • Walk barefoot -especially outdoors -reconnect with the earth, get grounded.  This helps both physically (strengthening the muscles, connective tissue & arches) and emotionally/psychologically.
  • Massage the feet with lotion to release any tension and hydrate the skin -I love a peppermint lotion for a little tingle and soothing relief -put fingers between the toes, massage the ball mounds of the foot, the arches and the heel with a circular motion of your thumb, pull gently on the toes
  • Have your feet measured and buy properly fitting, good quality, foot wear (for when you are not going barefoot!)
  • Keep moving and practice the recommended stretches and inversions to get blood and lymph fluids flowing in the feet (standing or sitting on hard surfaces for long periods of time deprives our feet of fresh oxygenated blood)
  • Roll a golf or tennis ball under the bottom of your foot to release tension and stretch the plantar fascia
  • Practice standing with proper alignment on the feet  (see “Get Grounded” below)
  • Try the recommended yoga poses to stretch and strengthen your feet.  Do these often!  Do it now!!!

Try these poses and exercises:

Get Grounded:

Finding proper alignment of the feet includes grounding though the four corners of the feet (the big toe mound, the baby toe mound, the inner heel and the outer heel), lifting the arches, and equally distributing weight between each foot. Lifting the toes towards the sky while standing helps to activate the foot muscles, lift the arches and ground through the four corners of the feet.  Stand in tadasana (mountain pose) with your feet hip distance apart (that is only 2 fists approx) and your feet pointing forward (ankle is in line with space between second and third toe pointing forward.  Lift your toes.  Rock back and forth to notice where you tend to distribute your weight -most of us tend to lean back into our heels when we stand.  Find the balance between front and back.  Notice where you land on your feet on the sides -do you put more weight into the inner or outer edge of the foot?  Lift the toes and spread them wide.  Feel the big toe mound, the baby toe mound, the inner heel and the outer heel -there are the “4 corners” of your foot.   Ground down into the earth evenly balanced through these four corners.  Now draw the energy from the big toe mound toward the inner heel and the baby toe mound toward the outer heel to “lift” your arches.  Breathe into your feet.  Imagine space between all of those bones and joints…  I like this picture from MrYoga.com as it shoes the toes lifted in tadasana…find your four corners.

All Standing Poses:

Think of your foundation in all of your standing poses.  Any pose that strengthens the lower leg muscles and feet will help improve foot problems as well as increase circulation, reduce leg cramping, help reduce swollen ankles, and create stability in the body. It is important to pay attention to the foot alignment and muscle tone in all yoga poses, especially during standing poses when the feet are not only the foundation of the pose, but also the connection to the earth grounding us energetically. Standing poses emphasize establishing a firm base of support through the legs so the spine can be relaxed, light, and free. To create proper foot alignment, evenly distribute your weight between the big toe mound, the baby toe mound, the inner heel and the outer heel. Allow the toes to spread forming a firm foundation and complete support system for your body to maintain health as well as create good posture and a firm foundation for all yoga poses.

Squat with toes curled under and knees on mat:

Kneeling with the toes tucked under is a great way to stretch the bottom of the feet. This can be a very intense stretch for beginners as it breaks up tension in the sole of the foot.

 

Malasana (Garland Pose -Squat with heels down):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baddha Konasana-Cobbler Pose

Baddha Konasana is a great pose for feet. While in Baddha Konasana pressing the four corners of the feet together and drawing the toes away from each other strengthens the foot muscles and activates the arches.

Virasana-Hero Pose  

Virasana is an important pose for foot health. It stretches the top of the foot and ankle while toning the sole of the foot. This pose is very therapeutic for flat feet as strengthening the muscles in the feet helps recreate the arches. Virasana also, over time, reconstructs the alignment of the tarsal bones by having pressure on the tops of the feet and allowing the toes to spread.

Vajrasana-Thunder Pose

Vajrasana has many of the same benefits of Virasana as it helps to recreate or maintain healthy arches, increase flexibility in the ankle as well as reconstruct the alignment of the tarsal bones.

 Adho Mukha Svanasana-Downward Facing Dog

Adho Mukha Svanasana is another great pose for the feet. The feet muscles are working as your arches lift, while stretching the soles of the feet. By lengthening the plantar muscles and fascia the downward extension of the heel to the floor will develop with time.

Viparita Karani-Legs up the wall

Legs up the wall will restore energy and oxygen to the legs and feet as it allows blood and lymph fluid that has pooled in the feet and ankles throughout the day to flow back into the body.

 

 

More advanced feet strengtheners and stretches:

  • Keep tops of toes on mat in Urdva Mukha Svanasana (Upward facing dog pose) and then transition into Downward Facing Dog keeping the top of the toes flat -breathe here for a few breaths before curling toes under.
  • Big toe hold in Padangusthasana, Utthita Hasta Padangustahasana, Supta Padangustahasna, Pascimottanasana, and Upavista Konasana. Holding the big toes with the index finger, second finger and thumb pressing with the big toe while pulling with the fingers works the feet muscles.
  • Squat with soles of the feet touching

Toe strengtheners:

Toe strengtheners can increase flexibility, muscle tone and control of the toes. From standing, drawing the big toe up and pressing the four little toes down. Draw the four little toes up while pressing the big toe down. Draw the big toe and baby toe up as you press the three middle toes down. Draw the three middle toes up while pressing the big toe and baby toe down. Singling out each toe to act as individual entities can be extremely challenging and frustrating.

Point and Flex Foot

From Dandasana, point the toes away from the body and flex the foot by drawing the toes towards the body. This creates mobility in the ankle as well as strengthening the muscles of the feet and ankle.

Ankle Circles

Slowly take the ankle in circles in both directions clockwise and counter-clockwise. This can be done from sitting in a chair, seated on the floor or standing. This action stretches and strengthens the foot and ankle muscles while maintaining mobility in the ankle and foot joints.

Interlace Fingers between Toes

From a seated position, interlace your fingers between your toes. This stretches the muscles of the toes and allows them to spread. This action can be very challenging for some people due to confining shoes.

Tennis ball roll

Roll the entire sole of the foot on a tennis ball. This helps to warm up the feet as well as breaking up any tension being held in the feet. This exercise also accesses many important pressure points on the sole of the foot. The gentle pressure on the muscles and connective tissue can relieve tension and regain fluidity.

Picking up marbles with your toes

By using your toes to pick up marbles not only strengthens the foot muscles but also promotes the use of using toes as individual entities as opposed to a group.

Foot Meditation: (For Real!)

Find a comfortable position either sitting or in sivasana to practice this meditation.  I like to do it before and/or after the yoga asanas above.  Get comfortable and settled and then close your eyes and bring an awareness to your breath.  Take deep, full breaths that fill the body -inhaling deeply through the nose, and exhaling through the nose.  Ujayi breaths.  Take your attention down to your feet.  Notice how they feel for a few moments.  Perhaps move them a little.  Really feel that they are like at this moment….Imagine all of the spaces between the muscles, the bones, the joints and ligaments of the foot and breathe into those spaces…..   Contract the muscles of the feet, feeling the difference that makes…. and then let them go…   Spread the toes wide and then release them and allow them to hang heavy towards the floor…feel the muscles softening….loosening….relaxing…..releasing….just simply letting go.  Allow the feet, the legs, the body, the head…your entire body to lay heavy….completely supported by the earth beneath you……grounded…….   as your body relaxes and releases, notice a feeling of lightness as if your arms, your legs, your feet are floating……   notice how you can be grounded and light at the same time……inhale and think of the word relax……exhale and think of the word release………feel the support of the earth beneath you allowing you to relax, cradling you like a mother with her child………feel the sweet lightness of being as you exhale and release the tension from your body.

Walking Meditation

Source:  , About.com Guide

Walking Meditation is a wonderful way of transforming something that we do every day into a deeply healing, deeply nourishing and enjoyable tool for our awakening. It is a practice found both in Taoist and Buddhist traditions. When we practice walking meditation, each step of our journey becomes the destination – becomes peace and joy. I first learned walking meditation from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, at a retreat that I attended in Plum Village, in the spring of 1992 – and have been enjoying it ever since!

Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: ten to thirty minutes, or longer if you’d like

Here’s How:

  1. It’s wonderful to practice walking meditation any time that we are walking. When we’re first learning the practice, however, it’s best to set aside a particular time for it – say, first thing in the morning, or during your lunch break, or right before bed at night.
  2. Walking meditation can be practiced indoors or outside. When the weather is nice, I like to practice outside, where I can be energized by the trees and sky. It’s good to either go bare-foot (especially if you are inside) or wear shoes that give your feet and toes plenty of room to spread out.
  3. Now, simply stand with your spine upright and your shoulders relaxed, letting your arms hang naturally by your sides. Take a couple of long, slow and deep breaths. As you exhale, let go of any unnecessary tension, smile gently, and let your attention flow deep into your belly, hips, legs and feet. Relax your pelvis, as though you had just mounted a horse. Feel your connection to the earth.
  4. Next, begin to coordinate your breathing with taking small steps: as you inhale, step forward with your left foot; as you exhale, step forward with your right foot; and continue in this way. Let your gaze be focused gently on the ground in front of you. You can also experiment with taking several steps with the inhale, and several with the exhale. But keep the pace quite slow (slower than your habitual walking) and relaxed.
  5. As you become comfortable coordinating breath with walking, try adding this beautiful visualization: Each time you place one of your feet down, imagine that you are kissing the earth, through the sole of your foot. Each time you pick up one of your feet, imagine that a beautiful pink/white lotus is now blossoming in the place that your foot just was. In this way, our walking becomes a way of expressing our love for the earth, and of creating beauty with each step.
  6. Walk this way – slowly, enjoying each step, with no thought of “getting somewhere” other than right where you are, here and now – for ten minutes or longer. Notice how you feel.
  7. Little by little, incorporate this practice into your daily life – taking three or four slow, mindful steps, kissing the earth, whenever you think of it. Notice how this changes the quality of your day.

 Tips:

  1. Don’t worry if this kind of walking feels awkward at first. We’re learning to pay close attention to something that we’re not used to paying close attention to. Little by little, it will start to feel quite natural.
  2. When you stretch out your feet and toes completely, and let the entire bottom of your foot be in contact with the ground, nerves, arteries and meridians connected to the entire body are stimulated – which is very beneficial for our health.
  3. Let your mind be focused and relaxed. If it wanders into thoughts of past or future, simply come back to the practice.
  4. Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Long Road Turns To Joy: A Guide To Walking Meditation” is a wonderful resource (see link below). Da Liu’s “Tai Chi Chuan & Meditation” includes a section on meditative walking, along with instructions on sitting, moving and sleeping meditation practices.

What You Need

  • A precious human body.
  • A pleasant place to walk – either indoors or outside.
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