BY: TRISHA CURLING
Striving to create balance in the body between strength, stability, and flexibility helps us to maintain proper function and movement. It is a goal that is ongoing as variables like our routines, stress, injuries, tendencies, and compensations take place in our bodies. One of the first places to take into consideration when aiming to create a sense of balance is at our feet. After all, this is where we carry all of our body weight.
“Our feet serve two basic functions. They must be flexible enough to allow the intricate movements required for walking, running, and otherwise adapting to a changing terrain, yet strong enough to support the entire body in an upright position.” (Donald Moyer)
Our feet play a major role in the functions of the rest of our body. The way we stand and/or move can determine what feel in the rest of our bodies. Setting a good foundation in our feet can help to manage and/or remove problems in our knees, hips, back, and/or the neck.
Being barefoot in our practice helps us to familiarize ourselves with the sensations in our feet. Yoga helps us to strengthen and stretch the muscles in our feet with the execution of seated poses, standing poses and the transitions we make during our yoga practice. Yoga also helps us to learn more about our entire body because when we practice, we must pay attention to things like the alignment and stacking of joints, also, the engagement and release of muscles. This helps us to hone in on what is happening in the various parts of each side of the body.
When we are setting up or transitioning to each pose, our foundation (the feet) are one of the primary areas to pay attention to. As yoga teachers, this is the first place to look at when trying to ensure that our students are set up in safe alignment for their bodies.
Understanding the alignment in our feet in each pose is important in maintaining the health and integrity of the structures in other areas of our bodies. Spreading our toes in some standing poses for example, rather than clenching our toes can help us to rely more on our gluteal muscles to stabilize us. One the functions of the gluteus medius are to stabilize the hip, so allowing it to do its’ job may prevent issues like pain or tension in the hip or lower back. This technique of spreading the toes is commonly referenced in a yoga class or one on one in a private session with a yoga teacher.
How often would you find yourself paying attention to spreading your toes in your running shoes, or flip flops for that matter (especially while walking in flip flops) this may be next to impossible. This doesn’t mean walking barefoot everywhere, but it is certainly helpful to give your feet time to this state in order to bring this strength, flexibility, and awareness off of the mat.
On the other hand, Yoga Therapist Sherry Brourman talks about doing “towel scrunches” to help to strengthen the arches of our feet. When interviewed by Carol Krucoff in Yoga Journal in 2013, she said, “Sit with your feet flat on the ground, knees bent at 90 degrees, with a towel spread under your feet. Scrunch your toes to grab bits of the towel and pull it toward you, inch by inch, so it bunches into your arches.”
We must find ways to actively and purposefully bring our feet back into and/or to maintain good health. Relying on artificial supports may not always be the answer. Yoga feet are happy feet.