[Yoga series #2] Feet are our Foundation

Following on from my previous blog in this yoga series, I’m continuing with feet.

Our feet are a masterpiece of natural engineering, however this masterpiece is not used to its full advantage in our civilised world. Shoes and flat, paved surfaces block nature’s proprioception and allow the feet to be indifferent to the environment and the surroundings.

ID-100162292The less we use our feet the weaker the detailed musculature become, and the weaker the muscles then more pressure is placed on the plantar fascia, causing heel spurs and plantar fasciitis.

The practise of yoga is carried out in bare feet. This act alone reconnects us to the earth beneath us, and makes us pay attention to restoring the strength and flexibility of the foot and the lower leg. [1]

Each foot has 3 main arches: from the heel to the distal end of the first metatarsal (base of big toe), from the heel to the distal end of the fifth metatarsal (base of little toe) and the line connecting the distal ends of the first and fifth metatarsal. This creates a triangle of support for each foot. There is also a 4th arch which goes across the tarsal bones.

When we are standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), the arches of the feet are engaged and connecting with the support of the pelvic floor, lower abdomen, rib cage, cervical spine and the crown of the head. [1] The fundamental lessons you learn from the standing postures can illuminate the practice of other asanasas and poses. [1]

So my advice is to pay attention to your foundation: your feet. Take off your shoes and reconnect with the earth and the environment. Take time to stand quietly in Tadasana, focusing on your feet, how they feel, how your weight shifts and balances. Try “lifting” your arches and see how this ripples up through the rest of your body, improving posture and balance.

Once your foundation is improved, it is much easier to put the rest of your house in order. [1]

Read my previous blog in this series [Yoga Series #1] Yoga for Foot Health.

[1] Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews.

Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Please note that I a not a yoga instructor.

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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[Yoga Series #1] Yoga for Foot Health

Our feet are our foundation. We often use language like “take a stand” or “stand on your own two feet”; phrases that represent our feet as an action of autonomy, and one of independence. Our feet create a stable base for us to live our lives.

Much of this is covered during yoga. I love my regular yoga practise and it really is something that unfolds over time, and is always a journey of self-discovery. It helps me listen to my body and thus get to know it. But I have recently found that my focussing more attention to my feet during my practise can really make such a huge difference to the poses and what I get out of my practise. If my feet are positioned correctly and active, then everything else follows.

So let’s look at the feet in yoga and see this in action. Being a reflexologist I’m always interested in feet! So below are a few poses I’ve selected especially for the feet.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose) This pose is all about grounding through the feet, feeling the earth energy pulling us down but at the same time our cosmic energy pulling us up through the crown. Working with this pose will over time give you a great sense of stability, just like a mountain, and this largely comes through focussing on the feet. Spreading the toes and lifting up the arches while simultaneously grounding the foot down into your mat.

Thai Goddess Squat Pose. This pose is an intense stretch of the foot flexor muscles on the plantar of the foot. Start on your hands and knees with your toes curled under. Gradually over time decrease the weight bared by the hands and shift over to the feet until you are in an upright position. The intense stretch can be painful and intense for the toes so don’t attempt this if you have any contraindication in your toes or feet. This stretch also works into the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendon. It is a great foot strengthener. Start of with holding for just a few seconds and progress over time.

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Tree pose. This is a balance, and no matter where you have your other leg or foot lifted, the grounding foot and leg is always going to get a good workout. Concentrating on the foot here is crucial – the positioning of the foot must be good to maintain balance and prevent toppling over!

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog). This is a great overall stretch for the body, both a resting and active pose, however if you concentrate on your feet during this pose it will open out a new level of discovery. Once I’m warmed up and my heels start to touch the mat, this is where focussing on grounding through the feet and toes, but lifting up through the arches can really help with alignment of the hips and engage the root lock (pelvic floor area).

Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana. This pose is great for helping to correct dropped arches and flat feet, stretching into the foot flexors. It’s also a great stretch for the ankle. In a seated position bend one leg so that the foot is beside the outside of the hip. This can be intense for the knee so don’t attempt if your knee is contraindicated in anyway. Either sit tall for 5 breaths or bend forward at the hip holding onto the foot of the straight leg.

Please note that I a not a yoga instructor.

Read the second in this series [Yoga Series #2]: Feet are our Foundation.

Image courtesy of pat138241 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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Barefoot Benefits

I have recently started to remain barefooted more often. Largely because we are now in summer and it is fantastic to take the opportunity to wear summer clothes and leave the sock draw alone. However, there are incredible health benefits to spending more time barefooted, not only from a physical point of view, but also on a more spiritual level.

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Did you know that the feet are the most sensory-rich parts of the body? Huge concentrations of proprioceptors are in the feet, found within the joints, connective tissue and muscle. The feet alone have as many proprioceptors as the entire spinal column! [1] Here surely lies the science behind the art of reflexology? But wait a minute – what are proprioceptors?

Proprioceptors are nerve endings and sensory receptors located within our joints, connective tissue and muscles – not just in the feet but all over the body. Proprioception is the ability to perceive the motion and position of our body. When our proprioceptors identify pressure or movement, they send messages to the brain to understand orientation. What is important to remember that the feet are rich in proprioceptive nerve endings.

When walking barefoot, our tactile pathways feel the surface of the ground, proprioceptors respond to pressure, and the terrain creates slight imbalances that create neuro-muscular strength, spacial orientation, balance, and coordination. [1]

There is a constant flow of information regarding the status and function of the musculo-skeletal system from proprioceptors to the spinal cord and the brain. When there is a breakdown in communication, or when improper information is supplied, efficiency of movement decreases. This breakdown can cause minor to severe problems with postural coordination and/or joint alignment, ranging from an occasional “niggle” to the source of chronic, unresolved pain. [2]

Shoes create a barrier between the sensitive soles of our feet and the ground. By going barefoot, proprioceptors are optimally stimulated, and the sensory experience is opened up. Are we, as a modern society, shutting down an important sensory area by continually wearing shoes? Are we disconnecting ourselves from our surroundings? Could the continual wearing of shoes be a major player in inflammation and pain? There is growing evidence to support the idea that “free electrons from the earth neutralize the positively charged free radicals that are the hallmark of chronic inflammation.”[3] But this is for a separate blog post.

Spending time barefooted also encourages presence of mind and conscious awareness. While walking barefooted, the information sent via proprioceptors inhibit other peripheral sensory input. This creates focus and awareness; we become more tuned in to our surroundings.[1] I have found that it makes me more “present” or “in the moment”. Having the heightened sensory experiences from the soles of my feet connecting all the way up through my body allows a more intimate connection with my environment.

It is truly amazing and exhilarating to feel the cool wet grass under my feet, or the sharp stones of the beach making me wince and focus only on the moment, the now. It is surprising how warm our garden path feels under my feet when it still feels chilly enough to wear a sweater and body warmer. These small observations represent an enormous sensory dimension that we are all excluding from our lives through shoe-wearing.

As Dr. Kacie Flegal rightly states, “It is never too late to encourage the proprioceptive in our own bodies as we continue to grow new neural connections, even as we age. Often, it is this system that becomes inhibited as adults. We lose balance and focus in our bodies and our lives and, as a result, may lose profound connections to our environment, ourselves, and other people.” [1]

I believe all of the above have strong links to the science behind reflexology. I believe that reflexology treatments awaken the sensory proprioceptors that are largely dormant from our constant shoe-wearing.  Rediscover yourself barefoot. Let’s celebrate our feet, touch them, use them, let’s set them free!

References

[1] Dr. Kacie Flegal http://www.naturalchildmagazine.com/1210/barefoot-babies.htm

[2] Dr. Dan Lommell http://www.lommell.com/new_page_123.htm

[3] J Altern Complement Med. 2007 Nov;13(9):955-67.

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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