Thursday, February 11, 2010
Long before I began teaching yoga, I fell in love with getting my feet massaged. Reflexology is an ancient practice that is based on the theory that there are "meredians" that travel like highways through our bodies - carrying energy to organs, muscles and bones. By massaging certain points on the feet it can affect the entire body. It is based on the same work as acupuncture and shiatsu. Anyone who has had a reflexology appointment can tell you how wonderful it feels.
When I started studying to become a yoga teacher we spent many hours learning about human anatomy and how different muscles, joints, bones, tendons, ligaments and organs can be affected by movement and specifically different yoga postures. I was delighted to learn that in yoga there is a big focus on maintaining healthy feet and preventing injury. I was also happy to learn that yoga postures/ stretches can be therapeutic for certain types of foot conditions. I am not an expert in anatomy or in specific foot conditions - and so when anyone comes to a class with foot concerns I always ensure that what I am doing is complementing what they are doing their doctor/ specialist/ physiotherapist are prescribing. What I try to encourage is careful observation and practice of foot positions that help/ hinder the feet while they are in the class.
Our feet are fascinating. Each foot has 26 bones (some sources say 28) and 20 muscles. Regardless, a quarter of the bones in our bodies are in our feet. Our feet are our foundation and we depend on them every day to walk, run, ski, curl, work and have a full life. Maintaining the strength and flexibility of the muscles in the feet can have a tremendous impact on the rest of our body. People are often shocked at how much attention is given to the feet in a yoga class.
I often start a standing series of postures with simple stretches for the feet. Instructions such as " spread your toes" in every yoga posture is given because we have muscles in our feet that are designed to spread our toes just as our fingers can spread. When the muscles in the toes get weak, the toes then loose their ability to spread and can loose their flexibility.
Instructions about lifting your toes are related to strengthening the 3 arches in your foot. Instructions related to "balancing your inner and outer feet, or root down through the big toes" are related to strengthening the muscles that allow our feet to pronate and supinate. "
When practicing yoga, all postures are built from the ground up. Standing postures always begin with the feet. If a person wants to strengthen their legs in yoga, they need the feet to be in the right position. The position of the foot also affects the knee which then has impact on the hip and lower back. If you think of a yoga posture as a puzzle - every piece of the puzzle needs to be in the right place to have the optimal effect on the body. The feet are highlighted in every yoga posture/ stretch whether you are seated, while on your stomach, lying on your back or doing a headstand. The feet are active in every pose.
I never take my feet for granted. I want them to be able to dance, ski, walk, snowshoe and play when I'm in my 90's! So I'll keep spreading my toes daily and getting foot massages as often as I can!