Is your foundation Strong?
Setting the foundation of any posture is arguably the most important step you can take aside from breathing of course, which you can simply consider a part of the foundation. You probably have heard me talk about the foundation of arm balances and handstands a million times, but how about standing postures? If you have practiced with me on retreat or at the Elements of Mastery you already know the importance of what I am about to share with you. If you have not worked with me before, no problem I am going to take you through a step by step approach to building a strong, solid foundation for all your standing postures.
Have you been asked to lift the arches of your foot in a class? Did you know how to do that on your own? maybe you were told to lift your toes in order to do so, and you probably noticed a loss of connection to stability. Lifting your toes can be a great way to strengthen some of the muscles I am about to share with you, but it is literally just the beginning.
Does it really matter?
This is a great question and I wouldn’t blame you for asking because ultimately knowing the why behind anything we do gives our actions power. So why lift the arches? Consider your feet the foundation of all standing postures. Would you build your extremely expensive one of a kind house on mud, or would you prefer a solid foundation the you know will hold up over time? Picture it, a strong, heavy house resting on a muddy foundation, eventually part of the house would start to sink downward while other parts remained strong. Pressure would build and the weakest parts would start to break. This happens in our body, and the weakest points are typically our joints. The joints are weak because they are the place where two or more bones come together for the purpose of movement. If they were too strong, no movement would be available. Gravity is always upon us and pulling us downward. When our bones are properly aligned there is less stress on the joints. However, what If we have an imbalance at the ankle that causes our weight to fall to the inside our outside of the foot? Not only is the ankle or foot at risk but ALL of the joints that exist above it are too because they have to compensate for the new alignment. This is why you could have a pain in your neck that stems from a weakness and miss-alignment at the ankle. You feet it in the neck because the neck is compensating for everything below it. This is very important to understand especially if you are a yoga teacher or in a field of physical health. Does it matter…YES!
For the purposes of this article we will talk about two joint actions and the muscle groups that create them: Evertion and Pronation of the ankle which occur at the subtalar joint. The subtalar is just below the ankle joint. The ankle joint allows for the up and down movements of plantar flexion (pointing the foot) and dorsiflexion (flexing the foot), while the subtalar joint allows the foot to rock from side to side. For simplicity purpose we will refer to both of these joints as a collective – “the ankle”.
The arch of the foot
There are multiple muscles that help to form the arch of the foot. How high someones arches may be due to the structure of the foot – the bones might be shaped in a more flattened position. However, we aren’t concerned with the external look of an arched foot but rather, training the muscles to activate appropriately for our feet. Most of us can use strengthening of these muscles. The way that I found really helps is first learning how to isometrically engage the muscles of inversion and eversion at the same time which forms a “boot strap” like scenarios around the foot. One of the fibulas muscles wraps from the outer shin down the outer ankle and attaches near the ball mound of the big toe – That is pretty cool! there are muscles underneath the sole of the foot that when activated in conjunction with the the muscles of inversion and eversion we find the greater engagement and lift of our arches.
Step 1 - invert the ankle
While you can certainly evert the ankle first, I find for most people it is more effective to start with inverting the ankle when approaching standing postures. For clarity of the action I am showing it in a seated position – try it seated first so you are ver clear on how to invert. When in Warrior 2, press the outer edge of the front foot into the ground until your feel the muscle deep to the calf muscle activate. The ball mound and the big toe might lift when you do this – it is ok for now.
Step 2: Evert the Ankle
I recommend learning everting when seated – first pull the outer edges of the feet back, it can be helpful to press the big toe and toe mound forward. When articulating this action properly you will feel the muscles along the outer shin engage. After you are aware of the action the next part can be challenging. In warrior 2 be sure to maintain the muscle activation of inversion and add exertion by pressing the big toe and toe mount down into the ground, while trying to roll the outer ankle in slightly. Be sure not to fall flat into the inner arch while doing so – if this happens it means you are no longer activating the muscles of inversion, go back to step 1 and try again.
Step 3: contract The Arch
While this step is optional it can be really helpful, especially for anyone that get plantar fasciitis. The idea is to maintain step 1 and 2 but then add an activation of the musculature along the bottom (plantar side) of the foot. The action is to try and drag the big ball mound of the foot toward the inner heal. Like inversion and eversion this action can be quite foreign and may take a bit of time till you are able to feel the muscles contract. I really like to focus on this action in the change of seasons when I am switching between difference shoes and my feet are trying to adapt to the differences.
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