Lifting The Arches of Your Feet

Are Your Arches Lifted?

Setting the foundation for standing postures - Avoid Collapsed Arches

Is your foundation trong?

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 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. The 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 or 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 weakness and miss-alignment at the ankle. You feel 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 any field of physical health. Does it matter…? YES!

The Anatomy

For the purposes of this article, we will talk about two joint actions and the muscle groups that create them: Eversion and Pronation of the ankle which occurs at the subtalar joint. The subtalar joint 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 the purpose of simplicity, 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 someone’s arches are 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 “bootstrap” like scenario around the foot. One of the fibula 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 muscles of inversion and eversion allow us to find greater engagement and lift of our arches.

One of the best ways to integrate these actions in your practice is to repeat them throughout your yoga practices. If you are interested in greater balance, stability, and ankle awareness there are two online immersions – 12 class packages that focus heavily on the feet and ankles.

1. The July 2020 Immersion titled The Chakras & the Elements – the Earth and Water practices will provide a profound awakening to the ankles and feet and how they relate to your practice.

2. The August 2020 Immersion titled Journey To Bliss follows a similar format as of July; the first few practices target the ankles and feet. I highly recommended either or both of these immersions.

Everting

ankle strength, heal sprained ankle with yoga

Inverting

ankle strengthening for yoga
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  • The July Immersion Has it ALL
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3 Steps To Activate the Core of the Foot

  1. Press the outer edge of the food down.
  2. Maintain this action, and counter engage by pressing the big ball mounted and big toes down.
  3. Drag the big ball mound back toward the inner heel.
inversion of the ankle - arch of the feet

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 very 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 in the calf muscle activating. The ball mound and the big toe might lift when you do this – it is ok for now.

evert the ankle in warrior 2 yoga pose

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 eversion by pressing the big toe and toe mound 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, so go back to step 1 and try again.

arch of the foot in warrior 2 yoga pose

Step 3: contract The Arch

While this step is optional, it can be really helpful especially for anyone that gets plantar fasciitis. The idea is to maintain steps 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 heel. Like inversion and eversion, this action can be quite foreign and may take a bit of time until 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 different shoes and my feet are trying to adapt to the differences.

October Livestream Yoga Classes

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  • Strong focus on ankles, feet & wrists
  • Release Stress Patterns in body and mind
  • Increase Shoulder and Spinal Flexibility
  • Includes 2 hour Workshop on Full Wheel Pose
  • Strengthen Your Core
  • Learn Breathwork and Meditation Techniques
  • Connect the the 5 Layers called The Kosha's
  • 12 All Levels Live Asana Classes
  • 4 Live Guided Meditations
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  • SALE: 1 Time Payment of $118

The Results

Activating the arch of the foot can be challenging at first. Typically the hardest part is learning how to co-contract opposing muscle groups. When opposing muscle groups contract at the same time, you get lifting and stabilizing of the joints. In this case, when you activate the muscles along the inside and outside the leg, it’s like pulling up your bootstraps and stabilizing the ankle. As a wonderful result, the arch of the foot pulls up.

Integration

 To fully integrate these actions into your practice you will need repetition throughout all of your standing postures. Try it in your next class, or if you want a full workshop that incorporates these exact actions throughout, check out Hips: Rock Em and Unlock Em workshop below.

Thanks for stopping by. Leave a comment if this post has been helpful, or if you have questions or requests for future posts.

October Livestream Yoga Classes

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8 CLASS PACK INCLUDES CLASSES FOCUSED ON:

1. Flying Pigeon
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3. Compass Pose
4. Bow Pose & Wild Thing
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  • 6 Different Peak Postures 
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4 Exercises For The Ankles and Feet

4 EXERCISES FOR THE FEET AND ANKLES

Move better, feel better

Strengthening our Foundation

Walking on the streets of some of my favorite European cities, I took note of how tired the muscles of my feet and lower legs were. Although I consider myself to be a rather in shape human being, during the winter months I can fall into periods of inactivity – having to spend more time indoors, on my computer, and focusing less on my body than I’d like. Despite my dedication to my yoga practice, and even playing recreational sports like Ice Hockey, the reality is I am just not walking, running, and jumping around barefoot on multiple surfaces throughout the entire year. So I decided to get back in shape, but from the ground up! 

Consider this: How much preparation and attention goes into setting the foundation of a home? While many of us want to skip straight to the appliances and decorations, none of that matters if the structure isn’t sound. Builders spend a great deal of time making sure that the foundation is solid so that the rest of the home lasts for a long time. When it comes to the human body, we also tend to want to focus on the “appliances” rather than on our foundation. In my 11+ years of practicing yoga, I have encountered hundreds of ab exercises, alignment techniques for the hips, shoulders, and core, and so on. When I try to think about a class that focused on the feet and ankles, I can think of only two (aside from my own “Hips” and “Root Down” workshops.) But for real, the feet…I remember two classes. I am not saying they don’t exist, I am sure you have one or two teachers that focus on the feet too, but I think we can agree that it’s a rarity. Could you imagine deciding to build a home and the majority of builders didn’t mention a foundation?

While I offer many practical techniques to apply to your standing poses in my Hips: Rock & Unlock ‘Em workshop, I wanted to provide some additional exercises that are completely free so you have the opportunity to practice them and focus on your foundation. 

I have been focusing on these exercises lately to rebuild strength and awareness of my feet, and it’s amazing how much better my hips and low back are feeling when I’m walking around, standing, and even doing handstands. 

So let’s get you up to speed with the ankle joint, what joint actions are available to you, and how to strengthen these actions.

Rebuild Strength

The ankles and feet often lose strength when wearing overly supportive shoes all day, or simply sitting for the majority of the day. Rebuilding strength in the ankles and feet sets a strong foundation for how you walk and stand which can affect the rest of your posture!

4 Main Actions of the Ankles

There are four main actions of the ankles that allow us to walk, pivot,  jump and move.  Being aware of each action and our ability to articulate them can support the overall well-being of our feet, ankles, knees, and hips.

Dorsiflexion

Commonly referred to as “flexing the feet,” Dorsiflexion is when the tops of your feet and fronts of your shins move toward each other.

Inversion

When the outer ankle lengthens, like a “sickled foot.” I don’t use that term often because it implies that this action is not good, but it is an important action to walking and also maintaining an arch in the foot in the asana practice.

Plantar flexion

“Pointing the feet,” Plantar Flexion is the opposite of dorsiflexion – Tops of feet and shins move away from each other.

Eversion

The Opposite of Inversion – outer edge of the foot is closer to the outer shin than the inside of the foot

Toe Spreading

Having strong and flexible muscles of the feet can support healthy movement of the whole body. 

Bonus: Toe Spreading

 

A classic hatha yoga practice is toe spreading. Oftentimes, it is taught to interlace your toes of one foot with your toes of the other. In this version, I show how to interlace fingers and toes, which in some ways can be easier, and in others may be more challenging. Regardless, developing range of motion in the muscles of the feet can support proper movement and impact absorption when walking, running, or jumping. Always remember that if the foundation has limited movement, some energy has to be distributed elsewhere and could result in excess movement and impact at the knees. Give it a shot, and wash your hands before you eat!

What do I do now?

There are many more exercises to train the strength and range of motion of your ankle joint and feet. In my personal opinion, it’s less about how many exercises you do and more about how much attention you put into your practice, and how often you are doing the exercises. Choose what feels most appropriate to you and work on those particular exercises and actions for a while until you feel an improvement in your strength and range of motion. If along the way you feel like you are losing stability or range of motion, change up the exercises you are practicing to bring your body back to balance. As always, consult a specialist prior to doing anything that you are unsure about. Thank you for stopping by. If you appreciate this video and blog, please share it!  If you are looking for a full practice to strengthen the feet, legs, and hips, check out Hips: Rock and Unlock ‘Em

 

Hips: Rock & Unlock 'Em

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