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
  • Each Chakra & Element is Paired with an Area of the Body and Muscle Group
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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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12 CLASS PACK - FULL BODY AWAKENING

  • 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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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.

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4. Bow Pose & Wild Thing
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  • 6 Different Peak Postures 
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#1 Tip To Advance Your Practice

Dharana: The Mastery Approach

#1 Tip to Advance Your Yoga Practice

Dharana Leads to Mastery 

There are multiple reasons why we practice asana (the physical practice of yoga), but most of us would agree that the primary one is that we feel better afterward. Asana offers us an opportunity to get to know our body on a deeper level because it demands the full attention of our mind. You can’t mentally check out while holding a balance posture; you must stay present. It’s that type of absolute focus that allows us to advance in anything we do. In the yoga sutras, the harnessing of our mind’s attention to focus on one thing is referred to as Dharana. We can get to the state of Dharana on and off the mat. It’s a skill that can permeate every aspect of our life. To become masterful at anything we do, we must practice this single-pointed focus. So how do we do it in our asana practice?

The challenge most of us face is that our only measure of progress in the asana practice is the attainment of postures. I say asana specifically because the yoga practice includes far more than the study of the physical body, and for this discussion, I want to target the development of our physical awareness. If the postures are our only measurement, then we subconsciously will strive for the ability to achieve more of them so long as we feel safe enough. On the other hand, if we don’t feel safe then we will likely hold ourselves back from our potential. I’d like to invite you to focus your attention on something more specific in your physical practice: targeted, intentional muscle activation and the sensations you experience while doing so. Instead of practicing many postures, focus on fewer postures with several muscle activations. The body has a tremendous amount of muscles, so limit your options by focusing on one area of your body i.e. the hips, shoulders, spine, ankles, core, etc. This is how I structure my Elements of Mastery immersion, I take you through simple postures while targeting each area of the body throughout the weekend or online course. In the video below, I give the example of how to activate 3 different muscle groups in the “hips” category for one single posture, lunge pose.

What Does it mean to be advanced?

The practice of yoga is always about developing some form of awareness through intentional actions. Advanced in the physical practice of asana means heightened proprioception of the body or “Body Awareness.” Understanding how to activate the various muscles of the body in order to move your bones/joints and be able to feel the sensations of these actions is what qualifies an advanced practitioner. For some, that may result in complex postures that require flexibility and strength, and for others, it might be living a more pain-free life. In any case, “advanced” is not aesthetic, it’s functional, which may or may not be visually pleasing to someone watching. The recent interest in fascia, the connective tissue of the body, has revealed many findings in modern research. While researchers are just a few years into the study of connective tissue, studies are showing the correlation between proprioception and chronic pain – those that are less aware of and capable of moving or activating certain areas of their body also experience chronic pain in these areas. What that means for us practicing yoga is to use the practice to develop greater body awareness if we want to decrease chronic pain. Watch the video below to see how I explore different muscle groups within a simple lunge posture

4 KEY MOVEMENTS

To simplify your adventure, let’s look at one way of breaking down potential engagement into 4 directional movements.

  1. Squeeze in: This can be any movement where the extremities are moving or are trying to move toward each other, or more specifically toward the midline of the body. It can also mean the front body contracting inward toward the center of our core – a full tuck position or balasana-child’s pose. In anatomy terms, I am referring to Adduction and Flexion of the body.
  2. Push Out: This is the opposite engagement or movement- away from the midline or when the front body expands like you are stretching out after a good night’s sleep. Anatomically speaking, this is Abduction and Extension of the body.
  3. Turn in: When the Extremities Rotate toward the midline of the body
  4. Turn out: When the Extremities rotate outward and away from the midline.

In addition, you have side bending and twisting. Side Bending is a push out on one side and a squeeze in on the opposite, while twisting the spine is a rotation along the central axis. My suggestion is to start with the four key movements as they will provide a strong platform to work with.

ELEMENTS

Another approach toward simplification of the complexity of the body is using the elements of nature (Earth, Water, Fire, Air). This is the basis that I use for the Elements of Mastery both the online version and live immersions. With the elements, you can still refer back to the 4 Key Movements.

Earth: The way I structure the earth practice in EOM is we look at the foundations of our postures – the two main connectors to the earth are the feet and the hands. There are 4 main directions of the ankles and if you practice these joint articulations throughout your standing postures, you will gain mastery over the feet and ankles; the same is true for the hands.

Water: The Element of Motion and Emotion appropriately relates to the hips which are the main area of our body that initiates movement from one place to another. The video above is a great example of hip activation in one posture. To really dive deep into developing awareness of the hips check out Hips: Rock Em and Unlock Em

Fire: Relates to the Core. The four directions of core activation are Flexion, Extension, Rotation, and Lateral flexion. Of these, Flexion and Rotation are most accurate to the element of Fire. To get to know these best you will want to practice Parts 3 and 4 of Elements of Mastery.

Air: Air relates to lateral flexion and extension of the spine along with thoracic diaphragmatic breathing. Practice Parts 4 and 5 of Elements of Mastery.

4 KEY MOVEMENTS

By exploring the multiple options within just a few postures, you will gain tremendous insight into your body.  When you focus your attention in this way, more advanced postures will likely become accessible simply because of your increased ability to activate muscles and move your joints. This masterful approach done over the course of time will increase the health of your muscle tissue leading to an increased range of motion and greater strength.

Dharana is the practice of focusing your attention or harnessing the full power of your mind. Now you know how to apply it to your body, but you can also apply this skill to anything you do.

Elements of Mastery

The most in-depth online yoga immersion offered by Matt Giordano. This immersion contains several full-length workshops focusing on how the body relates to nature’s elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, & Space. In addition to deepening your physical practice, you will learn anatomy, adjustments, and the approach to Mastery!

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