Feetback: What are your feet saying?
Aktualisiert: 25. Dez. 2020
In Yoga and in theatre alike, bringing awareness to your feet is key. Each character in a play stands a certain way, depending on their feelings and intentions towards other characters, and the actor needs to learn how to deliberately use their feet to communicate the character's message. In Yoga, bringing awareness to your feet is even more important because they literally are the foundation that you build your poses on. This is why in Yoga, as in theatre, we always start making adjustments and corrections at the feet.
But feet have a language of their own, and they don't always hear the orders from your brain. You may be speaking the bold words of a Shakespeare heroine, but your feet could still expose your nervousness. Perhaps because they are farthest from the brain, feet and hands are most likely to give away your emotions by sweating, shaking, or turning into huge lumps that you're bound to trip over. This is particularly unfortunate for actors if they have to dance. I experienced this in my 4th year in theatre, when my character's very first appearance on stage was a dance - a slowfox with a partner I didn't get along with. I ended up taking the lead and going way too fast, although it still felt like slow-motion torture. My instincts were screaming to get me out of there and hijacked my feet. Our dance coach was fuming in the first row.
This disconnection from our feet happens not only to actors, and I'm sure you have experienced it before - when giving a presentation in class, before a job interview, as you were leaving you're professor's office after receiving a bad grade, when you were walking away after a breakup. Yoga is here to help you reconnect to your feet and build that strong foundation that you need to stand tall in the face of challenge.
Tadasana is your Mountain Pose and the best time in a yoga class to connect to your feet. I like to tell my students to lift up all ten toes so they can feel the big toe mounds, the baby toe mounds and the centers of the heels pressing into the mat. These three points anchor us to the ground even in balancing poses like Warrior 3 or Dancer's Pose. Gripping with the toes on the other hand will throw you off balance because it forces you to shift too much weight into the balls of your feet. To avoid this, and to check whether you are properly grounding down through your tadasana feet, you can lift your toes up every now and again throughout class: If you topple over, you know you were relying on your toes too much. Have a go at lifting the toes of your front foot in Warrior 2 for example, or lifting all ten toes in a Bridge Pose.
In energetic terms, your Tadasana foot is also referred to as Pada Bandha, one of the five energy seals in your body that prevent your energy from leaking.
In standing forwardfolds like Uttanasa, but also Prasarita Padottanasa, Padangusthasana and Padahastasana, we tend to automatically shift our weight into the heels in order to balance out the weight of the upper body. We do this beacause it feels safer that way, and when I was first told to shift the weight more into the balls of the feet, I thought I was going to fall on my face. But we're not talking about lifting the heel off the mat, or standing on our tiptoes - all I would encourage you to do is try to to slightly, almost imperceptibly shift weight towards the front of your feet, keeping the toes relaxed. Give it a try, and you can almost instantaneously feel your hamstrings opening up and your spine lengthen down more. What may seem counterintuitive at first actually provides a much needed release for your body.
Lift through the arches
In any Yoga pose it's important to avoid collapsing through the arches, in particular the inner arch. Think of Warrior 2: It's easy to forget about the back foot and let it collapse inward, setting in motion a chain reaction that destabilizes your knee, leads to asymmetry in the pelvis, and causes pain in your neck. Your whole posture depends on your lifting and activating through the arches. A great pose to practice this is again Tadasana: First try deliberately letting your arches collapse inward. You'll feel your knees slumping inward, your pelvis constriczing and your upper body slumping forward. Now reverse that by consciously lifting the insides of your feet and activating your Tadasana feet. Can you feel it? Your legs are engaged, your pelvis is in a neutral position, you can stand tall and confident.
Picturing that you draw breath or energy through the feet can improve alignment in many poses. Let's say you're in Extended Side Angle Pose. Imagine now that with each inhale, you draw the air from your feet all the way up along the side of your body and exhale it out of your fingertips. This visualization will help you breathe more deeply and also directs your attention to your back foot and the stretch in your side body. You will automatically lift through the inner arch of the back foot and stretch your fingers away even more. You could also imagine a line of energy going from the crown of your head all the way to the heel of your foot - try imagining this in Warrior 3 for example. This prevents the foot that's in the air from becoming dead weight and instead uses it to tnhance the pose.
Exercises to Try
I saw professional Ballerina Petra Conti do this exercise, and it looked easy, so I gave it a try. It's not easy, but great fun!
Get a tissue or any kind of thin fabric, place it on the floor and try to pick it up with your foot!
If you find this as hard as I did, here are some ways you can work on foot and toe mobility:
Stretch your toes! Come to a kneeling position with your toes tucked under and sit back on your heels. Keep breathing deeply and stay here for several breaths.
Wiggle your toes! Try and bring your fingers in between your toes - this is already much harder than it sounds! - and then alternate between gently squeezing the toes and spreading them apart for about a minute. Don't forget to do both feet!
I hope you enjoyed this week's post, let me know if you try any of the exercises!