We spend most of our lives in our heads, thinking and doing. But spare a thought for your feet – how are they right now? Tucked away inside shoes? Immobile since you last sat down? How often do you get to walk barefoot, or challenge your ankles on an uneven surface?
Keeping our feet and ankles strong and healthy is so important to staying mobile. A lot of what we do in yoga requires us to use and work both. For example, in this week’s class we first warmed up lying down with some simple circling of each ankle, and flexing the foot back and forth; once standing up, we lifted and stretched the toes, trying to move the big toe separately; by rocking back and forth keeping the feet on the ground we tranfered the weight from heel to the ball of the foot.
Standing postures really work the feet. Think about keeping the arches lifted in trikonasana (triangle) and warrior 2 as well as grounding down on the four corners of the feet to give strength and stability.
How the feet work
The way the feet work relies on both tension and flexibility. There’s very little muscle, but around 38 bones (a quarter of the total of the body). The complex of ligaments and bones is controlled by the muscles runnng up the calves and shins, connected by a network of tendons.
The arches of the foot are key to good health – they enable us to walk - the spring in our step as we walk and run. In order to refine the actions of the feet, we need tap into awareness and engagement in the lower leg. The peroneus longus, specifically, plays a major role in stabilizing the foot. This long muscle runs down the outside of the calf to the outer ankle. From there its tendon weaves under the sole of the foot and attaches in two places at the inner arch. The peroneus longus helps maintain the transverse arch of the foot, as well lift the inner and outer arches.
These actions, when combined in a mindful and balanced manner, allow the leg to steady itself on top of the foot, particularly in one-legged balancing poses. This really brings into play the yoga concepts of sthira and sukha: the necessary balance of effort and ease.
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