Our feet, often neglected and abused and yet we expect so much of them. They are our connection to the earth, a foundational support that is often asked to adapt and shift at a moments notice. On a recent adventure to Bali, I was never so keenly aware of the work I asked my feet do. Still less then a year since I broke my ankle, I was very much aware of the uneven slick surfaces and really did my best to keep my brain in my feet. I went from hard uneven sidewalks to a constantly changes surface of sand with everything in between. Not only do we rely on our feet to keep us strong and in balance as they support us, we can help restore balance and strength with proper care and attention.
I am not a believer that a quick change to the foundation will restore order to above, actually I have found quite the opposite to be true. Change the foundation and neglect to adapt any structural imbalances that either created the imbalance or were created by the imbalance and you risk compromising the integrity of the body else where.
I remember when I first began to connect with my feet I was surprised to learn that there were not one, not two, but three arches of the foot. Restoring the health and spring back to the arch is the first step to improving over all health to the feet and the body.
We were born without arches in our feet. Ever look at a babies foot?
Perfect, flat plump, and precious. It is not until we begin to start standing and walking that we begin to form arches in our feet. Sorta like the secondary arches of the neck and low back, we were not born with them, it was only as we began to lift our head did we create the lord odic curve in the neck. As we progressed and moved on to the act of standing and walking our body was in the midst of created not only the lordodic curve of the low back but also the three curves or arches in the feet. All are formed or created by the pull of muscles adapting to the change in our spacial orientation to the earth.
In the feet it is the intrinsic muscles as well as the pull of the developing calf muscle that helps to form and mold the arches of the foot. A fallen arch or a high arch actually represents an imbalance that can in many cases, be corrected with out the use of corrective shoes and orthotics. It just takes time, perseverance and effort. The arches of the feet act as shock absorber, their function is to disperse and or absorb the force of contact the foot makes with the earth when today’s athlete run, walks or jumps. Without effective arches, the knees and the hips take the brunt of the impact. So what is one to do?
There is alot written about the anatomy of the foot, the boney structures and joints and their function. I want to talk about ways that you can restore the natural balance to your feet with the aid of unnatural devices. So lets look at the arch.
Think of the foot as a triangle. The three points on this triangle are the heal, the ball of the big toe and the ball of the little toe. Between each of these points is an arch. Each with the capacity to be a springing shock absorbing machine.
The medial longitudinal arch.
The lateral longitudinal arch.
The transverse arch.
To maintain healthy feet and arches we depend upon 3 elements. The shape of the bones, the soft tissue of the feet we call ligaments and muscles and a balanced upward pull coming from the muscles of the lower leg. Our control over the shape of the bone is limited, however as we will discuss later, an imbalance of tension on bones can over time directly affect the shape of the bones. Some of the bones in the arches of the feet work similarly to the architectural construction of Roman arches. The force from above and the construction and shape create the arch. Others rely solely on the balance of muscular tension in the foot and the lower leg.
The soft tissue in the foot includes the muscles, fascia and ligaments and once again we can use the analogy of the bow string. This time the the bow string is the sole of the foot and with the proper amount of muscular tension a nice arch is created. Each time we step down the bow expands absorbing the shock of the step and can then disperse it up thru the body.
Next we have the muscles of the lower leg that creates a balanced upward pull and can help restore a fallen arch. Briefly, the Tibialis anterior and the peroneus longus form a sling under the foot supporting the lateral longitudinal arch as well as being responsible for the pronation and supination (internal and external rotation)of the foot. The action responsible for pushing off of the ball of the foot when we walk uses a host of muscles to flex the toes as well as tighten the sole of the foot to help create a push of force to shift the body forward.
As you can see, the foot is a very complex structure and it is not only affected by the muscles above it, but it also affects the muscular structure thru out the whole body.
You have heard the saying, when your feet hurt your whole body hurts. There is such truth to this. One of the best ways to strengthen the feet is thru a barefoot practice and walking barefoot as often as possible. For many of us that goes against everything we know. But coming from not only personal experience, but also witnessing the ever changing structure of the feet in many of my clients, I know this to be a fact. The aging process of the feet does not have to be one of harsh, hard misshapen feet, if you begin today you can reverse the signs of aging in your feet.
There are many ways you can begin to strengthen the feet and help restore the arches.
One of my favorites is to lift my three center toes up while maintaining contact to the floor with my little toe and big toe. If you need to, hold the big toe and little toe down until you can find the muscles to recreate this action.
Another proven affective way to strengthen the feet is to pick things up with your toes. Marbles, beans, rice even a wash rag.
A simple way to help restore space in the bones is to place your fingers between the toes, webbing to webbing. You may find at first you can only get a few of the fingers and toes to co-operate but over time you will be able to put one finger between each toe and then use your thumb to massage the sole of the foot.
How much attention do you pay to your feet? How might your yoga expression change as you bring a new awareness to the feet?
In your yoga practice the dynamic engagement of the feet is critical to maintaining and restoring balance for today’s athlete. The more we ignore and neglect our feet, and the more cast like structures we insert our feet into, the more restrictions we create in our whole body. The feet are a direct reflection of the body and represent our right to be. Our desire to stand on our own two feet requires that we pay attention to all areas of our life and that MUST include the feet!
See you, on the mat.