This week’s focus in our Hatha yoga classes was ‘foot, ankle and knee’. I was a little bit nervous to bring up this theme as a start; I wondered how students would react and how interesting the class would be for them. After looking back, I realise that first my own feet feel pretty good right now, then that the feedbacks were mostly good, as we all learned some interesting ways of stretching the feet and strengthening them, actually rediscovering those little thing that we stand on all day without paying much attention to them! The practice was as well strong, I can certainly feel my Quads now!
We discussed the fact that the way we place our feet on the ground as we stand, walk, and run, is going to affect the rest of the legs, pelvic alignment and then spine and limbs. When we consider how small the sole of our feet are compare to the rest of the body… It’s pretty amazing to just be able to stand up! Yes, we are totally allowed to feel amazed at how awesome our body actually is!
Instead of going into anatomy of the feet, ankle and knees, I find more interesting to talk about practical ways to find good alignment in our yoga practise, taking that knowledge and self-awareness to our daily lives.
Remember to regularly stretch your feet. Here are a few points that we practised together and that are good to remember:
- place fingers between the toes of the opposite foot, placing the palm of your hand on the sole of your foot. Practice some ankle rotations in both directions while pulling the toes forward.
- With legs straight, flex and dorsiflex your feet (point the toes forward and then towards you, bringing the top of your feet to your shin bones). Then adduct and adbduct your feet bring them wide so you can bring your big toes in to touch as much as possible, then feet out), evert and invert the feet (inside of the feet goes forward, then towards you), then rotate your ankles again.
- Sit onto your heels and stretch the toes under, tucking the little toe in as well. This is a wonderful stretch for the inner arches of the feet; if you run, this one is a must!!! Stay for as long as you can, taking your arms in a handclasp if you want. Then release and come on ‘All 4’, tap the top of the feet down a few times.
- When standing in Tadasana. Ground trough the 4 corners of your feet: the two front ones are the balls under your pinkie and big toe, on the heels, ground through the inside and outside evenly. Lift both inner arches.
- Lift your kneecaps to activate your Quadriceps.
- Try to slide first the right foot back, trying to bend the right knee, then do the same on the left. This movement will activate your hamstrings, which I find can be very difficult! Don’t hesitate to use your hands a palpate what muscles you want to activate, this gives you and pretty straight feedback on what you’re doing right or not.
- Try to separate the feet to the outside edges of the mat.
- Keep all of those points engaged, then roll both inner tights to the back of the room, now your legs should be fully active!
- Those muscular engagement should be found in all standing poses; on one or two legs, with legs straight or bent.
When practising a pose that requires to have one knee bent, such as Virabhadrasana I and II (Warrior I and II), Anjaneyasana (Lunge), Parsvakonasana (Extended side angle), have a quick look down at your knee: you should always be able to see your big toe, which means that the knee is alignment with the second and third toe. I know, the knees draws in for most people (especially in Virabhadrasana II and Parsvakonansana) which can be a sign of weakness in your external rotators on the same leg as the bend knee (Glutes) and/or tight adductors. This point is the most important, if you only remember that from this week, then I’m a happy teacher!!! Be patient, time is needed to progress;-). The other important point is to bring your knee above your ankle, not beyond! That could actually damage your knee! The next step is to bring your tight parallel with the floor but that will come in time.
We took Virabhadrasana II to the wall, that was a hard one! Keeping the feet close to the skirting, we tried to bring the bend knee closer to the wall, while opening the back inner tight out towards the wall. It was a good way of understanding how much we have to posteriorly tilt the pelvis (by bringing the pubic bone to the sternum and lengthening the tail bone down), so we can bring our lower back closer to the wall. The core had to work a lot harder as well! If you have some wall space at home, practise this one, it will be a wonderful way to correct yourself and strengthen your glutes.
One last thing for today: as much as possible, drop the judgments that you have about your body and ability to ‘do’ this or not. It’s just a trick that the mind has to bring your motivation and happiness down. Our body is the way it is, a reflection of our life. It needs attention, love, care, and most of all time, to learn something new, to open, to strengthen and to find more range of motion. Practice your yoga with a light heart but courageously and regularly, then you will be proud of yourself and hopefully ‘float’ through the day, maybe feeling more open. The journey in itself is what matters… there is no real purpose in itself, but to find something on the way that will lighten up our body and our mind!