When’s the last time you took a good, long, honest look at your feet?!
If indeed the eyes are the window to the soul, then the feet are the foundation of the temple that houses the soul. Just as we build our yoga practice from the ground up by familiarizing ourselves with the yamas and niyamas (the ethical and moral codes of conduct – see previous two articles), hopefully incorporating those ethics into our daily living, we build our physical practice on the foundation provided by our feet.
According to yogic philosophy, our physical bodies are temporary structures that provide a home for our soul. Our soul has work to do while we’re here; it’s up to us to provide the healthiest and most appropriate living accommodations for that work. One can’t very well be of service if the soul is living in a cramped-up, brittle little shanty with the roof caved in. Perhaps you need to create some space (breathe!) and spread out a little (stretch!). Or maybe you’re asking your soul to trudge through this life in a large, burdensome, not so energy-efficient abode. Perhaps you might consider down-sizing? Maybe you need to clear out some baggage. Ideally, we’ll provide our soul with the most efficient, non-toxic, and optimum environment that is built soundly on a stable and well-balanced foundation.
You’d never dream of building a half-million dollar home on a faulty, crooked or weak foundation, would you? Of course not! Then let’s take a look at our feet, shall we?
Take your socks off. With your feet on the floor, pick your toes up and spread them out. Can you see the color of the floor between each and every toe? Keep working, you’ll get there. With the toes lifted up, press down firmly at the base of the big toe along the ball of the foot. Now press down firmly at the base of the little toe – again, at the ball of the foot. How are your toes doing? Keep them up please! Let’s move down to the heel; identify the inside edge of the heel and the outside edge of the heel. Tada! We have just established the four corners of the foot: the base of the big toe, base of the little toe, inside of the heel, outside of the heel! With your toes still uplifted, distribute your body weight evenly amongst all four corners. I liken the four corners of the foot to the tires on my car. These corners need to be properly aligned and certainly need to have equal air pressure (body weight). You can see for yourself if you’re out of alignment by stepping onto a bathmat with wet feet and checking out your foot prints. Does one foot tweak out to the side? Or simply take a look at the soles of your favorite pair of shoes and see which edge is worn down the most.
You’ll notice that when you lift and spread your toes, your inner arch comes to life as well. Now how ‘bout that?! There’s a muscle there. Who knew? A national yoga teacher had accepted flat feet all his life; that is, until his yoga teacher told him his feet weren’t flat, they were just lazy. Ouch. Sure enough, after consistent practice of lifting and spreading the toes and bringing buoyancy to the medial (inner) arch, he has discovered that he does indeed have discipline over his feet. He now has spring to his step and a new-found stability to his frame – physically and mentally.
A tire out of alignment will not only pull your vehicle to one side; it’ll create a serious drag on your engine. If our feet are off balance, that torque will manifest itself throughout the rest of our body. Say your right foot splays out to the side all the time; your knees are going to take a knocking in order to compensate for that, which will in turn throw your hips off-balance, which may rock your sacrum creating a slight rotation in your spine, and before you know it you’ve got a chronic crick in your neck! In order to create stability and balance throughout our entire body (and our entire practice) we must first check in with our foundation, spreading the soles of the feet wide and long, fanning out our weight equally over the four corners.
I always give the homework assignment of lifting/spreading the toes to my students. One day I asked how they’d done and one young woman, a cheerleader, announced to the class that she’d practiced her toe-work over the weekend at a basketball game. She was thrilled to tell us of her discovery that it made her calves look better! We laughed. She’s right though; in fact, each toe corresponds to a muscle in your leg. So you are, in effect, toning your legs with this simple exercise. And yes, this exercise can be done while seated.
You’re never too old to begin practicing yoga – spread those toes! With minimal but consistent effort, the feet can and will provide us with a stable foundation for not only our yoga practice, but our life.
Lisa Bracken owns The Yoga Barn at The Canebrake and also teaches yoga at NSU. She
enjoys picking up golf balls with her toes.