Stretch those Toes

Our male poodle, Louie, loves to play with a tennis ball. He’d run till his pads were bloody if we’d let him. His mantra? “Ommmmmmust chase ball!” He’s a full-on junkie; at some point, we have to take the ball away from him to get him to relax a little.

I’m not much for tennis, or chasing balls of any sort for that matter. However, I have discovered that tossing a tennis ball around does give me a certain amount of insight into my own level of buoyancy and energy.

Off with your socks and take a look at your feet please. You may recall from a previous article (April 2007) the importance placed on our feet in our asana practice. It’s through standing on our feet that we find our connection to the earth, providing grounding and stability as well as energy and lifting for the rest of the body. The body is often referred to as a vehicle in yogic philosophy and the four corners of our feet are like the four tires of a car. What kind of car are you? What kind of car would you like to be? I’m thinking Maserati GranTurismo S for this girl. Here’s where the tennis ball analogy comes in:

Let a tennis ball drop to the ground and watch it bounce a few times then roll lazily to a stop. Now, slam the tennis ball down and watch it fly high into the air several times before bounding around enthusiastically – much like Louie – and coming happily to a stop. Believe it or not, our feet hold the capability to rebound with this same exuberant energy by activiating the 3 arches of the foot to lift us (think; suspension) while simultaneously calling on the four corners of our foot to ground us.

Locate your 4 tires please, at the base of the big toe (at the ball of the foot, often called ‘the mound of the big toe’), the base of the little toe (yep, the mound of the little toe), the inner heel and the outer heel. Lift your toes and spread them wide. Actively pull the little toe away from the fourth toe; sometimes we look as though we have just one big toe at the end of our foot. Spread ‘em! With the toes elevated and spread, you can really emphasize grounding and aligning your four tires.

Set down only the big toes –keep all other toes lifted please. Has the outer edge of the foot lifted off the floor? Notice if you’ve collapsed into your medial arch which runs from the big toe mound to the inner heel. That indicates a flat! Pump it back up and distribute your weight evenly over your four tires again (think: air pressure). Good. Continue with just the big toes down, all your middle toes high, and now set the pinky toes down. Wow! This works to build the transverse arch – running from the mound of the big toe to the mound of the little toe – as well as balancing the inner (medial) and outer (lateral) arches. This, my friends, is very advanced yoga.

Observe that when you lift just the big toe, the medial arch is engaged. When you lift and extend only the little toe, the lateral arch is raised. When you lift and spread all your toes, you activate the transverse arch. All three of these arches play a pivotal role in the suspension system of your vehicle. This system is designed to absorb the bumps in the road, enable us to steer and handle our vehicles more effectively, and make for a smooth ride for the passenger – that’s you. If all the roads of life were smooth (you obviously don’t live in Oklahoma) and flat (how boring if you’re behind the wheel of a Maserati), suspension systems wouldn’t be necessary. With the care and maintenance of a consistent practice on our mats and our cushions, our own suspension systems will offer our body’s a sweet ride over all the many bumps in our path.

Lisa Bracken teaches yoga at The Canebrake which she owns with her husband Sam, as well as at NSU in Tahlequah. When Louie’s not around, she enjoys rolling on the floor with a tennis ball under her back – it does wonders!!

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