I'm taking the day off to start filming our online 30-day alignment challenge for the New Year. To keep you on your toes (or off of them, actually), allow one of our Restorative Exercise Specialists™ to challenge your feet and thighs with this guest post! Katy out.
In 2010, my right arch went missing.
At first, I wasn’t alarmed. “No need to panic,” I thought. I wasn’t in pain or anything, so it must just be a normal part of aging.
I asked a few older (and wiser) women I knew if their arches had ever gone missing. They confirmed it.
“This is just what happens as you get older.”
“The feet start to break down so make sure your shoes have good support.”
“Count your blessings that your feet don’t hurt yet.”
But this didn’t seem accurate to me. As a long time foot health enthusiast and yoga teacher, I thought I was taking pretty good care of my feet, and that we were happily walking through life together. I can easily lift all of my toes, spread them out, and even place them back down individually like fingers playing scales on a piano. I don’t know of many other professions besides Yoga Teacher where running around barefoot is part of the uniform, so I have always been good to my feet and careful about treating them well with regular pedicures and year-round brightly painted toenails. What more could a foot want? And it also seemed weird that one arch went missing but the other one stayed.
Weren’t my arches the same age?
I started trying to casually coax my missing arch back with stability shoes and less time on my feet. Maybe my arch just needed a vacation? Though thoroughly rested up, my arch had yet to return.
It is common for a yoga teacher to speak about our feet as the body’s foundation, how to press particular points of the foot into the floor to increase stability, and how our feet should be oriented for a particular asana. These are all excellent ways to bring awareness to the feet. What is often left out of teaching is how to position a foot objectively -- that is, in a way for a student to measure where their parts are relative to each other. It also makes it difficult for the teacher to tell where their students parts are, relative to each other.
When I began the Whole Body Alignment program in 2011, it quickly became learned that my “missing arch” was a clear message from my foot that it was tired of taking my mistreatment. After learning more about the position of the hip, knee, and leg bones, I realized my foot was being abused: by the shoes I chose (obviously) but also by the way I walked and how I taught and practiced yoga.
How are your feet and hips related? Try this:
If you are a yoga enthusiast like me, you’re likely familiar with the classic asana, Tree Pose, also known as Vrksasana. If you are new to yoga, a Google search for either name will quickly return the images and instructions you will need in order to be able to try this pose out.
Stand in front of a full-length mirror and then try out your tree pose. Be sure to alternate the supporting leg a couple of times so you can feel the difference on the two sides of your body.
Pay particular attention to your feet. Don’t over think it or correct anything yet, simply notice. Let yourself be curious about how you body looks and feels in Tree. Did your arch go missing like mine?
Now try adjusting Tree pose using some objective markers. In the Whole Body Alignment program we learn objective markers for, you guessed it, the whole body -- but for today, we will focus on two I use regularly to demonstrate changes in the feet.
1. Align the foot. Use a yoga block, mat, book or anything you have handy that has a straight edge to align the outside edge of your feet straight ahead.
Try your Tree pose again. Feels different, right? How about that arch?
Now that you know how to orient your feet straight ahead, let’s move up to the thigh bones. For me, locating and reorienting the markers in my thighs has been the most significant practice I incorporated into my daily life and yoga practice. It’s even convinced my arch to give me another chance!
2. Align your “knee pits.” Looking at the back side of your knee, you will see two vertical indentations. When you practice tree pose, those two “lines” on your standing leg need to be oriented straight back behind you.
To accomplish this, you’ll need to externally rotate your thighs. See a video example in this post (click). For some people, it is extremely difficult to find rotation in their thighs. To help them out, I recommend using a handy dandy yoga strap to give my students something to rotate against, until they learn what external rotation feels like.
Loop the strap around your thighs about half way between your knees and pelvis. Without moving your feet from their straight-ahead orientation, press your thighs firmly into the strap, simultaneously rotating them outward.
Rotate them internally and externally a few times, until you get the hang of what external rotation of the thigh feels like, and then practice the movement without the strap.
Notice not only the change in your thighs, but in your feet! My arch had been hiding there all along!
Final Self-Exam: Go back to your Tree pose and do it with your feet oriented straight forward and your thighs externally rotated.
Wow! Right? All this with making just two small adjustments!
Keep practicing your Tree pose with these alignment markers in mind (feet straight ahead and thighs externally rotated) and you will be on your way to rebuilding a healthy relationship with your arches, like me!
Danielle A. Watson, MA, E-RYT, RES-CPT teaches Restorative Exercise™ and Yoga in Northern Virginia. When she is not teaching, you can usually find her draped over a bolster or whipping up some homemade treats in her kitchen. Connect with Danielle online on Facebook, Twitter, her blog, or at OmUnlimited.com.