TfHP6 – Best foot forward

Best foot forward for me is my right.  On day 5 of the “Toe Yoga Challenge” my left foot is feeling the “burn” – especially along the outside edge.  Proof of  just how weak the Abductor Digiti Minimi is, the muscle that should move the little toe out to the side.  The “post-workout” feeling along the outside edge is probably due to old injuries but also because of over- pronation – my left foot caves in towards the midline which stretches the inside ankle and tightens (weakens) the outer ankle.

Confirms that my left foot placement is not stabilizing me as it should.  Improving strength and flexibility will help.  Toes play an important role in increasing the weight bearing area during walking, thus every effort to increase their function is time well spent.  And I have 36 more days of the “Toe Yoga Challenge”!

Foot strength and flexibility, or lack of it, seems to separate us from our common ancestors, whose feet enabled tree climbing and dwelling.  The evolution of a stiffer foot allowed humans to push off from the ground with greater force as they walked and ran on two feet. Perhaps it is this stiffer foot encased in shoes that lead us to forget that our feet are divided into 3 sections:

  • forefoot – toes and long long bones (metatarsals)
  • Mid foot – pyramid-like structure of bones forming the arch
  • Hindfoot – heel and talus bone which supports the leg bones, forming the ankle

Illustration Picture of Anatomical Structures – Foot Anatomy

This 3 part structure , supported by 4 layers of muscles, means that when the heel is raised in the “push off” stage of our walking pattern, weight is not taken solely on the tips of the toes.  However, this only works well if the toes are able to lengthen and spread to “take the load”.  Thus toes crammed into tight shoes is not helpful.  The toes should lengthen and spread as much as possible to distribute weight evenly across the foot.  With a less structurally balance foot (left for me) this does not happen and the foot can suffer from chronic stress-related problems.  Easier to imagine when you consider that on average we take 3,000-5,000 steps per day; 10,000 for an active person. Bunions, for example, occur gradually over time due to the way each foot absorbs force during walking

Research has shown that ‘even the simplest footwear starts to rearrange the bones of those who habitually use it’ (Tenner, 2003: 58). The fourth and fifth toes, when we walk barefoot, slightly curl as if picking over the ground ( a reminder of our prehensile curl).  In shoes we:

…..lose the characteristic rolling motion of the bare foot which starts from the heel and runs along its outer edge, ending with the ball of the foot and the toes (Ashizawa et al., 1997).

We see how yoga practice, usually in bare feet, strengthens the mechanics of our feet and our walking pattern.

TIPS – work tirelessly on “making good footprints” in your practice.  Appreciate the stability that the outside edge provides.  Plant the outer edge if your foot rolls in (the knee will probably roll in as well.).  Sprinters, is, of course the perfect move to practice and to perfect.

During this past week we have had much cause to find our feet; to feel the ground beneath our feet – to get out of our heads.  A student kindly passed on a description of practice following the “kitchen chair” maneouvre.  This is a wonderful evocation of finding the feet, resting through the bones and sensing when tension creeps into the body:

……When I do the chair thing I start with a slow scroll down. finding my feet, bending my knees lots. Very slumped. And I go in and out of the chair move. straightening my leg slightly etc. Quite a lot of staying there. Feeling the grounding thing and the connection of stability through bone rather than muscle etc. I Finish in a relaxed slumped squat then slowly scroll back up. Nice little sequence. I enjoy the opening and space around the lower back and hip flexors. It works my quads a bit. the scroll down and opening of the torso and the release of the neck. It’s also good for mapping my feet with movement as with sprinters …..

This sequence is indeed useful.  The slow scroll down through flexion allows the shoulder blades to slide apart, the neck to relax and the arms to hang or swing into a soft eagle arms cross.  Both can remind the body of a hug.  Hugging allows our body to relax and it is known to help relieve stress.  We may not be doing as much of that as usual but we can still be reminded of how good it is for us.

Take care.  Stay safe.

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