In our Intelligent approach to movement we devote much time to feet and toes. Look at the numerous blogs on this site :
TfHP12. Mobilization and Modification – feet
TfHP8 – walking
TfHP7 – Feet and psoas
Gravity, balance and those big toes
There are many more, just type feet into the search box and you will see how one-track I am. Well, this is yoga from the ground up!
Have noticed a dearth of references to how important ankles are in relation to balance. Struck me that I often cue “good ankle- foot” alignment, especially in Sprinters, but have only recently honed in on ankles . Seems obvious that since ankles form a bridge between the lower leg and the feet they are balance hubs but it is also good to know that they are made to move. This may, again, seem obvious but I’m wondering whether some of us who worry about “failing balance” tense up around the ankles and also around the knees.
Our ankles are made to move. Mechanoreceptors are abundant in the joint and ligaments of the ankle. These receptors feed information to our brain. They provide postural sense to our central nervous system.
At the beginning of most sessions we practice how to stand and walk when lying down. By taking gravity out of the situation we can investigate ankle movement and then good foot placement. The simple movement of “sending the knees over the midline of the feet” is made possible by pressing down into stable footprints and allowing the ankles to move. In semi supine, the nervous system is more relaxed, more responsive to learning. If we pay attention, we may notice that the knees move from side to side because we can’t make stable footprints and thus the ankles move a little more than is required.
In standing balances, tree pose is a “go to” pose. Good foot placement and a bit of ankle wobble are part of this pose for many of us. Dr Michael Mosley’s BBC series “Just One Thing” encourages us to “embrace the wobble” :
…”……The trick is to keep wobbling. Every time you practise the one leg stance, it is an opportunity to recalibrate your brain, forming new connections and strengthening the coordination between your ears, eyes, joints and muscles. Sensors in all our joints and muscles keep sending feedback to the brain so it can learn how best to keep you upright. If you keep at it, you’ll find that your balance can improve surprisingly quickly…….”
It boils down to practice, practice, practice. Yoga classes provide lots of different opportunities to practice static (holding position) and dynamic balances (maintaining balance with movement). If we vary single leg balances, we can investigate dynamic movement that shines a light on our nimbleness, agility and reaction to changing forces – as opposed to focusing upon resistance to something like falling. Emphasis upon the latter can make us stiffen and brace I think (locked ankles and knees).
Simple things such as moving the raised foot and leg around a little; moving the upper body around a little; perhaps reaching to the ground/surface if that is possible. In his way, we highlight dynamic shifts and changes of weight rather than focus upon resisting something like a fall. Yoga classes provide lots of different opportunities to practice static (holding position) and dynamic balances (maintaining balance with movement).
This term we have been investigating base of support, centre of gravity and breath. How wide foot placement can help some to practice balance with more confidence. For example, standing with a good wide base and going up onto the balls of the feet can be much more stable for some. Also, a very simple sequence – starting with a wide base, stepping in to reduce the base and then transferring the weight onto one leg – repeat with eyes open a few times and when confident, try it with eyes closed (or part of it with eyes closed).
Above all, reduce the pressure upon yourself. Move within your range until it gets easier. In yoga classes, we want our movement to produce positive results, so that our practice embodies positivity within ourselves.