Walking Backwards for Christmas

The title of a crazy song by The Goons and now a suggestion to improve balance, knee funcion and brain health. Who would have thought?

people who are interested in functional movement, I would proffer.

We have spent this last term using, talking about, massaging and generally focusing upon feet. The stability of the outer edge and the spring provided by the inner arch and the all-important big toe. Have a look at this blog:


Walking forward relies upon the interaction of muscle-tendon elasticity. There is an “elastic recoil” that takes place through the achilles tendon attached to the gastrocenius and soleus muscles. The push-off with a stiff foot lever gives us good foot-ground contact force. Muscles of the foot, ankle are particularly active, that is why we crouch on the balls of our feet and sway from side to side; that’s why Sprinters is also so important. Ground reaction force means that the effect of the movement travels through the body – recall all the work we do on noticing how movement travels freely through the body – or does not travel freely due to tension. Have a look at this:

A 2019 study published in The Clinical Rehabilitation Journal indicated that backwards walking improves stability and balance. It causes us to take shorter, more frequent steps, leading to improved muscular endurance for the muscles of the lower leg, whilst reducing the burden on our joints.

The postural changes brought about by walking backwards also use more of the muscles supporting our lumbar spine – suggesting backwards walking could be a particularly beneficial exercise for people with chronic lower back pain.

Competency in walking backwards can lead to running backwards, which can benefit knees even more as it strengthens the knee extensor muscles – the muscles that straighten the leg . I do know of an athlete who was advised to run backwards as part of recovery from a bad knee injury, in order to avoid surgery. It seems to have worked.

If interested, there are a number of recent studies listed on The National Library of Medicine:


A 2019 study in Experimental Gerontology suggests that older women take shorter steps during backwards walking and obstacle crossing , which, when considering the information above would seem useful but this seems to be linked with lack of confidence and strength – we can’t win!!!: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0531556518307861.

The above may link to brain health since walking is complicated. To remain upright requires coordination between our visual, vestibular (sensations linked to movements such as twisting, spinning or moving fast) and proprioceptive (awareness of where our bodies are in space) systems. When we walk backwards, it takes longer for our brains to process the extra demands of coordinating these systems. However, this increased level of challenge brings with it increased health benefits.

We have been walking backwards along the yoga mat and some people report walking backwards uphill to reduce strain. However, it is best practised in a safe enviroment. I would agree with the conclusion given in the Clinical Rehabilitation study – that backwards walking with conventional physiotherapy is effective and worthwhile in patients with knee osteoarthritis. But , backwards walking for those with gait impairment; balance issues; loss of confidence that can come with ageing is a different study all together.

What do do? Well, we practice Warrior with emphasis on the heel being well placed; ankle-knee alignment and the pelvis moving forward as we look up (activating the long chain of muscles at the back of the body). Perhaps stepping back into Warrior is more useful than we thought.

If you can bear this – here it is. Otherwise : Happy Christmas.


to stop something

…. having a sensible and realistic attitude to life…,

stepping back to observe your mind; calming down stress and upsets; take in the good of positive experiences; self- compassion; exercising restraint……..

We have “stopped/paused” aspects of our lives over the past year. We have been grounded by the pandemic, our plans curtailed and our support networks restricted. Support, has been a key term during this time, whether remote or in a local setting. We take it for granted when it is freely available. Perhaps we take the essence of “grounding” for granted in yoga practice because it is a overused word. I used it, more frequently than now, as a newly trained yoga teacher but I am not sure that I really helped students to embody it, since the notion is complex. – that’s life, of course.

A useful and comparatively simple way to investigate the notion of “grounding” is to pay attention to how we find structural support when we practice asana. More importantly, how we access that support on different days, with different feelings and different life circumstances. That’s the really hard part of yoga – paying attention, trying to avoid “rote movement” – something which may strengthen unhelpful habitual patterns.

Structural support is not defined by muscles and strength alone but by examining habitual holding patterns and ways of moving that have become easy “friends” over the years For example, do we sense the tendency to access too little or too much support? This is very nuanced, so how do we know when we are undersupported or oversupported?

My Answer – by paying special attention to small movements that help us to expand self-awareness. If we can notice when tension interferes on a small scale, then we may be better equipped to notice when tensions and imbalances creep into bigger movements. Thoughts and feelings are inextricably linked.

Feelings are insiders. Linked to our Central Nervous System, they exert a tug and pull over our minds – literally disturb us positively and negatively. This insight from Antonio Damassio’s Feeling and Knowing, helps me to understand the benefits of practising asana mindfully and, thus to teach with more awareness. Teaching people not poses. Not easy.

Not easy to Feel and know either. Why could I not feel that I was often held in extension, in an oversupported pattern for so long.? Enlightened yoga teachers (listed on my bio page), tried to tell me (in a kindly way) but still I lifted myself up and back away from the earth and reached for the stars!! Was that what I was doing? Well, I certainly found tree pose very exacting (as my kindly teachers will attest).

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

How do we know when we are undersupported or oversupported? Small movements on all fours prior to moving through cat/cow (flexion and extension) are really useful. This was our pre-standing practice position when we were tiny. I have now watched with fascination as my grandchildren spent time on all fours placing hand, pushing a bit, stretching a leg out, groaning and straining in order to find the appropriate level of support…. and for each child the process and the time that it took was different. So – Push a bit, sag a bit. Ask yourself whether you are using too little or too much muscular effort. “Ask” in an understanding manner and with patience – it takes time.

Not so easy in tree pose or single leg balance when every non-contact part of the body is subject to gravitational force. Life has been a balancing act over the past few years, so let’s talk about support in single leg balance/tree pose.

Here support is a complex process. The weight of the foot is drawn down by force of gravity. At the same time, the ground supporting the foot provides an upward force equal to the gravatational force. These two forces are of the same magnitude but are going in different directions. Any sway will interfere with this balanced two-way process. If we become tense, we will tend to rely upon muscle – lock the knee; push into the ground; brace ourselves. Thus rigidity rather than support may lead to compensation . The shoulders may lift, breathing falter, ribs flare , the diaphragm gets stuck and we lose support from the ground up – it’s also exhausting! I have been there and am still working my way out of it.

How? By spending time on foot mobility and strength; paying attention to my habit of over support (extension) and “speaking kindly” to myself. But that’s me…how about you? Shared comments are always most welcome:

…Understanding is obtained by experience, both personally and shared with others…

Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (Embodied Anatomy)

So how do I improve my balance?

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.

Helping Hands – fingers crossed.

In our summer yoga classes we have been investigating contact of our hands to the floor, especially in weight bearing poses such as plank and side plank. The aim is to create load through the hands and arm bones in order to switch on deep postural muscles (those closest to the bones) – such as erector spinae and multifidus. This approach to practice balances the power of the big fast twitch muscles at the front of the body (pectorals) that get overworked , tighten and pull the upper body forward.

On all fours we have investigated where and how to place the hands, to create a sound platform for signals to be transmitted through the kinetic chain:

  • Turning the hands, widening them
  • placing hands forward of the shoulders
  • supported by one hand and arm, turn the other palm up and making fists to create a sense of space and stability in the wrists
  • trailing the back of the hand along the mat and “painting the wall”.

Pushing into the hands on all fours activates the big muscles of the chest and braces the neck. Not useful long term. When lean into the hands and look along the mat with attention on the upper back, we send messages to the postural muscles of the upper back – very useful. If we simply drop the belly to the floor to make a deep inward curve in the middle of the back, we lose the opportunity to switch on the supporting muscles of the upper back.

Loading the hands and wrists can be problematic , however. A student directed my attention to a Times article (10th August 2021) entitled “Three Ways to Deal with Hand Pain”. This refers to a study to help those with rheumatoid arthritis and which produced a tailored 12 week hand-and-arm exercise programme overseen by health professionals. This iSARAH programme is covered in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRr4qzxCSqY. Some of the movements may be helpful for your yoga practice. It certainly shows the connection between the wrists and shoulderblades that I keep mentioning.

If wish to explore more thoughts on hands and wrist work in our yoga practice, in dog pose for example, please read the blog:

Trick or Treat for hands and wrists


The autumn term begins on September 13th. Fingers crossed (that does help wth hand pain apparently)!

Mindfulness Online – where to start

See the source image
So many resources.

A brief addition to Summits of the Mind post as I notice that Coursera, an online learning platform founded by Stanford University in 2012, recommends the Demystifying Mindfulness Course run by The University of Leiden that I listed:


Coursera has had much success with The Science of Well-Being Course taught by Professor Laurie Santos at Yale. This is commonly known as The Happiness Course; it is free and was linked in the blog https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/insideyoga.blog/3430.

There is so much out there that it is hard to know where to start. Laurie Santos’ course may be a helpful starting point.

Summits in Mind

…It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves….

Sir Edmund Hilary is attributed with these words but they seem to be a combination of his thoughts in a 1998 interview and George Mallory’s words in an article for Alpine Journal (1918). Words can become obscured with the mists of time but it is true that we all have symbolic summits to scale. Meditation, yoga, mindfuless, Qi Gong and other practices help but the key is perhaps a sense of security in our life situation. This is missing for so many. Maybe that is why the use of the word Summit is appearing more and more in connection with global gatherings linked to mindfulness. The Wisdom 2 Conference/Summit started on 20th August and ends on 26th August. This free online event, features interviews with leading proponents such as Jon Kabat Zinn, whom I have often linked.

This event is hosted by Wisdom 2, founded by Soren Godhammer as a means of using technology to connect us but in a way that does not undermine our own well- being. Godhammer wrote Wisdom 2: The New Movement Towards Purposeful Engagement in Business and in Life in 2009 and hosted the first Mindfulness Conference that year. It has grown from about 325 participants to 2.500 people from 24 different countries. Now in it’s 11th year it showcases technology staff, entrepreneurs, coaches as well as “wisdom teachers” such as Kabat Zinn.

Here’s the schedule and the link:


Links to this event variously feature the words “Summit more often than “Conference”. Conference implies, I think, people with a shared interest coming together to discuss issues. Summit suggests a gathering of those at the top of their field of expertise to discuss and to present solutions, strategies, answers to issues/problems. The word came into common usage in the 1950s when Churchill asked for “parleys at the summit” in order to defuse the Cold War situation. Nowdays, “parlays”/talks seem to be common parlance for Trade and Business gatherings whilst “Summit” evokes something of the “War Against….” There is an implicit link with security.

Is it all in the words? I would express a high degee of scepticism about members of Silicon Valley telling us how to handle stress created by the use of their products. This “Summit” purports to be a means by which the problem offers a solution, I am not sure that it does but it is a complicated issue. The first Summit followed the 2008 Financial Crisis and now in 2020 we face a global pandemic in which technology has provided the only link to community for many. I am using Zoom (to what cost?) but most of us are missing the person to person contact of pre-Covid exchanges and are not ready for Zooming to be a substitute for meeting.

I am amazed by the number of Mindfulness Summits;

Mindfulness & Compassion Global Summit https://www.mindfulsummits.com/

Mindful Living Summit https://www.mindfullivingsummit.com/

Mindfulness Health Summit https://www.mindfulhealthcaresummit.com/

You may detect my scepticism. This is because I am reminded of the Mindful of Apps blog I wrote in September 2017, which I was tempted to name “A Minefield of Apps”. Then I don’t think that I questioned the apps, now I wonder. My only answer/ recommendation (until you return to your yoga class, regular meeting. pursuit) would be to investgate free Mindfulness courses offered by well known institutions. Oxford University’s Mindfulness Centre offers free online mindfulness sessions:


Aberdeen University is running a free Mindfulness Course to Help You During Lockdown and Beyond. Here is Mindful Breathing exercise on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfDTp2GogaQ&app=desktop. This is linked by the NHS as is Be Mindful course https://www.bemindfulonline.com/the-course but this costs £30.

In the Mindful of Apps blog I listed Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Peformance Course by Monash University on The Future Learn site Now Monash is running Maintaining a Mindful Life; Leiden University is Offering Demystifying Mindfulness and Coventry University is offering Wellbeing at Work.

You may have some tried and trusted routes, links, suggestions. All welcome.

Here is the link to the Mindful of Apps blog in which I attempt to explain the terms mindfulness and the connection to meditation:


Arches high and Low 2

-orange-human-footprints-icon-download-444791 (1) (1)

More than three months since the posting in which I pictured the quaking aspen (pando). Having read “The Hidden Life of Trees” as “lockdown” took grip here in the UK I was struck by learning that trees thrive in communities and within these communities they help each other:

“…..it is not in a forest’s interests to lose it’s weaker members….” p15

Yet some trees, grow far apart from their “mothers” since the seeds can fly long distances and these “pioneers” develop ways of maximizing their chances away from community.  Aspens are “pioneers” which convert energy with great efficiency.  The “shaking” leaves receive sunlight on both the top and bottom,  photosynthesize and generate energy and quick growth.  Quick growth can leave a tree vulnerable – to winds and grazing creatures which nibble the bark , so aspens expand their root system.  From these roots, many sub shoots can grow and a single tree may extend over a huge area – thus creating a mini forest.  Pando – Latin pandere – to spread. I was astonished by this example of the trees maintaining equilibrium (homeostasis) and of “grounding”.

We practice our yoga from the ground -up.  Foot exercises, foot placement, foot- ankle-knee alignment; cues such as grounding, rooting, sinking the feet; making good footprints all help.  However, the plight of those with high arches has recently been brought to my attention – particularly how difficult and painful it can be to achieve all of the above with feet that are essentially rigid.  High arches do not absorb shock well and seem to be more difficult to treat.  An interesting clip on per cavus that includes patterning and how shoes may have affected our foot function over the millenia.

foot arch types - Foot & Leg Centre***With thanks to http://footandleg.com.au

The blog Arches – high and low is one of the most read on the site and I am realizing how difficult it is to find movements to address discomfort resulting from high arches.  It is less common than low/flat arch and my lack of knowledge is apparent in the blog since I skipped over high arches (excuse the pun).  The internet is flooded with exercises to strengthen “flat arches” and to correct pronation.  Dr Kody Au again on the different effects upon the structure of the foot for those low or high arches (3.46 in for high arches)

The most common “treatment” for high arch discomfort is orthotics and custom made is obviously best.  A physio, osteopath, medical professional would be able to examine the foot and leg to look for imbalances up the kinetic chain – ankle, knee hip – and suggest movements to help stabilize the whole structure.  High arch pain may also be due to nerve irritation and this is an area  in which professional advice is crucial.

Manual therapy is very useful (Foot Mobilisation Therapy) – mobilizing the foot is key. Perhaps considering the ends of the rigid arch is more helpful than the arch itself – the connection to the  toes and to the heel – paying particular attention to mobilizing these areas:

toes under and toes flat movements

stengthening and lengthening the toes – towel pulls, toe separators etc

Lengthening the calf and soleus muscles

Sprinters,  TfHP13 – Functional mobility is good for all the above since regular practice strengthens the feet, stretches the mechanical structures of the back of the leg from the heel up and improves proprioception by “mapping” the sensory receptors in the foot.  However, since a cue when teaching Sprinters is to focus upon planting the outside edge of the foot to avoid the knee rolling in when lifting the spine, someone with high arches does this naturally  – as you can see in the Foot Arch Type visual.  The cues would need to be: –

keep a really steady footprint to avoid supination and over stressing the ankle joint

Sense whether you are side bending or rotating as you lift the spine  (as a result of the foot rolling out)

  • Tree pose does flatten the arch but may not be as helpful .  The beauty of Sprinters is that the centre of gravity is lower and since non-contact force is gravitational force, the pressure through the more rigid foot should be less.  Balance through the back foot may also help to reduce foot pain.  *** Feedback welcomed on this.

Distributing weight between the heel and ball of the foot when walking rather than hard heel strike helps with shock absorption through the whole leg.

Since high arches do not absorb shock well, cushioning in running shoes may well be very useful.

Some osteopaths use taping with some success.  I have seen this work for those suffering from Plantar Fasciitis but have not heard from anyone with high arch pain.

On the site http://footandleg.com there are short videos that may help.

As you can tell, I am struggling to provide tried and tested guidance in this area and would welcome any feedback from the readers of this blog.  Inside Yoga is not connected to FB, Instagram, Twitter etc ; it is a small community in a tiny out corner of the internet.  One reader has asked for some advice; if you can help I would be most grateful.

TfHP 14. Capturing Your Moments

The title of today’s post is taken from Jon Kabat Zinn’s book Wherever you Go There You Are. I have written about Jon Kabat Zinn in Mindful of Apps. The Young Kabat Zinn, with a Phd in Molecular Biology from MIT and an early interest in meditation, went on to found The Stress Reduction Clinic at The University of Massachussets Medical School.  That was in 1979.

A more recent book by Kabat Zinn is Letting Everything become your Teacher.  100 lessons in mindfulness. This is, perhaps, something that we have all be doing since 23rd March and we have been bombarded by ways to do it.

Mindful of the present moment and different responses to restrictions.  I have posted a lot of “stuff” and have been struck by Jon Kabat Zinn’s economy of language and his ability to “hold the space” in his daily online Mindfulness sessions.  Initially planned for the month of April, he is continuing to livestream, you can catch up with previous sessions also.  Register (free) to follow.

In a recent livestream, Kabat Zinn said that “….We live in moments.  Let’s make the most of each of them, right here, now…”  You may be enjoying yoga via Zoom, walking, virtual Sound Therapy sessions, exploring your own practice.  Time, at present has taken on a new shape but if we are lucky, we continue to engage in communities. This may  help to nourish us for the alone time.

The photograph is of a group of Quaking Aspen in Colarado.  Named Pando, Latin for “I spread out”, it’s root system is dated at 80,000 years old.  It is one of the oldest know living organisms.  Most healthy trees are members of a community.  This links to the next post.

Finally, I would never have thought that the word “cool” would crop up in this blog, but here is a link to cool online stuff from The Mindfulness Centre of Excellence, that may help to capture some moments in different ways for different people, at different times.



TfHP13 – Functional mobility

Functional movement is the ability to move around freely to perform everyday tasks. It partners moblity, stability and flexibility. In dynamic movement like walking, running the changes from stability to mobility between adjacent joints occur quickly.   Flexibility helps to improve the range of movement appropriate to the everyday task.

Sprinters – in one “package” , covers so many important aspects of mobility, stability and flexibility.  Primarily, we move the ankle, knee and hip through a range of motion that helps us understand that our joints as well as our supporting muscles and ligaments are individual to us:

  • establishes good foot placement
  • ensures that the knee tracks over the foot
  • the above both help us to activate the quads evenly (really important)
  • Activates the hamstring of the front leg and lengthens the hamstring and the muscles of the lower back leg
  • lifting the body uses core stabilty – or else we would not be able to lift

During human walking, the muscles, tendons and other biological tissues of the lower limb perform work at/about the hip, knee and ankle joints, and in the feet.

Look at this.

The previous blogs show the heel strike, rotation and push off from the toes in walking. A circular 3 point transfer and absorption of load. Running differs in that the first strike is futher forward and the load on muscles and bone is greater :

Foot Function and Sprinting — Functional Foot Map by Lee Saxby











Look at how cleverly  Sprinters works on both walking and running.

Image result for Pete Blackaby''s sprinters
p115 Intelligent Yoga 2nd Edition by Peter Blackaby

The photo shows the starting point. Movement is generated entirely from the feet as the spine is lifted and the body adjusts to load. When we first practice Sprinters we tend to “rein ourselves in” because it is new to us. Thus we notice things for the first time:

  • unable to keep the front heel down? – move the front foot forward a bit.
  • Hard to flex the toes of the back foot/ they are killing you? – Prop the kneeling knee on a block or cushion.
  • the front knee caves in when we try to lift the body?- plant the outside of the front foot to provide stability.  Look at illustration above. (Little toe helps, thus my toe challenge)
  •  chin lifts as as we lift the spine because we can’t relax the upper body and or – because we can’t fully place the feet – turn the hands palm up and rest on the floor (this helps to relax the shoulders and the neck) ***
  • can’t lift the body over the front thigh – perhaps lacking the strength at the beginning. Plant the front foot for stabiity (see above illustration) and rock the kneeling knee up and back a few times to prep the body for “lift off”.  Out breath helps. It will happen.
  • back foot doesn’t flatten to the ground – lengthen the back leg as far as you can without forcing.  Forcing may cause you to tweak the knee of the back leg if you over stress the muscles and ligaments.

Modification is the key.  It is only by modifying and noticing when and how to make the movement more comfortable that you can begin to answer some of the above questions.   This is when your teacher would help you in class – with a suggestion,  a prop, with reassurance. In sprinters we are shifting load from the floor up. Strength and stability helps us to plant the front foot, to keep the knee aligned over the foot but the way we can truly understand how to manage this load transfer comfortably is to to stop, investigate, repeat  – to retrain the body when fluidity of movement breaks down

** Relaxing over the front leg and turning the palms up is an interesting modification.  No-one has asked my why but it is because  when the palms turn up, the shoulders rotate outward and the chest opens (helpful if you feel a bit “scrunched up ” ).  The cervical spine, in response, lengthens slightly and it directs our eyes forward.  You may notice this more when sitting and breathing or in meditation.  In Sprinters you are relaxing your head and your neck, so the eyes can gaze down and soften.  This should help you to keep your chin relaxed and switch off the strong extensor muscles of the neck.

Sprinters is a great gift from Pete Blackaby – it is a “narrative” of movement that we can immerse ourselves in. I am forever grateful for Pete’s generous sharing of his work and research.  Others , I have linked others who work on movement in a slightly different way are Jonathan Fitzgordon, Susi Hately , Katy Bowman and Dean SomersetDean Somerset’s site is entitled “Old School Movement with a New Age Twist”, which marks his move from focus upon strength to an increased awareness of functional mobility in strength training. The approach in our yoga is to set an intention – listen to our nervous system –  so that through heightened appreciation of our individual movement we can make long-lasting changes.

So many of  my blogs make mention of sprinters, here just a few:

Sprinters – the challenge? The vote?

Arches – high and low

It is worth repeating that the key to injury prevention is recognizing our boundaries.  Modification means more than using a yoga block or brick.  It involves taking a step back, reducing effort so that understanding and re-wiring truly happen. There is nothing wrong with practising a Warrior 1, for example ,with the feet further apart – although I would insist on both feet facing forward – if you can maintain length at the back of the waist and maintain good foot placement as well.  Nothing wrong with practising more quickly than I might teach – as long as you can sense when part of your body is not handling excess load – knee caves in

Be aware that shifting load in the body can create problems. Increased lumbar lordosis in wide leg lunges; sudden shifts of load in fast paced transitions, for example.  Mobilization is so important – mobilization of the respiratory muscles at the beginning of a session; the dreaded” toe/foot moves; sprinters; side lying shoulder mobilization etc.

If Sprinters is largely about mobility and stability , what would you move into after Sprinters?  How might you prepare to do Sprinters?

Don’t hesitate to contact your yoga teacher for help and advice.

Stay safe

TfHP12. Mobilization and Modification – feet

The big difference between being physically present in a yoga class and practising remotely is that it’s not so easy to check things with a teacher and you can’t take your teacher to task.

After writing:

….Recognizing tension is the simplest way to substitute for a teacher in your home practice……

I could “hear” some of my students shouting:

“What about the dreadful toe/foot moves?….

“What about 10 sprinters on each side?…..

Certainly, in class there would be some audible moans and groans associated with these and a “beatific” smile on my face as I hold back the words …“no pain…no gain..”

Part of our practice is negotiating our relationship with “effort”.  There may be times when more is useful and sometimes less.  My 41 day Toe Challenge has required immense effort on my part.  Firstly, to do toe moves everyday and then not to give up because it is hard and boring.  When I set the 41 days, I thought – “6 weeks, that’s ok”.  Whereas, it means  just under 6 weeks full time toe waggling , namely, 600 hours.  I try to do 5 minutes a day and at day 31, I may have clocked up just over 2 hours. I am noticing some improvement but very small improvement, which means more effort is required!!

So – In my defence :

Foot and toe mobility is absolutely crucial.  Problems with the feet can have a detrimental affect higher up the body. Dr Atul Guwandhi, surgeon and author of Being Mortal is one of the many health professionals who highlight this and the importance of foot care as we age:

Geriatricians know how to help keep people from falling: They know how to examine the feet so that you can recognize problems that can make you, as one patient put it, “tippy.”

Older people who “tip” may suffer fractures but for much younger people  foot/ankle problems can lead to discomfort further up the body – in the back and even the neck. Many of the muscles in the feet have connections in the lower leg.  They are connected by tendons that move the bones of the feet:


Anatomical diagram may help to explain why our foot/toe moves can be so difficult.  There’s a lot going one, but you can modify :

Toega | VIVOBAREFOOT GermanyWe try to sit back on our heels with toes under and toes flat.  We balance on our haunches and rock the knees from side to side to stimulate the feet and the muscles of the lower leg.  Try instead:


  • Sit on a chair or the floor, move your toes and feet and /or use your hands to help.
  • Lie down, in semi supine then raise 1 leg or both in the air and move your toes and feet as much as you can.  Bend the knees as suits you.  Put a cushion or support under your pelvis if that helps.
  • On all fours put toes under then flat.  Bring the pelvis back towards the heels to increase the “intensity” of toes under and the “stretch” of toes flat.
  • On all fours with one leg long – toes under and toes flat.  With toes under, rock the pelvis around to stimulate the ball of the foot
  • Instead of balancing on feet and haunches – try on all fours with knees and ankles together, move the lower legs from side to side.
  • We have also been practising single leg balance and trying to look one way and the other – effectively moving and changing the load over our legs and feet whilst balancing.

Mobilzation that activates the feet is so important for standing and walking but also for many aspects of our yoga practice.  Obviously helpful for standing poses and balances but also for bridge pose, dog pose, wheel, plank and many more. Mobilization and modification help us to recognize our boundaries – they key to injury prevention.  If toes under is difficult, then lengthening the legs in dog pose may be difficult.  Such understanding will help you to accept the need for modifications/props.

I think that reluctance to modify or to use a prop may due to the blurring between our understanding of mobility and flexibility.  Flexibility seems to be a buzz word in ynamic yoga classes and mobility seems to be associated more with “senior yoga”; “golden yoga” etc. This is probably due to the emergence of many more Mobility Centres; Mobility Aids, Shopmobility and the like which are an essential part of our ageing population but which may mean that the word has taken on a certain “spin”.

Flexibility is the range of motion that can occur at a joint and this is often the term supported by images of stretch in many presentations of yoga. Mobility relies upon strength, balance and coordination to move a joint within and up to it’s range of motion. When in semi supine you may be flexible enough to able to bring your knees to your chest, rock your knees across your chest ; you may be able to bring your knees wide and bring your feet together or cross them at the ankles but when we balance up on our toes and rock the knees from side to side, our mobilty may not support our flexibility.

Thus the foot/toe moves and the crouched balance plus rocking help us to really use the ground.  These mobility drills enable us to push off from the ground.


Somewhat silly but if you bent down and held your toes with your fingers and kept the feet side by side, you would be able to move/hop backwards as much as you desired but you would not be able to move forward.  The toes can’t push you off and your load is behind you.

Please don’t do this but I will demonstrate when I next see you.

After 31 days of the Toe Challenge I am investigating a modification, but I need to issue another disclaimer if you are not a lover of toe images: wiggle your small toe separately from the rest of your toes.

This may be “step” too far but when a movement needs “re-wiring” , I have to ask myself if it’s worth the effort.  Will let you know on this one since it will increase the Toe Challenge 5 minutes to 7 minutes daily!!

Mobilzation and modification for sprinters in the next issue.

Stay safe.