Many of us have heard the enigmatic phrase “all yoga postures start at the feet,” usually followed by some vague directions on how to position and move the feet in a specific asana. Among the most common signs are “lifting from the arch of the foot”, especially in certain postures, such as Prasaritta Padottanasana (Forward bend with wide legs) and Ardha Chandrasana (Crescent position). But what exactly does this directive mean, and why is it important to follow it?
Functionally and structurally, your feet are key to your practice. They are flexible but strong, and help you make the transition to getting in and out of positions with ease. They also help you grab the rug and keep your balance. It is important to be aware of what your feet do, and specifically your arches, in different postures, because the whole kinetic chain depends on them. If they are not placed correctly, you may develop back pain, sacroiliac dysfunction, knee misalignment, and other problems.
See also: Decoded alignment directions: “Draw shoulder blades down”
Anatomy of the heel
In fact, your foot has three bony arches that support weight, help you maintain balance, and absorb the shock produced during movement. The medial arch, or inner arch, is located on the inside of the foot and extends from the heel to the sole of the foot near the big toe. The side arch, which is on the outside of the sole, extends from the heel to the ball of the outer foot and is the arch that touches the ground when you are standing. The transverse arch crosses the sole of the foot, from the metatarsals of the big toe to the pink toe. That it acts as a connector between the other two arches and provides the dome-shaped concavity of the sole, protecting the nerves and vessels that run down the bottom of the foot.
The peroneus longus muscle (the largest muscle in the outer calf) is responsible for stabilizing the foot and helping to create support in the three arches. The peronus longus runs behind the outer ankle from the head of the fibula to the inner arch, creating a pulley along the sole of the foot.
When balanced on one leg in a posture such as Vrksasana (Tree Position), the long fibula prevents the lower leg from collapsing inward and the inner arch from flattening.
When you press the fleshy pad of the big toe onto the carpet at Half Moon Pose, a second muscle of the calf, the long flexor of the big toe, which runs from the fibula to the sole of the foot to the base of the big toe. , maintains elevation. of the inner arch and stabilize the big toe to help you maintain balance.
If you distribute your weight around the four corners of the foot, for example, as you do in Tadasana (Position of the mountain), you stretch the sole of the foot both longitudinally and laterally, which goes around the inner arch. This action creates a trampoline effect on the lower part of the foot, making sure that you do not pour all your weight on the feet, but instead distribute it evenly to the body.
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What your teacher wants you to do
Most of us are with most of our body weight on our heels. This alignment prevents the long peroneal muscles and long flexor muscles from sticking together and deflating the arches of the feet. Standing regularly with your arches flattened in this way can cause knee problems and tension in the hip muscles that can promote anterior pelvic tilt and excessive flexion of the back to the lower back.
When you hear “lifting the arches of your feet” in a standing position, your teacher basically asks you to balance your weight across the four corners of your feet and press the fleshy pads of your big toes onto the carpet, as if you were. pressing a button. This activates the long fibula and long flexor muscles of the hallucinators, which lift the arches.
Practice it on the way to the position of the tree: distribute your weight evenly between the heel and the toes and thumb. Draw the outer ankle and maintain the elevation of the inner and outer arches.
You can also feel this movement by practicing Dandasana (Staff Position) with the sole of the foot against a wall. Press through the inner corners of the heels and toes to activate the long fibula, which prevents the feet from rolling outward.
By distributing the weight evenly over the 4 corners (some teachers prefer 3 corners, combining the 2 corners of the heel at a single point of contact), you get the same action as saying “lift the arch of the foot”.
What not to do
Do not risk or wrinkle the base of your toes to lift the sole of your foot, or move your weight completely toward the outer edges of your feet. While this can create the appearance of a higher arch in a posture like Prasarita Padottanasana (forward bending with wide legs) by removing excess pressure on the inner edge of the foot, it is easy to overdo this movement and cause a unnecessary tension in the outer ankle.
Try it yourself
In standing positions, lift your toes off the carpet to feel the arches rise, while the corners of your feet touch the carpet. Then lower your toes and press your big toe pad onto the rug, without losing that rise to the arches. Notice where you hold the pressure to keep the bow up (did you feel your long fibula and long flexor of the hallucinations?).
See also: 6 stretches of your feet, toes and ankles to improve your yoga postures
About our collaborator
Jennifer Chang, DPT, C-IAYT, E-RYT is a doctor of physical therapy and yoga therapist in San Diego, CA. Through her double-information therapeutic practices, Dra. Chang understands how yoga can enhance traditional physical therapy to help students improve their awareness of all aspects of movement and meet the needs of their body. Jenn enjoys helping students and clients build a sustainable asana practice, striving to help others find joy through movement to improve their quality of life. Follow her on Instagram: @ the.movement.mechanic.pt.