About a year ago, Izzy and I started using Yoga Toes "toe spacers" to stretch and realign our feet. So as I sit here, feeling a lovely little foot opening, I thought I’d share some information on those two little bundles of muscle and bone (among other things) at the base of our bodies – the feet.
Because the feet bear a disproportionate amount of our weight, their health affects our posture, gait (manner of walking), balance, bodily alignment, and a multitude of seemingly unrelated problems such as knee or hip pain. When the feet aren’t functioning at their best, the rest of our body compensates accordingly, which can cause undue tension or pressure leading to pain and injury. With that in mind, let's discuss some basic characteristics of the feet.
While we all know what the arch of the foot is, we often fail to recognize that the foot actually has three arches — the lateral, medial, and transverse. The lateral (or outer) arch is the lower of the two longitudinal arches, going from toe to heel.This arch almost lays flat on the ground when in a standing position. The lateral arch is what we’re really referring to when we say “knife edge” of the foot in yoga. The medial arch (inner arch) also goes from toe to heel, however is slightly higher than the lateral arch. You can see this difference by looking at how the curvature of the foot goes up on the inner side. The final arch is the transverse arch, which goes across the foot from side to side. Together, these three arches spread the weight of the body across the feet when standing.
The composition of the arches
The arches are maintained by three main components — the bones, ligaments, and myofascial tissue. The bones provide the main structure of the arches. They create the frame around which the foot is built. The ligaments can be likened to bootstraps. They connect to the bones, creating resilience and flexibility, and allowing for dynamic tension. When the ligaments become hypermobile, the foot becomes like a boot with loose straps. It will succumb to the weight of the body, causing the arches to flatten. Lastly, the myofascial tissue (called plantar fascia on the bottom of the foot) helps connect, and maintain the distance between the heel and front of the foot. When this tissue becomes inflamed, often due to excessive pressure, we can end up with painful planters fasciitis.
Maintaining correct alignment in the low body is essential to healthy arches in yoga. When we are misaligned, we disproportionately dump weight into one part of the foot. This can lead to either supination or over pronation of the ankles. In supination, weight is placed on the outside of the foot causing the angle of the ankle to move outward (as if you're rolling onto the outside of your foot). This uneven distribution of weight brings the medial arch upwards, causing high arches. In over pronation, the opposite occurs, causing the ankles to roll inwards and the arches to flatten. Moving up from the feet, over pronation will make the knees turn in, causing the hips to tilt down and forward, leading the lower back to compress and pushing the sacrum into misalignment. This demonstrates how a poorly aligned ankle can then lead to knee, hip, and lower back pain.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to keep the feet healthy and well aligned.
Firstly, assure proper alignment while practicing yoga by scanning the body from the feet up in each pose and observing how you are distributing your weight. We can also focus on activating the toes as we maintain our balance.
Secondly, buying proper footwear and going barefoot when possible is essential to foot health. Most shoes perpetually constrict the feet, which can lead to a whole host of painful problems.
Thirdly, when we’re experiencing foot pain or noticing poor alignment, it’s important to correct it immediately. There are many tools for correcting foot problems including trigger point therapy, foam rolling, yoga, and physical therapy. Be sure to look into these solutions before problems worsen.
With some understanding, awareness, and ritual, it isn’t difficult to maintain healthy and happy feet. Like the roots of a tree, feet provide us with grounding stability and set the base for our bodies health and alignment.
If you have any other tips or tricks for keeping the feet in great shape, let us know!
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