Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Why are feet in yoga so important?
Our feet are important because they carry us through life. We walk, run and stand on them. We use "land back on our feet" after we were in trouble, on the "back foot" when we are at a disadvantage; outmanoeuvred or outclassed by an opponent, on the "front foot" when we have an advantage.
"Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars"
Ankles and Feet (emotionally and anatomically)
Our ankles and feet are very important, our feet walk us from place to place, support our body weight and our ankles can help to stabilise knees, open our hips and even traction our spines in exercise classes!
Flexible feet and bouncy ankles are important for shock-absorbing activities, such as walking, running or dancing and normally the more mobile, the fewer problems one will experience in the long term with knee or lower back problems. The stiffer they are, the more likely it is that you may eventually suffer from knee or lower back problems.
Ankles activation in certain ways can move energy and consciousness throughout your body, and you can regulate heat and coolness, lightness, or heaviness. The feet are connected through acupressure points on the sole to certain regions in the body, and most people appreciate and like to get a nice foot massage!!
After a late yoga class a few years back (I no longer give late classes), I ran back to the bus stop as after class I explained something to somebody who seemed not to be getting it in class. I finally left but almost late for the bus, and most importantly I left exhausted and “I felt undermined and was still in my head” and what happened? I fell and sprained my ankle very badly.
Our feet give us a feeling of where we stand in life, where our life is going and how secure we are. I guess me having to take on such a late class uprooted me as I felt more tired and had to adjust my timetable to this, coming home later, eating later, getting up later the next day etc.
Balance goes when action overwhelms receptivity and vice versa. Our feet give as a constant connection to the earth, and if the foundation feels lost, we tumble.
The legs and feet are related to the first energy whirl or also called by its Sanskrit name Muladhara Chakra, Earth Chakra. Each chakra is associated with a specific organic functioning in the physical body or the way we handle life. A healthy sense of “groundedness” with secure future projections (complicated right now to feel secure in this world with Brexit and Trump).
For me, it meant, stop with what I was doing. Literally, I could not walk the next day. I needed time to recover and overall restore myself.
Coming back to the anatomical functioning of ankles - how can ankles affect knees? How can we safely stabilise them and make our ankles more mobile and keep our feet happy?
You will be surprised to hear that my ankle sprain healed within a week, and I am almost back to everything I could do before.
Why is that? I applied what I learned and teach about ankle stabilisation.
To stabilise any joint, a certain co-activation of muscles have to take place. We have 4 possibilities with our feet; we can dorsiflex, plantarflex, invert and evert and using the ankle in such a way can help to activate muscles that will protect the knee especially when trying to open our hips.
The best stabilisation is formed when there is either: - Co-activation of the ankle flexors (plantar flexors) and ankle extensors (dorsi flexors)
- Co-activation of ankle everters and ankle invertors.
The ability to use multi-joint muscles in this way can help to stabilise joints, e.g. some muscles that can extend the ankle can also extend the toes and some muscles that can flex the ankle can also flex the toes. Therefore, the easiest form of co-activation is achieved by combining this.
E.g., in the Standing Fire Pose, the more you activate the foot in a certain way can help if you have medial knee problems, therefore pushing foot upwards, makes the inner knee a bit firmer and protects the inside of the knee, it is the shin bone that rotates but the more you move the ankle and foot upwards, the more you firm your inner ankle muscles, and all this tightens the inner knee.
Pushing at the same time on the foot tightens the hip extensors and then stretch the hip extensors plus hip external rotators which opens the hip more actively.
The more you stretch the hip, the more you have to protect your knees.
Some exercises oblige muscles to be active, so for those coming to classes, you will have noticed how often we practice the following:
Heels raised Preparation of handstand, which activates the plantar flexors. Postures that require the hooking of the feet activate the dorsi flexors.
Exercises that oblige outer ankle to be active, e.g. inside plank by bringing the outer ankle to the floor or in Side Angle Stretch (Parsvakonasana) lift the inner ankle arch which brings the outer foot arch to the floor.
Pushing foot downwards gives a better binding on the outer knee in Standing Fire Pose or pushing foot upwards grips the inner knee.
What to do when you have an ankle sprain?
Legs up the wall and not stretching that side for a while
E.g. In Parsvakonasana lift outer arch instead of bringing it to the floor to avoid stressful stretching for the first few days.
Single heel raises with gripping toes making sure you activate ankle everters by lifting outer feet to the outer knee to stabilise the foot.
Taping ankle for walks and exercise classes for a few days
Lying down and circling with your feet softly by writing the alphabet
Avoid too much being on your feet! and rest...
I recently bought myself this and stand and lie on it every day :)