There are few body parts more sensitive to surface pressure in the skin than your toes. The only areas with a higher density of receptors are your fingers and your face. Once again, I turn to Mel Robin’s book A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers. Mel references BKS Iyengar as a master of linking skin sensation to intelligence. Mel advises that when you are balancing in a posture like vrksasana (tree pose) to “trust your big toe, and keep the body’s primary intelligence in the toes, foot, and ankle of the balancing leg,” pg 916 – yes, there are over 1000 pages in this behemoth of yoga intelligence!
Let’s try it. Come into vrksasana – I posted a fuzzy, old picture of me below in case you don’t know tree pose. Your foot can be above or below your standing leg’s knee. Direct all of your attention to your toes, especially the big gal. Allow them to grip as much as needed. Toe gripping in balancing postures generates necessary countertorque for balancing and should not be discouraged.* Consider the big toe and the areas around it as being the brain of the posture. Be less concerned about what is happening in the other areas of your body, keep returning your attention to your toes, letting them guide the subtle swaying and nuanced corrections of your body. Play around with letting your toes relax or lifting them to see how that changes your balance.
Since vrksasana, along with all standing balancing postures, is terrific for practicing that strong yoga foot I wrote about yesterday, try pressing the ball of your foot down, with or without gripping your toes, and lift your arch. Viva la feet!
*Toe gripping outside of single leg balancing, as in how you have to grip your toes to keep on a pair of flip flops or other shoes without a secure upper, is highly discouraged. Long term toe gripping in non-balancing yoga postures, while driving, or in trying to keep on flip flops, slides, clogs, etc. can contribute to muscle tension patterns that make you susceptible to hammertoes.