Alphabet Feet

Our feet respond well to varied movements. I talked about this last year in my weird feet post. This is a spirited yogasana foot exercise mash-up that moves your foot and ankle through countless ranges of motion and is probably good for your neurobiology as well.

I taught this dynamic asana/exercise in my yoga class this morning. It’s kind of impossible for this not to devolve into silliness, so you might keep that in mind if you are a teacher using this in your class.

alphabet_feet

  1. Sit on the floor (could also be done in a chair) with your legs extended in front of you.
  2. Hand options: either place your hands alongside your hips to support you in sitting upright; or interlace your hands and press your palms away from you.
  3. Bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor in a pre-boat pose position.
  4. Lift your right foot off the floor.
  5. Using your best “handwriting,” slowly trace the letter A (print, cursive, all caps or small – doesn’t matter) in the air with your right foot, using your big toe as a marker. Move mainly at the ankle joint and less so at the knee and hip. Take a breath.
  6. Trace the letter B. Breathe in, breath out.
  7. Trace the letter C. Full breath cycle.
  8. Trace the entire alphabet, pausing a breath cycle between letters.

In my class, we traced A-M with the right foot, took a forward fold and then N-Z with the left foot, which for most of the class was the non-dominant foot and quite a bit more challenging.

I like doing this in boat pose with hand stretches because it allows more of my muscles to participate. Come up with your own variation and share it with me.

Here is my video of A-G.

Learn more exercises for your feet from my teacher renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman with these brilliant exercise videos that you can stream or download to view as often as you like for just $5 each!

Toes-and-Calves-Screenshot-300x300

Schoolhouse Series: Toes & Calves

UnDuck-Your-Feet-Screenshot-300x300

Schoolhouse Series: Unduck Your Feet

Namaste, Michele

 

A modified raise, point, & curl for your toes

The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society recommends an exercise called Toe raise, toe point, toe curl, where you hold each position for 5 seconds, for 10 repetitions each foot. It looks like this: toeraisepointflex

It is promoted as an exercise to “strengthen toes and prevent foot discomfort.” While I think it has merit as a foot mobilizer, I’m not convinced that adaptive changes to strength occur because it is a passive exercise, relying on an external force – the floor – rather than an internal force – your muscles – to perform.

So, in addition to performing this exercise against the floor, I think you could move through these same positions, but dangling your foot just above the floor so that you are stretching and generating force in both your intrinsic and extrinsic musculature. In yoga, since we don’t use weights to provide resistance necessary to make strength adaptations to our tissues, we rely on something called maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), which is your maximum ability to contract muscle.

Position 1, when done with your foot on the floor, is actually more like the heel off phase of gait, but in this floor-bound exercise, it passively loads your your toes, which is not enough to strengthen them. Alternately, when you dangle your foot, you can maximally contract your toe extensor muscles, making it more of a toe raise as the name implies.

Position 2, when performed against the external force of the floor,  is almost all concentric calf contractions without much happening in the toes, because the floor is doing the work of keeping them pointing. However, if you dangle your foot, not only are you still working your calf muscles, but now you must engage your plantar flexors (muscles that engage the sole of your foot) to hold the position and can calibrate the force to ~80% of your MVC, which is the ideal amount of contraction for tissue adaptation.

 

As you can now see, position 3 will also be stronger if you are not flexing your toes against the floor. While it would be possible to grind the top of your foot into the floor as a method of resistance, it would be terribly uncomfortable and that sensation would likely detract you from reaching 80% MVC.

I’ve come up with two variations of the more active exercise  – standing on the floor with the knee of my working foot bent; and standing on a yoga block with the knee of my working foot straight. My preference is the latter because it encourages me to pelvic list on the standing leg in order for the working foot to clear the floor. But I think either method would be fine.

Here is a video of the passive and active variations of this exercise.

Learn more exercises for your feet from my teacher renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman with these brilliant 30 minute exercise videos that you can stream or download to view as often as you like for just $5 each!

Toes-and-Calves-Screenshot-300x300

Schoolhouse Series: Toes & Calves

UnDuck-Your-Feet-Screenshot-300x300

Schoolhouse Series: Unduck Your Feet

 

Namaste, Michele

Yoga Protocol for Balance for Poststroke Pilot Study

I read the full text of a few yoga studies each week. As a former research librarian with the current salary of a yoga teacher & blogger, I rely on free full-text sources, and when those are not available, I lean on former colleagues to help a girl out. Shh. Don’t tell.

This morning, I read the study “Poststroke balance improves with yoga: a pilot study,” which found significantly improved scores for balance in the study group receiving a group yoga intervention, with those who completed yoga even crossing the threshold of balance impairment and fall risk. “Because of improved balance, participants increasingly attempted new activities in different and more challenging environments and were aware of potential fall risk but grew confident in maintaining their balance.” Incredibly life changing for these participants and potentially for our stroke clients.

Granted the sample size was small (47), there were methodological gems with this study:

  • Participants were randomly assigned to the study & control groups
  • Two yoga groups and a wait-listed control group were included
  • Attrition/retention was reported

I am always curious to see which asanas are included in these studies, so that I can make more evidence-based choices for when I work with clients, who are dealing with similar health related issues. It is frustrating that many studies do not provide details on the yoga interventions used. But, to my delight, this inspiring study included in its publication an outline of it’s yoga protocol!

I hope you find it helpful as you craft your next balance-themed class or private session – whether or not your client base includes those who have experienced stroke.

Namaste, Michele

Move Your Toes Through Their Full Ranges of Motion

Try this exercise to bring greater mobility to your feet. It works their intrinsic musculature, which allows for flexion, extension, and abduction (spreading) of the toes. Because a big chunk of your day may be spent in shoes with toe boxes that are comfortable yet insidiously restrictive to these movements, you end up with achy feet that are also weak and may not move as well as you’d like.

Remember what happened the last time you removed your shoes after many hours of being shod. Did you immediately start flexing, extending, abducting aka wiggling your toes for the relief it brings? These are movements for which our feet have an evolutionary craving.  Unshod (or even minimally shod) on natural terrain, we would be engaging the intrinsic muscles of our feet in this way, whenever we walked.

But, since we are a shod society, we need to find ways to infuse such movements into our day.

Here is a great way to do this:

toelifts on block

Stand on yoga blocks, books, or anything that you can hang your toes over the edge. You want to be able to move your toes from neutral to full flexion to full extension and back. Be mindful that your medial (inner) ankles do not collapse in towards one another. With your toes hanging over the edges of the blocks, flex your toes down towards the floor then extend your toes up towards the ceiling. Alternate between flexing and extending until you have flexed and extended 10 times each.

Here’s a short video of this exercise.

Learn more exercises for your feet from my teacher renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman with these brilliant 30 minute exercise videos that you can stream or download to view as often as you like for just $5 each!

Toes-and-Calves-Screenshot-300x300

Schoolhouse Series: Toes & Calves

UnDuck-Your-Feet-Screenshot-300x300

Schoolhouse Series: Unduck Your Feet

Namaste, Michele