Oh My Knee (OMK!) and lateral hip strength

I’ve been studying knee biomechanics for an epic upcoming series of posts on knees and yoga. I’ve had over 25 years of knee pain and will be blogging about my dumb knees, what finally nearly fixed them, what set me back from this fix, and how to apply yoga and Restorative Exercise™. Thomas Michaud, who wrote THE book on human locomotion – Human Locomotion: The Conservative Management of Gait Related Disorders, provides in another of his books, Injury-Free Running: How to Build Strength, Improve Form, and Treat/Prevent Injuries, an eye opening test for lateral hip strength, which is the domain of the abductors – gluteals and tensor fascia lata. The test is called the Forward Step-down Test.

I photographed and videotaped (see my FB page) myself doing this test. In the images, I used an 8″ stool instead of a 4″ box to step down from, because that is what I had at the moment and I am impatient. **Later, I stacked yoga blocks on a book to make a 4″ box, which is the customary height for the test. The results were about the same, albeit less dramatic on the 4″ box. Otherwise, I tried to replicate his assessment.

Ideally, when I step off the box, my non-stepping hip should not displace laterally (to the side). The more it displaces, the weaker are my abductors.  My abductors should be firing (eccentrically contracting) to stabilize my hip joint, keeping movement in the sagittal plane since I am moving sagittally or forward. Notice the difference in displacement of my right hip (second image) as compared to my left. What is interesting is that I can and do make a point of firing my lateral hip muscles in yoga, especially in single leg balancing postures, and I regularly do the “pelvic list,” an exercise I learned from my teacher Katy Bowman (warning if you don’t like toddlers, don’t watch this video).  All of this work balancing while intentionally firing my lateral hip muscles in yoga and active mobility training via the pelvic list has made me strong and good at balancing in yoga and pelvic listing. But, it has not translated into coordinated, timely recruitment of my lateral hip muscles during this particular movement – stepping down.

ForwardstepdownLforwardstepdown1R

Who cares? Well, besides my hips, my knees care. Not only do my hips take a beating each time I go down stairs or downhill, hip weakness is the most likely cause for patellofemoral pain syndrome. It turns out that this pain may not be due to an unstable patella that is not tracking correctly, thus moving  sideways, as has been thought for years by sports scientists and clinicians, but it is likely due to the outer aspect of the femur moving into a stable patella because of weak abductors. Whoa!

Here is the lesson. “The inability of strengthening exercises to alter movement emphasizes an important point…you can’t just make a muscle stronger, you have to retrain the muscle to interact in synchrony with other muscles.” Dr. Thomas Michaud

I want to protect my hip and knee joints by functionally improving my lateral hip strength. I’ll continue conditioning these muscles through active yogasana balancing and pelvic listing, but I’ll also be devising a plan to train my hips for the hugely important and frequently occuring movement pattern for which they are currently offline – stepping down. By varying frequency, rate, direction, location, and any other force characteristics of stepping down that I can manipulate, I will train my hips not just for stepping down from a 4″ box but for stepping down in a multitude of situations. Like life. I’m going for variation in my stepping down –  from varying heights, from unstable objects,  from varying surfaces, by controlling different joint angles, etc. If you get in my way, I will step down from you. Or maybe onto you.

Namaste, Michele

Strong At Any Length

I write today about paradigmatic shifts in yogasana – an evolution in three acts – inspired by three teachers, whose work I’ve been deeply studying and with whom I’ve been privileged to train in vivo. Having multiple teachers is an exercise in blessings and curses and maddening dissonance. I am constantly reconciling and reconvening the experts in my head. I call a summit of this brain trust at least once a week, usually on Facebook, where I am then schooled by my smart(er) colleagues and their respective adepts. This is a mashup of what I’ve come to understand from these bodysmarties and how I’ve integrated their wizardry into my movement and life practices.

Act One by Ray Long: The Bandha Yoga Codex: Using Reciprocal Inhibition, Muscle Isolations, Co-Activations, and Facilitated Stretches in Yogasana

I have devoured Ray Long’s books and had the great fortune of a weekend workshop with him in Vancouver. It was through his teachings that anatomy ceased being abstract, non-contextual, and tedious rote memorization. His beautifully rendered books brought anatomy to life through methodical application of stretching physiology to yogasana.  His MO is to define the position of joints in a pose, identify prime mover muscles (agonists) and their corresponding stretchers (antagonists), and use stretch reflexes – muscle spindle, reciprocal inhibition, and golgi tendon organ to facilitate muscle extension. Where I find him most masterful is in cuing how to isometrically contract a muscle using directional cues like “press the hand onto the floor to contract serratus anterior” or “the cue for engaging these muscle together is to press the sole of the back foot into the floor and [isometrically] drag it toward the back side of the mat.” I wish all yoga teachers cuing isometric contractions would read Ray’s books and learn clear, sensible instructions instead of what can sometimes come across as vague, mystifying directives.  After learning of Jules Mitchell’s work, I started using Ray’s cues for muscle contraction not to facilitate reciprocal inhibition (ie contracting the quadriceps to further stretch the hamstrings), but instead I use his money cues to isometrically contract the stretching muscle, thereby increasing strength at the end range of motion, which, it turns out, is what actually increases flexibility.

I have read and recommend the following books by Ray Long.

The Key Muscles of Yoga: Scientific Keys, Volume I

The Key Poses of Yoga: Scientific Keys, Volume II

Yoga Mat Companion 1: Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses

Yoga Mat Companion 2: Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends

Yoga Mat Companion 3: Anatomy for Backbends and Twists

Yoga Mat Companion 4: Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions

Act Two by Katy Bowman: Neutral Pelvis: How I Learned to Stop Using My Back to Stretch My Hip and Other Lessons in Honoring My Boundaries.

I’ve already written my primer on Katy Bowman on this blog. Most relevant here is Katy’s brilliant teachings on forces, loads, visible and invisible boundaries, and errant joint motions. Let me try to explain. In yoga, your body is subject to various forces, but of primary importance is how you position your joints in relation to each other. These forces are experienced as loads on your tissues. Regardless of the yoga lineage or alignment system you follow, your alignment markers are tools for helping you establish and maintain visible boundaries in your postures. Consider reverse warrior pose. If you maintain 90 degrees of flexion in your front knee as you laterally flex your spine, you will receive a different stretch than if you lose some of that flexion in your knee as you move into the pose. Try it. Circumventing your visible boundaries, as in the reverse warrior example, will not get you what you want in the pose – in this case, a stretch in the lateral trunk muscles.

When you disregard or have no visible boundaries (alignment markers) you are probably not stretching what you think you are. If alignment points (for example “90 degree flexion in knee in reverse warrior” or “shoulders stacked over wrists in cat/cow”) are your visible boundaries, what, then, are invisible boundaries? They are hidden forces, like errant joint positions, that undermine your alignment. Take the pelvis. In Katy’s system of Restorative Exercise, a neutral pelvis is one, where the  pelvic bones and pubic bone are in the same plane perpendicular to the floor. These visible boundaries (alignment markers), when honored, assure that you are stretching your hip flexors vs. overextending your back. Try this simple test. In a standing position, put your pelvis in neutral (Katy’s post linked to above gives a great visual). Remain upright (don’t fold forward into a Vira 3 variation), extend a leg behind you as far as you can. Notice that in order to get the leg that far back, your pelvis had to tilt forward and you contracted the muscles in your lower back. You used your back to stretch your hip flexors. Now try it again, this time keep your pelvis neutral while you extend your leg. This movement was much smaller and did not involve your back at all. This is your true range of motion in your hip flexing muscles. You can apply this same concept to prone postures like Dhanurasana (bow) or Salabhasana (locust). There is nothing wrong with involving your back, if you are aware that you are doing it and desire the accompanying lumbar extension and compression. If, however, you compress your spine each time that you only meant to extend your hip, then you are using your back to do the work of the muscles that should be stretching your hip.

Act Three by Jules Mitchell: Strong at Any Length: A Yogi Turned Biomechanist Turned Yoga Stretching on its Head

I have a nerdy girl crush on biomechanist Jules Mitchell. Me and about a gazillion other yoginis. The crush is strictly science based. I am a former research librarian, whose idea of a good time is to sit at home on Friday night with a stack of research papers. Jules wrote her masters thesis on the science of stretching and she turned the world of yoga on its head (not to be confused with the king is dead kind of headstand). She slogged through hundreds of research articles trying to confirm what she thought she knew about yoga stretching – that it makes muscles longer. What she discovered is that increases in range of motion are not biomechanical, but neuromechanical – yoga doesn’t lengthen muscles, it merely increases your nervous system’s tolerance to stretch further.  This is a ridiculously oversimplified explanation of Jules’ epic, paradigm shifting, game changing, head exploding thesis. But you are in luck, because she blogged about her research along the way and you can read about it. Start with her seminal post on tissue mechanics. If you want a concise distillation of Jules’ conclusions, read Jenni Rawlings’ post Stretching is in Your Brain – another smartypants to whom I am most grateful.

Two ways that Jules applies what she learned about the relationship between strength and flexibility inform my own practice. I was introduced to the idea of training active range of motion initially by Katy Bowman.

  1. Train active range of motion
  2. Strengthen at your end ranges of motion via muscle contraction

Training active range of motion in yoga simply means that you use muscle control to get into and out of a posture. If you have to leverage one body part with another or use your hands to lift your foot/leg into position, you are “placing” yourself into a position that you are not strong/flexible enough to get into organically. When you do this, you bypass your neurology and the tax for that “deeper” pose is that you no longer provide optimal muscular stability to your joints and you are in danger of stretching your connective tissues to permanent deformation or failure.  It is when you are in an active range of motion that you increase strength and flexibility.

For instance, in the seated spinal twist ardha matsyendrasana, instead of leveraging your elbow against your knee to twist your torso, you could simply use the core musculature of your trunk to twist. Try this,  keep your hands on your shoulders and twist using only your core muscles. If you need a hand on the floor behind you for support, make sure you are not leveraging the twist further with that hand.  Notice how far you are able to twist. This is your active range of motion. Now place your opposite elbow to the outside of your knee and leverage to see how much further you can twist. The difference is your passive range of motion. At best, in passive range of motion, you are not getting stronger or more flexible. At worst, you have rotated into a range of motion that is not safe for you because you bypassed the brake signal your nervous system gave you in the active twist. It is your brain that stops you from twisting further – not short or tight muscles. This concept applies whenever you are twisting, but expecially think about losing the leverage in postures like parivrtta utkatasana (revolved chair) and parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle).

Here are a few more postures to try that exemplify the brilliant work of Ray Long, Katy Bowman, & Jules Mitchell.

Vrksasana – I  used my hands to pick up my foot and place it high up onto my inner thigh.

P1030104 (1)

In this second version of tree pose, I used the strength and range of motion of my hip and leg to place my foot on my thigh without using my hand and while maintaining Tadasana (no cheating my foot up by contorting my body in some other manner). You see, my brain stopped me from going further because foot high on the thigh is not a position that I ever got into on my own before beginning to train active mobility. The first time I tried placing my foot without using my hand, I couldn’t get my heel higher than my knee joint! I am living evidence that training in active mobility improves both strength and flexibility.

vrksasana_active

And how about the Bikram or Hot Yoga variation? A striking difference between passive and active range of motion. Not only does passive range of motion  make your shorter, it sometimes changes the color of your clothes. Just kidding.

Vrksasana_bik_passivevrksasana_bik_active

Utthita Hasta Padangustasana takes on a whole new look, when you don’t use your hand to bypass your neurology.

UHP_passiveUHP_active_xn2UHP_active_np

In the classic pose, first picture, I am in passive range of motion – I used my hand to lift my foot, much higher than I could get it there on my own. My lumbar curvature is AWOL and if I had a dog tail, it would be between my legs.

Notice in the second picture, that even though I used active range of motion to lift my leg, I am not wearing a neutral pelvis. By retroverting my pelvis (tucking my tail), thus thrusting my pubic symphysis further forward than my pelvic bones (anterior superior iliac spines) and unwittingly flexing my standing knee,  I am now using my back to do the work of my leg – in this case flexing my hip.

The third picture shows the most optimal posture, in that I am training active range of motion and keeping a neutral pelvis (you can tell by the bubbleness of my bottom and my lordodic lumbar curve), but look how low high my leg is now!??!

Parsvattonasana

And finally, I hack Ray Long’s excellent cuing and mash it up with Jules Mitchell’s love of eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle action for strengthening at end range in one of my favorite asanas – parsvottonasana. In this pose, the front leg’s hamstring is eccentrically contracting (generating force while lengthening). Cue lifting the front heel, while keeping the knee straight, to contract the calf muscle. You have just added a concentric contraction (generated force) to a stretching muscle.  Try slowly lifting and lowering the heel a few times. Next, with just the slightest bend of your knee, firmly press the heel of the front foot into the floor and isometrically  “drag” the front foot towards the back foot (don’t actually move the foot). Because the heel is fixed in place, this action of trying to press the heel into the floor and play drag it backwards is the same muscular action that would be taken if you were trying to flex your knee and results in a contraction of your stretching hamstring – the exact recipe for increasing strength at your end range of motion.

I would be honored and humbled to receive critical comments from any of these teachers or anyone familiar with their work. Or anyone, really.

Namaste, Michele

Sleeping on a mattress is the new sitting

There are people out there that eschew the comforts of mattresses, choosing instead to sleep directly on the floor with minimal padding. I am one of them. Different sleeping surfaces create different loads to your body’s tissues. Loads experienced from a soft squishy mattress will be entirely different from loads experienced, when forces applied are from a firm mattress, futon, camping pad, or ground tarp. One can apply the analogy of footwear to sleeping surfaces. Heel height, toe box size, upper robustness, and sole rigidity/thickness can unnaturally load your feet to varying degrees. Shoes put unnatural forces on  your feet and among many other things (alignment, walking/standing surfaces, amount and repetitiveness of movement, etc.), are implicated in poor foot mobility, flexibility, and strength and in many foot maladies including plantar fasciitis, bunions, metatarsalgia, Morton’s neuroma, etc. The tissues of your shod feet would respond one way to constantly running on flat, unvarying, hard asphalt/concrete and another way completely to walking barefoot or minimally shod over natural terrain with its rocks, roots, divots, sand, water, prickles, grass, moss, sticks, and inclines. Your bed is the unnatural equivalent of a flat, hard surface for your feet with its attending maladies. Sleeping on a minimally padded floor or the naturally padded earth is like walking barefoot in nature, with its ensuing health benefits.

My teacher, biomechanist Katy Bowman’s concept of casting comes into play with mattresses. She describes casts/casting as the habitat in which we dwell that prevents full use of our body. Obviously, shoes and flat walking surfaces are casts, because they keep us from using our intrinsic foot musculature and attaining full range of motion in the joints of our feet and ankles. A chair is a cast for anyone, who sits at a desk job for 9 hours a day, as it prevents your spine, hips, and knees from moving through their full ranges of motion and it keeps large chunks of your body inert and denervated. Bras are casts too. A mattress is one of your biggest, most insidious casts because of the amount of time that you spend there. Sleeping on a mattress is the new sitting. In the same way that there is no ideal sitting or standing position, there is no ideal sleeping position. Our bodies, over millions of years of evolution, adapted for full-body, natural, all day movement, not sitting, standing, or sleeping in casted positions. A modern bed is different from that for which our physiology is adapted. Hunting and gathering, which humans and human-like ancestors did for upwards of 3 million years, adapted our bodies to sleep on the ground. Sleeping on a mattress is a novel development. Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, in his brilliantly researched, illuminating book The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease considers that back pain could be a mismatch disease/injury because your soft and comfortable mattress may weaken your back. A mismatch disease/injury (back pain) occurs when human features were  adaptive in the environment in which they evolved (sleeping on the ground) but have become maladaptive in modern environments (use of a soft, cushy mattress).

The nature of a mattress, regardless of its firmness rating, is to conform to your body and its attending misalignments, a soft-cast of sorts meant to provide you with complete comfort. Always sleeping on something flat and squishy has altered the mobility and sensitivity of your parts. Your pillow may be an even worse orthotic than your mattress. It reinforces the head position that it creates, which is a head forward position that is implicated in shortening of muscles that run between the back of your skull and the first and second vertebrae in your neck. When these muscles are not able to return to their optimal resting lengths because they’ve been chronically tensioned by your pillow, joint degeneration and disc issues (in your neck!!) can occur.    A pillow prevents the very motion that you often do naturally when your neck feels tight or in yoga class, which is drop your ear toward your shoulder for a good neck stretch. If you were sleeping without a pillow, your neck would regularly go into this range of motion as your roll onto your side.

Sleeping directly on the earth with no or only natural padding is the gold standard – equivalent to barefoot walking in nature and still a luxury for some cultures around the world and a few hard-core westerners. The closest most people will come in their daily lives, however, will be sleeping on hard flat floors with minimal non-natural padding. All the same, the benefits over sleeping on a modern mattress with a pillow are significant. The forces of a minimally padded floor provide a variety of loads to your body’s tissue that don’t occur on soft-casting mattresses, because you move more without external resistance inherent in a body-conforming mattress. This results in greater ranges of motion for joints that are underused at best, or completely immobile on a mattress. The pressure of a hard surface provides a passive massage to your muscles each time you move, thereby causing mechanotransduction of your cells that facilitates circulation, electricity, and waste removal. In addition to facilitating your body’s natural geometry (positioning of your parts to each other and to the floor) and providing a nightly tissue regenerating massage, sleeping on the floor allows gravity to traction those parts of you, like your neck,  helping to restore your muscles to their optimal resting length. Just as sitting on the floor provides yin yoga style benefits of naturally stretching and tractioning muscles and connective tissues in your hips, sleeping on an unyielding surface is where natural neck stretching occurs. An additional benefit of floor sleeping is that it gives you at least one opportunity, and probably more, to get down onto the floor and up again.

If you go from sleeping on a bed one night to sleeping on the floor the next, without a transitional ramping down period, it’s going to be quite uncomfortable and may undermine your success. This could happen not because the floor is too hard, but because your body is “out of shape” for floor sleeping. You wouldn’t start a running program by doing a half-marathon. You would train by slowly increasing your miles, speed, and frequency, with plenty of rest days. Same with moving to the floor. If you exceed the boundaries of your tissues’ ability to adapt; and create loads that are more than what you body is used to, you may suffer. By transitioning slowly and systematically towards progressively more minimal sleeping surfaces, you will gradually load your tissues so that they can adapt to your new sleeping routine.

Katy Bowman writes about transitioning away from a mattress. I’ve distilled her suggestions, and added a few of my own. You’ve been sleeping on a mattress all of your life, so take time – weeks, months – to transition to the floor.

Try these steps:

  •  remove pillow topper from your current mattress
  • place mattress directly on ground (yes, removing box springs changes the forces of a mattress)
  • replace mattress with futon
  • replace futon with a thick rug/carpeting and some blankets
  • remove the blankets one at a time
  • replace carpeting with Tatami mat (Japanese sleeping mat)

You can follow a similar transition pattern for your pillow, going from thick and dense to thin and feathery to a folded towel, etc.

My story is a classic case of do as I say, not as I do. I transitioned, in one night, from a dense, squishy, memory-foam type mattress to two stacked blankets folded lengthwise on top of a hardwood floor with no pillow. The first 5 nights I experienced distressing this-is-why-i-haven’t-camped-in-10-years aches and discomforts. I moved around a lot to get comfortable and I was awakened every time I shifted in my sleep and reminded of how hard the floor felt. I suspected maybe I was making a big mistake – until I got up that first morning. Even though I had felt uncomfortable while I was on the floor, when I got up, there was NO stiffness to be found. I popped right out of “bed” and was completely mobile, buoyant, and fully alert. So I kept at it another five nights and noticed that I was beginning to feel more comfortable – less intentional position changing, less awakening when I shifted in my sleep, less sensitivity to the hardness. At about two weeks, I returned to the bed one night to see how that would feel. Immediately, what I call my “restless shoulder syndrome” returned. All night long, I was back to moving my arms over my head and back to my sides again and again to find comfort, but never finding it. Sleeping on my sides, I experienced that familiar ache in my shoulder joints. When I slept on my back, I discovered the mattress rounded my shoulders forward into an unnatural internal rotation, causing tingling and an unbearable urge to change position. When I became too uncomfortable, I would flop over onto my belly, but then my neck joined the chorus of discontent. Finally, in the early hours of dawn, I crawled back onto the floor and unbelievable relief and knew, immediately, viscerally, that I would never sleep on a mattress again. Over the next three months, there were occasional nights where my bony pelvis and tailbone would dig into the floor. At one point, I was beginning to experience a pressure sore on my tailbone. So that night, I reached for the faux sheep’s skin pad that used to extend my floor bed for Jolie the dog, when she wanted to co-sleep with me. Even though I had clearly experienced a decline in status from my partner and our other two dogs, who continued to sleep on the bed, Jolie is loyal and likes to snuggle, so I had placed that pad next to my floor bed for her. Anyway, on that night, while she was up with the higher-ranking members of our pack, I slid her pad under my hips and immediately transformed my bed. This addition of ¼ inch padding when squished, was enough to eliminate any further bony discomfort.  While I am perfectly delighted with the quality and comfort of my floor bed, I would prefer to sleep with my partner, thus I am making a more permanent floor bed for us out of stacked wool blankets that will be tufted together into a 2 inch thick sleeping pad, with inspiration from Pinterest and the DIY Internet people. I’ll post images when it is complete.

Here is a picture of where I currently sleep. It is comprised of a pendleton-like wool blanket and a standard comforter, both folded length-wise, and topped with Jolie the dog’s faux sheep skin pad.

My Floor Bed

My Floor Bed

And this is what happens when you invite us to sleep over at your house.

Kim's Dad's house

Kim’s Dad’s house

I’ve done some cursory searches of the scientific research literature – enough to tell you that there are few studies on sleep surfaces and almost nothing on ground/floor sleeping in the  anthropological, biomechanical, or medical literature. However, what I have read is interesting and I will share in a follow-up to this post.

Namaste, Michele

In 30 Days, You Too Can Type and Play the Piano with Your Toes!

Got your attention? Ok, I made that up, but you can improve the dexterity of your feet. The intrinsic muscular anatomy of your feet is very similar to that of your hands with the exceptions that none of the digits are opposable and there is not  the ability to “cup” your foot as you can cup your palm. In theory, then, your feet should be able to move much like your hands. You need only look at a homunculus, which is a representation of a human, but whose parts or dimensions are mapped to areas of the brain devoted to those parts, to see the vast potential of your feet. In a homunculus, parts of the body that require the highest levels of dexterity have larger representations in the brain, more circuitry, and more neurons per muscle group. As you can see, the feet require a significant amount of brain power, which tells me that there is a lot of wasted potential for dexterity.

Homunculus

Homunculus

You toes, casted inside your shoes for hours, days, weeks, months, years, generations, are weak. They feel tight. You may not have attempted to move them independently of your foot or independently of each other for a very long time. I know a simple (but not necessarily easy) test and exercise you can do to evaluate and strengthen the motor nerves and toe extensor muscles of your feet. This can be done standing, sitting on the floor, or sitting in a chair. Simply lift your big toes (called extension) without lifting your other toes.This gives you an indication of the health of the neural pathway that exists between your brain and your feet. If you are unable to lift your toes, your foot is not properly innervated, circulation to that area is poor, and you are accumulating cellular waste that is not being removed by your lymph system because your circulation is poor. You are negatively impacting your gait since your big toes plays a huge role in gait biomechanics. If you are not toeing off properly in gait, all of your major joints will suffer.

If this is easy, then attempt to keep the big toe lifted, while you lift your second toe to join it. Still easy? Add the third toe, and so on. Try to put them down in reverse order, pinky toe first. Here is a list of variations of the toe extensions in order from easiest to more difficult – for me, anyway. You may find the ordering different for your puddins. Try them first one foot at a time. Once you master them, try both feet together.

Playing the Scales with Your Toes

Toe Lifts

Toe Lifts

  1. Lift big toe, put it down, repeat 10 times. Repeat any of the following variations multiple times.
  2. Lift big toe, keep it raised, lift second toe; lower second toe, lower big toe
  3. Lift big toe, add second toe, add third toe, etc. until you can add each toe; put them down in reverse order, ending with big toe
  4. Repeat #3, but put the toes down in the same order as you raised them, starting with big toe lowering first
  5. Start with the pinky toe and work in reverse, putting them down in reverse – big toe lowers first
  6. Start with the pinky toe, but then lower your toes, lowering your pinky toe first
  7. Once you are able to “play the scales” with your feet, it’s on to typing

Typing with Your Toes

This is very difficult for most people and may take years of moving your bare feet over natural terrain in good alignment and supplemented with loads of corrective foot exercises like those found on this blog. But when you’re ready:

8. Lift your second toe, and only your second toe; place it back down, Lift your third toe, solo, place it back down. Lift each of your toes independently of the others. Practice this every day and in 30 years, you will be able to type with your toes!

 Anatomy Bit. What muscles lift aka extend the toes?

Extrinsic Foot Muscles (has one attachment point on the foot and the other on the lower leg)
Extrinsic Extensors

Extrinsic Extensors

The above image is the dorsal (aka top) of the foot

  • Extensor Hallucis Longus – extends big toe; colored in blue
  • Extensor Digitorum Longus – extends the other toes; colored in yellow
Intrinsic Foot Muscles (both attachment points reside on the foot)
Intrinsic Extensors

Intrinsic Extensors

Above image is the dorsal or top of the foot with a section of extensor digitorum longus in yellow cut away to reveal the intrinsic muscles beneath (orange).

  • Extensor Hallucis Brevis – extends big toe; colored in green
  • Extensor Digitorum Brevis – extends the other toes; colored in orange

Book Alert

The Homunculous comes courtesy of my favorite anatomist/physician/yogi, Ray Long, whom I had the privilege of taking a workshop with in Vancouver, BC last September. It comes from his very excellent and would-be-dog-eared-if-it-wasn’t-of-such-high-quality spiral bound anatomy book Scientific Keys Vol. II: The Key Poses of Hatha Yoga by Ray Long (2008) Spiral-bound. This book comes in a non-spiral bound edition for less money, but I really like the option of having it lie open while I practice asana.

The muscle images come from The Anatomy Coloring Book (4th Edition). This book gives you a multi-dimensional way to learn bones, muscles & ligaments. And coloring is fun!

Yoga and other movement teachers, Ray Long’s book is my go-to book to understand and explain what is happening in my students’ body during postures – what muscles are contracting and how; what muscles are stretching and how; which muscles are helping; and most interestingly, how a student can manipulate her musculature to increase her range of motion during a particular posture. This book absolutely transformed my Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1).

Namaste, Michele