Your Flat Feet are Exhausting

I’ve written about the purported benefits of engaging a strong yoga foot in past posts. It seems foot researchers are catching on to something yogis have been practicing for a long time. It’s called the “short-foot exercise,” but is essentially the equal of the strong yoga foot. Several recent small studies show promising benefits of the short-foot or strong yoga foot exercise for strengthening intrinsic foot architecture and improving postural stability aka balance. This is heartening as many health claims in yoga have arisen, unsubstantiated, out of various yoga lineages and proliferated through popular yoga publications and well-intentioned teachers. Proselytizing unsubstantiated health claims harms our profession.

Your feet are complex and serve many functions in stability and movement. Standing, balancing, and walking gait require the arches of your feet to deform on command as the need for stability, rigidity, flexibility, and elastic energy storage and release quickly changes depending on what you doing. Add other forms of movement you might do – run, jump, dance, hike, climb, etc. and its apparent that you need strong, flexible, mobile feet with keen ability to propriocept or sense the terrain under them. Your intrinsic foot muscles, which have all of their attachments within the foot, are considered stabilizers (as opposed to the extrinsic muscles that have attachment points both on the foot and on the lower leg and are your movers). One of the main jobs of the intrinsics is to support the four arches of your foot (medial, lateral, and two transverse) that one could envision as a half dome. It is this half dome that must deform properly in all types of movements – standing, balance, walking, running, dancing, etc.

Half dome of foot arches

Half dome of foot arches

*Image from McKeon article.

With each step you take, your intrinsic foot musculature acts to control deformation of this half dome of arches. When these muscles are not functioning properly because they are weak and uninnervated, your foundation is unstable and misaligned and thus abnormal compensatory movement occurs. I’ve written previously on how foot turnout and a forward pelvis can wreak havoc with your feet. Imagine what abnormal foot biomechanics in movement might do?? Several conditions immediately come to mind – plantar fasciitis, bunions, metatarsalgia, Morton’s neuroma, and pes planus or flat feet.  A weak medial arch (that’s the long arch on the inside of your foot) is one possible cause of flat feet, which, if you have them, negatively impact your other weight-bearing joints with friction and subsequent degeneration. Your flat feet have weak plantar muscles that fail to function optimally in their crucial roles as shock absorbers, in gait efficiency, and as postural stabilizers, making balance difficult. And, oftentimes, they just plain hurt. If your feet are flat, your medial arch is missing, which means your half dome cannot deform to provide necessary transitions from rigidity, flexibility, and energy storage and release that propel you forward when walking or running. When your arch doesn’t store and release elastic energy in gait, you are having to work exponentially harder to move forward. Your flat feet are exhausting.

The strong yoga foot or short-foot exercise is used to reinforce the arch of the foot by strengthening the plantar muscles – the four muscle layers on the bottom of your foot, predominantly your abductor hallucis, which is the most superficial and easiest to measure of the intrinsic muscles. By contracting the foot’s intrinsic muscles, the long medial arch is shortened and its angle increased. This lift of the arch lowers the mediolateral center of pressure (the pressure on the part of your flat foot that should be arched), and increases pressure of appropriate contact areas of the foot (forefoot and heel) on the floor stimulating cutaneous and muscle receptors, which help you to right yourself in the context of balance. Essentially, a strong arch is crucial to optimal gait and balance. Research shows that the short foot exercise reduces arch collapse, improves balance ability, increases big toe flexion strength,  and improves function in chronic ankle instability.

How to Perform the Short Foot Exercise

The short-foot exercise is performed by shortening the foot in a front to back direction – the first metatarsal head (aka the base of big toe; big toe mound; or ball of the foot in yoga speak) is drawn toward the heel without flexing or curling your toes. The forefoot and heel touch the floor, while the medial arch lifts.

Short foot exercise

Short foot exercise

*Image from McKeon article.

The short foot exercise can be performed either sitting or standing for improving strength, but should be practiced while standing if using this exercise to improve balance. When standing, it can be done bipedally, meaning both feet on the ground, but only one foot should be working; or unipedally – balancing on only one working foot. Placing the ankle into passive dorsiflexion by inclining the foot 30 degrees on a board or yoga wedge results in higher activation of abductor hallucis than that of the typical, neutral short foot position, possibly due to length-tension relationship in which optimal muscle length generates the greatest muscle force. The exercise is repeated 3 times for 5 seconds per rep, making one set. Sets of three reps are repeated 5 times, with two minutes of rest after every set. Alternatively, sets could be spread throughout the day.

A daily progressive program  might look like this:

  1. Week 1 – sitting,  5 sets of 3 reps with at least two min of rest between each set
  2. Week 2: – bipedal, 5 sets of 3 reps with at least two min of rest between each set
  3. Week 3: – unipedal, 5 sets of 3 reps with at least two min of rest between each set
  4. Week 4: – inclined foot, 5 sets of 3 reps with at least two min of rest between each set
  5. Maintenance – any combination of the above

For yoga practitioners, use the strong yoga foot in Tadasana and foot balancing postures. Remember, for whole body health:

  • shift your hips back when standing/balancing so that the center of your mass (your pelvis) is aligned over your knees and ankles, and heels and not over the fragile structures of your forefeet;
  • engage the lateral hip muscles on the balancing leg as this strength is crucial to optimal gait and missing in most people; and
  • lower your kneecaps by relaxing your quadriceps to minimize the amount of friction/degeneration in your knees.
The following studies informed this post and are available free, in full text on PubMed.

The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function. McKeon, PO et. al. Br J Sports Med. 49:290, March 21, 2014.

EMG Activity of the Abductor Hallucis Muscle during Foot Arch Exercises Using Different Weight Bearing Postures. Goo YM, Heo HJ, An DH. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014 Oct;26(10):1635-6.

The Effect of an Inclined Ankle on the Activation of the Abductor Hallucis Muscle during Short Foot Exercise.
Heo HJ, An DH. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014 Apr;26(4):619-20.

Immediate Effect of Short-foot Exercise on Dynamic Balance of Subjects with Excessively Pronated Feet.
Moon DC, Kim K, Lee SK. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014 Jan;26(1):117-9.

Namaste, Michele

Natural and Ladymade Work Surfaces for Your Feet

We spend most of our waking time wearing shoes and when we walk, it is on flat, artificial surfaces. Thus, the intrinsic muscles of our feet are weak and feel tight and have limited ranges of motion and almost no dexterity. We are a nation racked by painful feet, fallen arches, and dependency on orthotics and orthotic-like features designed right into our shoes that keep us further than ever from healthy, strong feet with great circulation and dexterity.

I write and study at a standing work station – sometimes for hours. I am constantly cycling through various exercises and props to strengthen, stretch, and mobilize my feet, ankles, and lower legs. To stimulate and innervate the bottoms of my feet, I often drape my weighted foot over a tennis, lacrosse, or racquet ball, as i wrote about last month. But I’ve been dreaming about making a DIY cobblestone mat to help prepare my feet for what should be a full Spring, Summer, and Fall of daily barefoot walks on natural terrain. So, finally, I got busy. While neither is quite finished and I have several others planned, check out the newest editions to my foot prop collection.

smooth landscaping stones

smooth landscaping stones

Smooth landscaping stones, a few pine cones, and a couple of wooden darning eggs are spread out in a boot tray. I still need to fill in a few spaces. The large size of the tray allows a vast array of foot positions, which means my feet (and therefore my entire body) experiences a vast number of loads to the tissues.

woodenbeads2

While not natural, I appreciate the loads provided by these wooden beads. They feel a a bit sharper than stones, more like gravel. The bright colors are cheerful and make me happy whenever I look down at my feet. These beads are temporarily renting space on a cookie sheet, but will soon be moving into a more permanent home on another boot tray.

If your feet are painful, feel tight, and are not very mobile, please spend several weeks doing the many exercises I write about on this blog. Continuing with the exercises, spend several more weeks walking barefoot inside on carpet, linoleum, wood, in that order. Start with less time and increase your barefoot time as your feet get used to the new loads. Continuing with the exercises and barefootedness, spend several more weeks  draping and rolling your foot over a tennis ball. You could injure your feet if you go from zero to stones & beads too fast. Seriously. You’ve gone this long, what’s your hurry?

landscapingstones2woodenbeads

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

The Best Free Foot Massage

I do my writing and studying at a DIY standing work station. I do it to avoid sitting and the attendant health risks, when done too much. And because if i sit for work, I turn into a big C (uh, that means I place my trunk into the shape of a C) and stay there for hours without moving. When I stand at my work station, I find that I naturally I squirm about more. I capitalize on and enhance this natural tendency to move by giving myself little activities to do. Today, while writing I:

  • stretched my calves on the half round (exercise to be described in a future post)
  • stretched the top of my feet (see future post)
  • Pelvic listed (see future post)
  • Hung out in Vrksasana aka the yoga pose called “tree”
  • Constantly checked my alignment – straightened the lateral edges of my feet, backed my hips up to vertically stack my major joints, dropped my ribs down, released my kneecaps by releasing my gripping quad muscles, aligned my pelvis so that my ASISs (pelvic bones aka hip pointers) and my pubic bone are in the same frontal plane, ramped my head back to get my ears over my shoulders and my eyes level with the horizon
  • Stood on various sizes of balls

If you’ve ever attended a FootLove Yoga workshop or maybe even one of my classes, you have have rolled a lacrosse ball on the bottom of your foot to loosen up the fascial tissues and provide a strong sensory nerve experience. Since beginning to stand at my computer station a few months ago, I have begun to crave these ball sessions, but using softer balls like tennis and racquet balls, and allowing my foot to rest quietly on the ball. As I’ve said before, your feet evolved primarily for walking on varied terrain with hills, bumps, divets, sharp rocks, smooth stones, roots, holes, sand, dirt, grasses, leaves, brambles, water, slick, sloggy, hard, soft – deforming their 33 joints (each!) in a nearly infinite number of positions while naked. The contours of the earth helped to keep our feet supple. While I’m at my standing desk, I use balls of various sizes, textures, and yielding properties to drape my feet over, one foot at a time. After several minutes, I may start to very slowly move my foot over the ball, but often I stay still and try to be present to the innervation or waking up of these areas. Exploring various shapes with your soles stretches your muscles and joints in ways that you likely won’t experience unless you are walking on the natural earth with your feet bare.

standingstation

staticball3

staticball2

If your feet have been immobile for a long time, start slow, with soft balls & shapes, for small amounts of time.

Namaste, Michele

Foot Cramp Fetish or How I Learned to Love the Marble Bridge and Relieve My Plantar Fasciitis

If you like foot cramps, then this is the exercise for you! Seriously, if FootLove Yoga has inspired you to move your feet more and in a variety of new ways, you may have discovered that some exercises cause your feet and lower legs to cramp. This is not surprising as cramps can be the result of:

  • muscle fatigue – the intrinsic muscles of your feet are weak
  • limited range of motion – your muscles are not at their optimal lengths and your joints are not accustomed to exploring new ranges of motion
  • poor circulation – muscles that don’t move don’t get much blood into the smallest blood vessels
  • increase in activity – your muscles are not prepared for the loads you are now asking of them

Good news is that if you continue to exercise your feet, spend more time barefoot, and make better shoe choices (thin, flat flexible sole with a wide toe box) your feet will get stronger and more flexible and the cramping will diminish and disappear for good.

I first learned of an exercise I call Marble Bridge from an article by Robin Rothenberg in the trade magazine Yoga Therapy Today. Robin learned of it from her colleague John Childers. I lean on their language to describe how and why it works.

Marble Bridge

    1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet standing on the floor, pelvic width apart
    2. Place a yoga block or stack of books under your sacrum (this is the lowest part of your spine. Make sure the block is not under your lumbar curve.)
    3. Hold a marble or large bead with the toes of your right foot, curling your toes around it as you would if you were making a fist with your hand. If you don’t have a marble, you can pretend to hold one, but it doesn’t work as well.
    4. Extend your right knee, keeping your knees even with each other. This is equivalent to eka pada salamba setu bandha sarvangasana or one legged supported bridge pose in yoga
    5. Cramp Point your foot (plantar flex); hold for 5 seconds
    6. Cramp Flex your foot (dorsiflex); hold for 5 seconds
    7. Alternate cramping pointing and cramping flexing your foot for as long as you can stand it…
    8. If you cramp, release the marble, rest and begin again. You may need to lesson the amount of time in each foot position
    9. You can make this posture easier by removing the block
    10. You can make this exercise more challenging by doing a full, unsupported bridge

marblebridge4

What is happening?

The action of grasping the marble strongly contracts the flexor muscles on the bottom of your foot; while the action of pointing your foot strongly causes a contraction through the Achilles tendon all the way up into your calf; at the same time you are deeply actively stretching the extensors on the top of your foot and front of your lower leg. This is a perfect storm of eccentric contraction that strengthens your muscles, increases the range of motion in your feet, and improves circulation and waste removal to your lower legs & feet, especially the heels that receive little blood flow and are ground zero for plantar fasciitis.

Both Rothenberg & Childers use this exercise to treat clients with plantar fasciitis. Rothenberg explains that the plantar fascia is often “locked long” or, put another way, chronically tensed in extension. The fix for tissues in this state is to strengthen them, since chronic tension makes them weak, and simultaneously use strong contractions to counter the state of chronic extension. She combines undulating stretching with strong contractions. She cured her life long plantar fasciitis this way.

You can watch a video of this exercise on FootLove Yoga Facebook page.

Namaste, Michele

Simulating the Toe Off Event in Walking to Stretch Your Plantar Fascia

You learned in my first post on Plantar Fasciitis that stretching the plantar aponeurosis aka fascia is associated with better outcomes than other conservative, conventional treatments including anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroid injections, and both custom and over the counter orthotics. In addition to stretching the tissues statically, you can functionally stretch the plantar fascia by simulating the tensioning of the plantar fascia that occurs during the propulsion phase of gait (walking). Three variations of the static stretch are provided in order of intensity, followed by a link to a video of the dynamic, functional stretch.

Plantar Fascia Stretch – Static

Plantar fascia stretch

Plantar fascia stretch

Plantar fascia stretch from my behind

Plantar fascia stretch from my behind

Level 1

  1. Stand up on your knees with the dorsal (top) sides of your feet and toes touching the floor.
  2. Extend the toes of your right foot forward, so that the bottoms of your toes are touching the floor
  3. Hold for 1 minute and repeat on left foot
Kneeling plantar fascia stretch

Kneeling plantar fascia stretch

Level 2

  1. Be on your hands and knees with the dorsal (top) sides of your feet and toes touching the floor.
  2. Extend the toes of your right foot forward, so that the bottoms of your toes are touching the floor
  3. Pressing your hips back towards your heels will increase the stretch
  4. Hold for 1 minute and repeat on left foot
Semi hands & knees plantar fascia stretch

Semi hands & knees plantar fascia stretch

Level 3

  1. Begin in either Level 1 or Level 2 starting position
  2. Extend the toes of your right foot forward, so that the bottoms of your toes are touching the floor
  3. Sit back on your heels (vajrasana) with your spine upright and neutral
  4. Hold for 1 minute and repeat on the left side

007

Plantar Fascia Stretch – Dynamic

  1. Be on your hands and knees with the dorsal (top) sides of your feet and toes touching the floor
  2. Bring your right foot forward until the sole is on the ground and your butt is on your left heel
  3. Rock forward from heel to toe on your right foot
  4. See the video of this on FootLove Yoga Facebook Page

Note in the photo above that I did not get my pinky toe extended forward. I should have reached around to coax that lil puddin into extension.

In any of the variations, try to reach back to your foot and massage the fascial tissue in a crosswise direction, providing an additional myofascial release of these sticky tissues.

Namaste, Michele

Super Awesome Toe Up Toe Down Exercise

I am working on Part 2 of Barefoot is Better, but it’s not ready to post. I’ll be posting from the workshop “Walking The Lines: Gait, Anatomy Trains & Fascial Efficiency” with James Earls over the next three days, but should be able to pick up on the barefoot theme soon after.

Here is a great exercise that I call Toe Up Toe Down that stretches the adductor muscles of your toes. Another great mobilization for feet that have been in shoes all day, all life. You will probably do this seated, but I guess it could be done standing in a figure four balance with your foot crossed over your thigh.

Toe Up Toe Down

  1. Bend your right knee and bring it toward your torso so that you can handle your toes.
  2. Pull your big toe away from its base or proximal joint and stretch it down and at the same time stretch the second toe long and up. Hold for 30 seconds and keep the toes as straight as you can – no flexing (bending) in the joints
  3. Next, release your big toe and stretch your second toe up and your third toe down. Hold for 30 seconds with out bending the toes.
  4. Continue until you reach your pinky toe
  5. Start over, but this time with the big toe stretching up while the second toe stretches down and so on.
  6. Repeat on your left foot.
Toe Up Toe Down

Toe Up Toe Down

Toe Up Toe Down

Toe Up Toe Down

Toe Up Toe Down

Toe Up Toe Down

You can see the video of Toe Up Toe Down at my FootLove Yoga Facebook page. I hold the stretches only a few seconds, but I suggest that you hold them longer, at least 30 seconds.

Strong Yoga Foot

When I teach, I often cue the “strong yoga foot.” But its not just for yoga. I am standing at my DIY standing work station typing this while doing the strong yoga foot. You should do it too. Stand up right now.

  1. Stand with your feet pelvis width apart. Pelvis width means the front of your ankles fall directly below your anterior superior iliac spines aka ASIS aka your “hip pointers” aka the pokey bones to the right and left and superior to (above) your pubic bone that you feel on the front of your hips pelvis when lying on your belly on the cold hard floor.
  2. Straighten the outer edges of your feet.
  3. Shift your pelvis back aka back your hips up.
  4. Place your weight back into the centers of your heels.
  5. Press the balls of your feet into the mat without pressing the tips of your toes.
  6. Lift your arches. Really, lift your arches. If you can’t find the lift button, those muscles are not really firing, which is a problem.

My friend Mel Robin has a great exercise in his book, A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers, for using a strap to simulate actions of the muscles on the lower leg (peroneus longus, peroneus brevis, and anterior tibialis) for achieving what he terms the “strong-foot position of Iyengar yoga.”  These same muscles play a critical role in keeping your arches strong and intact.

Strong Yoga Foot

Strong Yoga Foot

Instructions for Mel’s strap/belt simulation:

(a) With the left leg bent somewhat, encircle the ankle of your left foot with the belt and hold the ends of the belt in your right hand

(b) With the left leg fully bent, take the belt over the sole of your foot, moving it in a counter-clockwise direction.

(c) Hold the belt in the left hand with a slight downward pull and straighten the left leg. This pulling down simulates what would be the lifting of your arch if you were standing upright.

I tried this standing up and it is a great method for training a weak, poorly innervated arch to begin to begin to lift on command.

strong_foot_strap

You can practice the strong yoga foot anytime your are standing – during yoga, waiting in line, standing around with friends, or even bird watching.

Namaste, Michele

Hello Foot, How Do You Do?

Have you ever shaken “hands” with your foot? Well, it’s time you did.

Your toes have probably been casted into shoes all day – particularly shoes with tight toe boxes that don’t allow your toes much mobility. Remember, tight toe boxes don’t have to feel tight, as evidenced by the tracing I made of my foot from mat board last week. I was unable to slide it into one of my favorite shoes because it would not yield or deform as my foot does when I slide it into my shoe, demonstrating that my toe box, even though it feels comfortable, does not have enough room to house my foot in a healthy manner. Toe boxes that don’t allow full spreading of your toes will cause the muscles that bring your toes together (adduct) to be tight and weak and those that spread them apart (abduct) to lose function.

Use your toe alignment socks when your are sitting/sleeping for passive stretching. But for active stretching, shake “hands” with your foot. Here’s how.

Preparation for really tight toes

  1. Sit on the floor or a chair, bend your knee to bring your foot towards your trunk and face the palm of your hand towards  the plantar (bottom surface) of your foot.
  2. Insert the tip of index finger between the tips of your big and second toes
  3. Insert the tip of your third finger between the tips of your second and third toes
  4. Insert the tip of your fourth finger between the tips of your third and fourth toes
  5. Insert the tip of your little finger between the tips of your fourth and pinky toes
  6. Spread your fingers apart
Inserting my fingertips between my toes at the distal joints.

Inserting my fingertips between my toes at the distal joints.

Advanced Greeting

When/if you are ready to advance to a full hand/foot greeting, follow the instructions above except try to slide the whole of your fingers down to where your rings are, all the way to the base joints of the toes. Like this:

Inserting my fingers between my toes at the proximal joints

Inserting my fingers between my toes at the proximal joints

Once you are there, clasp your fingers and toes around each other and commence to shaking and moving your hands to mobilize your toes.

Shaking "hands" with my foot

Shaking “hands” with my foot

Since your other hand won’t be doing anything, use it to massage the arch of your foot. In the picture below, I’m using the same thumb so that I can take the picture, but its a richer experience if you use your free hand.

Using my thumb to massage my arch

Using my thumb to massage my arch

On my Facebook page is a kind of ridiculous video of a hand/foot greeting. About halfway though, where my foot starts to spaz out, is where I stop moving my foot with my hand and instead let my foot move my passive hand. It increases movement nutrition.

Holding hands with your foot is the first step in being able to spread your toes – using the strength of your toes to stretch your toes. Being able to spread your toes, using your own intrinsic foot muscles, is a healthy indicator that your foot is optimally innervated, meaning your muscles are actually firing as opposed to lying dormant and inert. Each time your spread, lift, and wiggle your toes, you are increasing circulation of tissue food (blood) and facilitating cellular waste removal.

Good to meet you toes.

Namaste, Michele

Barbie Foot

Remember the bit about our feet having 33 joints each? And the other bit about how we rarely use all those joints because our feet are often casted in shoes, walking on flat uninteresting surfaces, or not moving at all? This exercise, Barbie Foot, is great for mobilizing your foot joints, improving blood flow (aka tissue food) and cellular waste removal, maybe even lowering your blood pressure!

A video of Barbie Foot is available on my Facebook page.

Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you – in Dandasana for the yogis/yoginis out there. If you are not used to sitting on the floor, it may become fatiguing or otherwise uncomfortable, so try sitting with your back against a wall or on a bolster or stack of folded blankets. Place your hands on the floor alongside your hips for additional support, or, if you are working on sitting on the floor unsupported (you are, aren’t you? aren’t you??), you can place your hands in your lap. Your feet should be in the same lines or channels as your pelvic bones (aka hip bones) – in other words, not too close or not too far from each other.

Foot Position 1 – Neutral or Dorsiflexed Ankles
Start with vertical feet so that the tips of your toes are facing the ceiling. Your feet will be in the same position as if you were standing. This is also called dorsiflexion of the ankle.

Barbie Foot Position 1 Dorsiflexion

Barbie Foot Position 1 Dorsiflexion

Foot Position 2 – Balls Forward
Press the balls of your feet forward but keep your toes pulling back towards your shins. This is a plantar flexion of the ankle, but without the toes going forward. The joint articulation in the ankle is same as if you were “pointing your toes” only in this position the whole foot points forward except for the toes.

Barbie Foot Position Two - balls forward

Barbie Foot Position Two – balls forward

Foot Position 3 – All Toes Forward
Flex all of your toes forward. This is a true plantar flexion or as I sometimes call it “pointer flexion.”

Barbie Feet Position 3 - all toes forward

Barbie Feet Position 3 – all toes forward

Foot Position 4 – All Toes Back
Return to Foot position 2, balls forward with all the toes coming back towards shins.

Barbie Foot Position Two - balls forward

Barbie Foot Position Two – balls forward

Foot Position 5 – Foot Back
Bring your foot back to the starting position and repeat.

Here is the flow, starting from a neutral, dorsiflexed ankle. Move slowly, lingering in each position. The whole point is to articulate the joints in your feet through their full ranges of motion.

  1. Balls (of your feet, people) forward
  2. All toes forward
  3. All toes back
  4. Foot back
  5. Repeat

So what was that about feet and blood pressure? In a nutshell, when your move your feet (or any part of you), your muscles cause the blood that is moving under pressure through your arteries to move into your arterioles and on into your capillaries where it nourishes tissues. This opening of the capillaries will lower the pressure of blood flowing through your arteries and will save your heart from having to work so hard. True story.

Namaste, Michele