Foot Love Workshop Exercises – October 2015

You can find variations of some of these exercises in world-renowned Biomechanist Katy Bowman’s books & DVD included in her Healthy Foot Kit.

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Standing Exercises

All standing exercises should be done in Tadasana aka mountain pose with your feet pelvis-width distance apart, pointing forward, which means the outside edges of your feet should form a straight line (you can line up the edge of one of your feet on a yoga mat to check that it is actually straight and match the other accordingly); and your hips back so that they are stacked over your knees, ankles, and heels and not drifting or thrusting forward. Keep your weight back in your heels. I call this Smart Tadasana Alignment.

Toe Spreading

Lift your toes (this is called extension), spread them away from each other, and place them down onto the mat. Repeat several times throughout your day. You can improve your ability to actively spread your toes by passively spreading them using toe socks.

Short Foot Exercise

A full explanation is linked, but the short of it is to draw the base of your big toe towards your heel, without flexing or curling your toes. It’s OK if they grip the floor. This action lifts your arch, thereby shortening the length of your foot, and strengthening the arch-supporting muscles. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 3 times for each foot. Try to do 5 sets of 3 repetitions per day, holding for 5 seconds each rep. You can perform the short foot exercise any time your standing in yoga postures and as you get stronger, you can do it while balancing. The Short Foot Exercise is comparable to the Strong Yoga Foot.

Balancing

Any single leg balance will strengthen your extrinsic and intrinsic foot musculature. Once you are skilled at balancing on a firm surface, you can explore a variety of unique surfaces – a folded up towel or blanket, a yoga block, a half round, a boot tray of rocks, your yard…Hold for up to one minute and repeat several times throughout your day.

Exploratory feet

Move your feet in exploratory, weird, random, bizarre, strange, silly, varied ways. This can be done sitting in Dandasana (with your legs extended in front of you) or lying down. This is a great way to mobilize your feet before you get out of bed in the morning. Repeat throughout your day.

Top of foot stretch

Extend a leg behind you, pressing the top of your foot into the mat. It is important to keep your pelvis back and stacked vertically over the knee & ankle of your front or support leg as the tendency is for it to drift forward. If balance is a challenge, please use a chair so that you can concentrate on the stretch without worrying about the balance.Hold for up to one minute. Repeat several times throughout your day.

Top of foot stretch

Top of foot stretch

Calf Elevator

Lift the heels of both feet, coming up onto your tippy toes. Try to avoid letting your ankles blow out to the sides. If they do, then only raise your heels as high as you can keep your ankles stable. Hold for several seconds. Once you are skilled at balancing on both feet, start working towards one foot at a time. You can do this either by lifting the heels of both feet, but letting the work happen mainly in one foot; or you could do this balancing on one foot! Whichever variation you choose, make sure your hips are back. Hold for up to one minute. Repeat several times throughout your day.

Calf stretch

A half round (or half moon as one of students sweetly miscalled it) is best for this stretch, but you could roll up a couple of yoga mats or blanket or use a book. Place the ball of your foot on the top of the half round with your heel on the ground. Keep your other foot even to and pelvic-width apart from the stretching calf. You can advance in this pose by slowly stepping the non-stretching foot forward. If your pelvis moves forward with you or you lose balance or get rigid, bring the forward stepping foot back and don’t progress until you can do so in a relaxed and balanced stance with your hips back. Hold for up to one minute. Repeat several times throughout your day.

I purchased a SPRI Half Round Foam Roller, 36 x 6-Inch that I cut down to one 18″ length and three 6″ lengths that I use for various purposes as yoga props.

Calf Stretch/Elevator Combination

Stand with one foot on the half-round and elevate both heels to a slow count of three. Hold for 3 counts. Lower for a slow count of three. The lowering is where you train eccentrically, generating force while you are lengthening your muscle tendon units. This is how you get stronger at greater ranges and with more control. At the place that you want to give up and drop your heel is the opportunity to exercise muscle control.

Hamstring stretch

I’ll be posting later this week on hamstring stretching, but for now, start from tadasana, place your hands on your thighs and hinge forward at your hip joints, allowing your hands to slide down your legs, keeping your spine in neutral. As soon as your spine starts to deform ie round, stop, come up a few inches and work instead on lifting your tailbone, which will move the proximal muscle attachments for your hamstrings that are located on your sitting bones away from the distal attachments that are located on your lower legs, thus stretching these muscles. Hold for up to one minute. Repeat several times throughout your day.

Ball rolling massage

Place a new, firm tennis ball on a yoga mat or carpet. Keep your heel down as you drape only your toes over the ball, weighting it as much as you can tolerate. Very, very slowly, roll the ball under your toes, from side to side, allowing your toes to spread as you go. After a while move your foot forward so that the ball of your foot drapes across the ball. Again, move very slowly side to side. Continue to move your foot forward in small sections using a side to side motion. When you are deep into the arch of your foot, you might explore some front to back motions, or invert/evert your foot to get into the lateral and medial arches. The benefit from this massage comes when you slow down, take your time, move forward in tiny increments, hang out in sore spots, and remember to breathe. This can and should be done daily as a meditation practice.

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Floor Exercises

Plantar Fascia Stretch – kneeling/squatting

In this exercise, you kneel with your knees pelvis-width apart on a mat or padded surface. Extend (curl) your toes forward. If you can, reach around and separate your toes from each other and make sure they are all extending forward. You may be able to lower your hips, shifting more of your weight onto your feet, but do this slowly and with ease as the thick band of fascia and four layers of intrinsic muscles on the soles of your feet may never have experienced this type of stretch. Images and detailed instructions are linked above.

Barbie foot

This is the exercise where you press your balls forward (of your feet, people!), all toes forward, all toes back, foot back. You know the one. In the balls forward, toes back position, your feet look like Barbie’s. You can use your arms to support you in an upright seated position, but I suggest you place your hands in your lap from time to time and hold yourself up using your own trunk musculature. Images and detailed instructions are linked above.

Bridge with marble

I know you all remember this bit of love from the workshop – a yoga bridge pose holding a marble with your toes and extending your leg. Yes, that one.  Remember, cramping is good…a good reminder, that it, that you should be moving your feet more. Again, images and detailed instructions are linked above.

Ankle circles, point/flex, invert, evert

This can be done seated with legs extended or on your back. My preference is supine with legs extended 90 degrees and soles of your feet facing the ceiling. Try to keep your legs straight and pelvis-width apart and don’t be in such a hurry. Slow, sweeping circles will assure full range of motion. If you fatigue, bend your knees, but keep moving your ankles & feet.

Exploratory feet

Exploratory feet can be done standing in Tadasana with your feet squirming around on the mat; seated in a chair with them wiggling about on a bolster; seated on the floor with them playing mischievously out in front of you; or lying supine, my favorite, with your feet in the air spazzing all over. The object is to make as many movements as you can. According to my teacher Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and math dork, if you apply a mathematical concept called a factorial, a foot with 33 joints can deform into 8,600,000,000,000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 unique ways – or thereabouts. Whatever.

Toe spreaders

These exercises will help to undo the harm that shoes with small toe boxes cause to the muscles between your toes that have so little range of motion or strength that you may not even be able to generate enough of your own force to spread your toes. The third exercise, Toe Lifts, was not included in the workshop because a) I forgot; or b) We ran out of time. Whatever.

Namaste, Michele

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To all the shoes I’ve loved before

It’s time. It’s past time. We are moving to a smaller house in an act of intentional minimalist rebellion. I’ve been adding minimalist shoes to my closet over the last year, but have not reduced the total number of shoes residing there. To ease the ache of knowing that most of my pre-FootLove Yoga shoes will have to go, I revisit Katy Bowman’s Four Factor Shoe Evaluation (see chart below) to remind me why I make these tough decisions. When evaluating shoes, consider the four main features of a shoe and how and why they can be severely damaging. A feature that I did not systematically evaluate, but is present on over half of my shoes, is toe spring, that perky little incline at the toe end of a shoe. A toe spring bends the toes upward and over time deforms the foot, leading to foot problems, gait abnormalities, and musculoskeletal compensations.

If you decide to transition to more minimal shoes, a must read is Whole Body Barefoot by renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman. You can find it in Katy’s Healthy Foot Kit.

 

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Heel – A positive heel is any degree of elevation above the height of the toe box. A traditional high heel is just one style of positive heel. I can’t say it any better than Katy when she describes positive heels as “bone density decreasing, nerve damaging, and arthritis causing” at any height. Not only do they cause whole-body deformation as they force you to change the geometry of all your joints to keep you balanced and upright, but they also increase the load on the front of your foot, exacerbating foot maladies like bunions, plantar fasciitis, and metatarsalgia, among others. At my last Foot Love workshop, I held up two shoes – a sparkly, silver stiletto and an athletic shoe. I asked which one is worse. All but one person said the stiletto. One gal said the running shoe. Everyone was right. The stiletto, being 4 inches high, would cause considerably more damage when worn, but chances are it is only being worn on special occasions for short periods of time. The athletic shoe, however, is probably being worn all day, every day. It’s a case of acute damage vs. chronic.

Toe Box – Chronic toe squeezing weakens the muscles of the toes and loads the bones while they are positioned incorrectly, increasing the occurrence of joint stress, bone stress, and other soft tissue deformation. What is utterly baffling  is that shoe creators continue to design shoes that taper at the toe, when in fact, the ends of the toes are the widest part of the foot and therefore requires that area to be the widest part of the shoe! Dr. Ray McClanahan details this phenomenon in the context of bunions and the brannock device, that foot measuring tool that shoe fitters use to measure your foot. A whole industry uses this device to measure your foot at the ball rather than at the weight-bearing, toes-spreading, widest area of your foot.

Brannock device

Brannock device

Upper – Flip flops and slides require a gripping action from the toes. This gripping motion is the same muscle pattern that deforms toe joints. As the upper gets smaller, your foot has to constantly grip to keep the shoe on. Its Hammertime Hammertoes!

Soles – The thicker and stiffer the sole, the less the intrinsic foot musculature is able to do, the less communication happens between the brain & feet, the less circulation (nutrition & waste removal) and the more compensatory movement at the ankle and other joints. I elaborate on the importance of intrinsic foot musculature in an earlier post.

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So, here are all the shoes I’ve loved before…at least all that are still in my closet or sitting in Salvation Army (since yesterday.) I’ve devised a rating system. The lower the number, the better the shoe. The rating system goes from 4 – 16. A shoe with a rating of four has all boxes checked in the Best column – one point per feature. A shoe with a 16 has all four boxes checked in the Severely Damaging column – four points per feature. If a shoe gets over 6 pts, its got to go. Got it?

Shimmery pink converse

Shimmery pink converse

This is not the actual image of my shoe, because the real pair sadly lives at the Salvation Army.

  • heel – 1 pt
  • toe box – 3 pt
  • Upper – 1 pt
  • Sole – 4 pt
  • Total – 9 pt; status – donated
Clarks clog

Clarks clog

Another stand in; not the same model I had, but close.

  • heel – 4 pt
  • toe box – 3 pt
  • upper – 3 pt
  • sole – 4 pt
  • Total – 14 pt; status – donated
Clarks mule

Clarks mule

Another stand in.

  • heel – 3 pt
  • toe box – 2 pt
  • upper – 3 pt
  • sole – 4 pt
  • Total – 12 pt; status – donated
Crocs slippers

Crocs slippers

  • heel – 2.5 pt
  • toe box – 1 pt
  • upper –  1 pt
  • sole – 2 pt
  • total – 6.5 pt; status – retired for several months as I am now barefoot full-time in the house
Crocs mules

Crocs mules

  • heel – 2 pt
  • toe box – 2 pt
  • upper – 1 pt
  • sole – 1 pt
  • Total – 6 pt; Status – keep – these are my garden/dog poop detail shoes
ASICS athletic shoes

ASICS athletic shoes

  • heel – 3
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 1.5
  • Total – 8.5 pts; Status – retired to heavier garden duty like digging/mowing
New Balance athletic shoes

New Balance athletic shoes

  • heel – 2.5
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole 1.5
  • Total – 8 pts; status – keep for now but wear only when walking primarily on asphalt; replace with minimal shoes that can be safely worn on asphalt
Naturalizer

Naturalizer

  • heel – 2
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 2
  • Total – 8 pts; status – keep and wear only on rare, special occasions
Pikolinos sandle

Pikolinos sandal

  • heel – 2.5
  • toe box – 2
  • upper – 2
  • sole – 3
  • Total – 9.5 pts; status – keep, wearing only on rare, special occasions
Vasque hiking boots

Vasque hiking boots

  • heel – 3
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 4
  • Total – 12 pts; status – cry. actively seek minimalist hiking boots. cry some more
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UGG boots

  • heel – 2
  • toe box – 1
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 4
  • Total – 8 pts; status – keep and wear whenever I damn well please; these are my one pair of fashion over foot-health shoes
White Mountain sandals

White Mountain sandals

  • heel – 1.5
  • toe box – 1
  • upper – 4
  • sole – 1.5
  • Total – 8 pts; status – donate
Sorel snow boots

Sorel snow boots

  • heel – 3
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 4
  • Total – 11 pts; status – uh, it didn’t snow this year…actively seek a minimal pair of snow boots in case it snows next year
Joesef Seibel metrosexuals

Joesef Seibel metrosexuals

  • heel – 1
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 1
  • Total – 5 pts; status – keep and wear occasionally
Crocs sandals

Crocs sandals

  • heel – 2
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 3
  • sole – 2
  • Total – 10 pts; status – donate

And the winners, coming in at a mere four points each, are:

Vibram Five Finger and Merrel Vapor Glove

Vibram Five Finger and Merrell Vapor Glove and Jolie.

How does your closet add up?

Namaste, Michele

May All Feet be Happy. May All Feet be Safe. May All Feet Everywhere be Free.

I am going to try to keep this brief, letting a few pictures be worth my usual thousand words.

xray of normal foot

x-ray of normal foot

This is an x-ray, taken from above, of a normal bare foot. Notice the space between the metatarsals and phalanges aka long foot bones and toes. The bones are nice and straight and the toes are extended to their full lengths. This is a good looking foot. And it seems to be happy too. And free.

xray of foot in 3 inch heel

xray of foot in 3 inch heel

These are images of a foot in a three-inch heel with a very narrow toe box, viewed from the top and the side. There is no longer space between foot bones at the proximal end. The great toe is deviating in towards the others and a bunion is forming before your very eyes. All of the toes are smashed together and none of them are extending to their full lengths, but are shoved up against an unforgiving toe box. I see Morton’s neuroma, which is a thickening of tissue around the nerve between the third and fourth toes that causes pain and numbness, in this gal’s future. A narrow toe box, like this one, pushes the smaller toes into a bent position at the middle joint and eventually their muscles become unable to straighten. Can you say hammertime hammertoes?

And oh that heel. That glorious goriest heel. The bones of your feet are small and frail, like bird wings. Luckily, your foot is a biomechanical genius, madly engineered so that it can support and locomote you even with its small bird parts. But, those bones were designed to lie flat, not inclined to nearly 90 degrees. That changes everything. The list of conditions and degenerations caused by alignment-altering positive heels is so long, I can’t bear to type it, so I will hit some highlights: excess forces on the inner knee (as much as 26% higher for high heels) causing osteoarthritis; misaligned pelvis, hips and spine; increased pressure on the forefoot, which is a main ingredient for creating bunions, plantar fasciitis, and metatarsalgia; shortened calf muscles; Morton’s neuroma; achilles tendon and heel pain; pump bump; calluses, corns, and greater risk for sprained or broken ankles.

Understand that this x-ray is showing only bones and not flesh, so this crammed foot is an even hotter mess than the imaging shows.  This is a foot in danger of lifelong pain and perfectly positioned to wreak havoc on the rest of the body, particularly the positioning and viability of the pelvic floor. The wearer of this shoe better have some adult diapers on hand, cause she’s gonna need em.

If you think this post does not apply to you because you do not wear high heels, I guarantee that unless you intentionally chose a zero drop or negative heel that your “flat shoes” have a positive heel. The average athletic shoe has a minimum 1 inch heel. And as the function fashion pendulum is beginning to swing away from “barefoot” shoes, the trend is for even higher heeled athletic shoes. And speaking of fashion? Who designs shoes with toe boxes more narrow than most toe sets? Who? Who?? Uh, almost every shoe maker on the planet. Shoes that don’t fit the width of our feet abound. While your resulting conditions and issues may not end up as as severe as the wearer of a 3 inch heel, chronic wearing of any heel higher than your bare foot will eventually lead to foot problems. It’s been proven by the largest, unplanned, completely natural study ever conducted. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, the majority of Americans (77%) have experienced foot pain and half of all adults say that foot pain has restricted activities like walking, exercising, working, or playing.

This is a tale of two feet. Which do you choose?

xray comparison of feet

xray comparison of feet

I credit the xray images to Theresa Perales, DPM, from a recorded presentation.

Namaste, Michele