Three things you can do for your feet today

As a yoga and movement teacher, I am concerned with feet and I see a lot of them. One characteristic that most of the feet I observe share is a crammed, congested appearance of the toes. When I witness this, I know that I am in the presence of feet that are shod (in shoes) much of the time and in shoes that are least like the shape of a foot with features intended to “support” their feet. At best, such feet are tired and sore at the end of the day or painful all day for some poor soles. These feet are developing bunions, nerve damage, degenerative changes, and other painful and potentially debilitating conditions. If you want to begin improving your feet today, do these three things.

1) Take off your shoes. The #1 best thing you can do for and with your feet is to walk barefoot outside on natural, non-groomed terrain. Walking barefoot places the parts of your foot – toes, arch, heel  – in an optimal, biomechanically pleasing relationship to each other. Walking and moving around barefooted strengthens the parts of your feet that need to be strong or stiff and improves mobility and flexibility in areas that need it. Walking barefoot affords your feet the best chance of achieving functional, healthy patterns of movement. In contrast,  as soon as you put on a shoe that changes the geometry of your foot, its parts and everything north of them are no longer working as they were designed.

But, before you go running out the door and into the woods naked and unshod, you must understand that if you’ve been wearing shoes most of the time, your feet are not conditioned for the requirements of hiking in the woods without shoes, much less walking out to the mailbox in your jammies & socks. I grew up in Tennessee, where we don’t wear shoes and I have been practicing yoga for over 15 years, thus have spent a lot of time barefoot. Yet, it took me a year of foot exercises and graded exposure to be able to hike outside barefoot as an adult. It could take you longer, but is truly worth the effort.

footlovecover

Here is a 12 month progressive timeline to prepare your feet for more barefoot time. Adjust as needed for your feet and demands of your environment and season. Each month, start with minimal exposure to the new terrain – a few minutes, a few times per day and gradually increase duration and/or frequency.

Month 1: Start wearing thin soled slippers around your house for a few minutes at a time, a few times a day. Gradually increase duration and/or frequency.

Month 2: Start substituting thick socks for your slippers.

Month 3: Start spending barefoot time on carpeted areas of your home.

Month 4: Start making barefoot forays into your yard.

Month 5: Start spending barefoot time on linoleum in your house.

Month 6: Start spending barefoot time on mulched areas of your yard.

Month 7: Start spending barefoot time on wood floors in your house.

Month 8: Start spending barefoot time on asphalt/concrete.

Month 9: Start spending spending time on tile/stone flooring in your house.

Month 10: Start doing appropriate outdoor tasks barefoot – gardening, raking leaves, playing with the dog…

Month 11: Start taking walks in a park or on a hiking trail with varied terrain.

Month 12:  Start taking walks around your neighborhood, varying time spent on the edges of neighbor’s yards and on the street/sidewalks.

2) Wear these socks. Toe alignment socks are a perfect companion to more barefoot time. These socks position your toes into more natural alignment, providing gentle stretching to toes that have been crammed into shoes all day. They provide light traction (repositioning) for big toes that no longer lie straight and lesser toes that are trying to crawl on top of their mates.

Amazon sells several brands, like this one.

Flesser® Yoga Sports GYM Five Toe Separator Socks Alignment Pain Health Massage Socks (Pink)

Or, if you are in Yakima, you can save yourself the wait and shipping and buy them from me at Dr. Kara Lolley’s office. We are a reseller for the original foot alignment socks from My-Happy feet, pictured below.

029

3) Massage with a ball. I have most of my clients use a ball to massage their feet. If you come to see me with a shoulder problem, rest assured that I will craft a movement program that appropriately loads your shoulder and there is a good chance that I’ll have you roll your foot on a ball!   I prefer a racquet ball, although a tennis ball is OK too. I use a specific ball rolling protocol, when giving clients exercises for their feet. Here is one method from my protocol.

Stand with your feet pelvis width distance apart. Place the ball of one of your feet onto the racquet ball, keeping your heel in contact with the floor. Allow your weight to fully rest on the ball. If sensation is too much, shift some of your weight into the other leg. The motion you will make with your foot on the ball resembles the wiping motion that you would make with your hand if you were polishing a car or wiping a mirror. Slowly scrub the racquet ball side to side with the ball of your foot, as if you were trying to clean the floor with it  – a movement of foot abduction and adduction if you want to get technical. Remember to keep your heel down. This is a very slow motion. Eventually you should work the ball forward so that the scrubbing motion separates your toes as your foot moves the ball.

staticball3

Scrubbing with a tennis ball

May your feet be well. May your feet be happy. May your feet be free from suffering.

Namaste, Michele

What is Squatting Good For?

023

I instructed variations of Malasana or full squatting in my yoga class last night. We followed these with what is often described as a supine squat aka Ananda Balasana aka Happy Baby pose. A student asked me to remind her why squatting is good and why in that supine variation. I replied with just one of many reasons why frequent squatting is not only good, but necessary – it keeps your pelvic floor appropriately toned and at its optimal length to support the weight of your pelvic and abdominal organs; and to efficiently regulate the opening and closing of your elimination and sex muscles. When these functions are malfunctioning, incontinence and organ prolapse occur.

Picture the muscles of your pelvic floor like a hammock between your pubis (pubic bone) and sacrum (lowest section of spine). That hammock needs a certain amount of tautness to serve its functions. Such tautness is achieved when the sacrum is a certain length from the pubis. We do many things in life that shorten the distance between the pubis and sacrum, causing slack in the pelvic floor hammock. The human body will not allow  muscles to remain slack, but instead will take up this slack by contracting or shortening the slacking muscles. A hypertonic pelvic floor muscle is a weak muscle.  If you, like many people, habitually tuck your tailbone under as a conscious or subconscious postural choice; if you are a butt squeezer/clencher for “fitness” reasons; if you’re a yogi who drops your tailbone at the drop of a cue; if you sit more on your tailbone than your sitting bones in your car or on cushioned furniture – couches, love seats, easy chairs, recliners, futons, etc. – then you are moving your sacrum/coccyx forward into your pelvic area and shortening its length from your pubis. Over time, the result of this positioning of your sacrum in relation to your pubis will cause your pelvic floor to malfunction.

There are two simple but not necessarily easy ways to bring your pelvic floor back to the right length. First, change how you position your skeleton by creating a neutral pelvis, using bony markers as guidance. Line up your pubic symphysis (the prominent bony center of your pubis where the two halves of your pelvis meet) with your pelvic bones aka anterior superior iliac spines (ASIS) evenly in the frontal plane. I describe how it looks in three orientations:

  • When standing with these bones even in the frontal plane, if you pressed your pelvis against a wall, your pubis and ASIS would both be touching the wall. If your pubis touched first, then you are posteriorly tilting your pelvis and moving your sacrum deeper into the pelvic cavity. You are butt tucking.
  • When supine, you could lay a board on your pelvis and, assuming your could move the flesh out of the way, all three bony markers would be flush to the board. If only your pubis is touching, then you are tucking your butt and will also notice that this results in a flattening of your lower spine against the floor.
  • When prone, the three bony markers will be pressing evenly into the floor. If your pubis is pressing more than your pelvic bones, then you have moved your sacrum/coccyx forward.

Picture-316

This image, borrowed from my teacher Katy Bowman, shows a side view of the pelvis. The orange line represents the wall, board, or floor in the above examples. You can see how the pelvic bone and the pubis are positioned in relationship to each other in the frontal plane. You can also imagine how a butt tuck would send the tailbone deeper into pelvic space, causing the pubis to push forward of the ASIS. This would shorten the pelvic hammock.

Picture-225-121x300

In this image, also borrowed from KB by way of Leonardo da Vinci, shows a neutral pelvis in relation of the rest of the lower skeleton. Note how the lower of the orange dots at the front of the pelvis would come forward if this skeleton were to tuck its butt, taking these bone markers out of neutral alignment.

The second way to optimize the length of your pelvic floor muscles is the increase the strength of your gluteal muscles. Because of how/where your glutes attach to your pelvis, these muscles, when they are strong and fully innervated, will keep your sacrum pulled back out of your pelvis maintaining proper pelvic floor muscle tone and length – provided you are not undermining them by tucking your butt or posteriorly tilting your pelvis.

Frequent squatting – multiple times per day, throughout your day – will train your sacrum to stay where it belongs and will strengthen your gluteal muscles. How can you add more squatting to your day?

  • The best way I know is to build or install a squatting platform over your toilet. I installed Nature’s Platform in my bathroom and now I squat  a minimum of how many times per day that I eliminate.

    Nature's Platform

    Nature’s Platform

  • I use a standing work station to write & study and take frequent squatting breaks, in addition to my bathroom squatting breaks
  • Squat to perform household tasks – even if it’s just for a minute. I bring the cutting board onto the kitchen floor and squat when I chop veggies; I squat  when folding clothes; I squat when pulling weeds; I squat when I’m sitting on the floor reading.
  • Add squats to your yoga practice or fitness routine

There are lots of variations in squatting and i do them all. If I am going into malasana or full bathrooming-type squat (not on my squatting platform because the back of the toilet inhibits this), I try to keep my shins vertical to the ground, my spine in neutral, and my tail untucked for as long as I can, but at some point as I get lower to the ground, my tail will tuck. If I am not going into a full squat, I work on the vertical shins, neutral spine, and really use my gluts to power lowering into and rising out of the squat.

Malasana or bathrooming squat

Malasana or bathrooming squat

Butt building squat

Butt building squat

029

Back to my student last night and Happy Baby, which appears like a supine squat, but is technically not a squat at all. Most yogis get it wrong in terms of the bony markers discussed above. Most posteriorly tilt their pelves, tuck their coccyges – which in the supine orientation would present as lifting the tailbone off of the ground, and flatten their lower backs. To achieve some of the benefits of the squat and as a good way to train your body away from this malalignment in prone postures, try to keep your tailbone down and your pubis and ASIS even in the frontal plane. I find it is easier to achieve this one leg at a time as in half happy baby pose.

Namaste, Michele

Prop Review – Alignment aka Toe (Spreading) Socks

If you’ve been to my Facebook page, you’ll have seen toe socks on my cover photo. I’m not referring to socks with little glove fingers in them, but socks like this:

029

Alignment socks are a great way to passively stretch your toes after they’ve been casted in shoes all day, particularly shoes with tight toe boxes that don’t allow your toes much mobility. Tight toe boxes don’t have to feel tight. Remember the tracing I made of my foot from matting paper earlier this week? I was unable to slide it into one of my favorite shoes because the stiff card stock would not yield or deform the way my foot does when I slide it into my shoe. This tells me 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.

When you don’t have time to perform the manual toe stretching and strengthening exercises I’ll be sharing on this blog, or you’ve already done them, then put on a pair of alignment socks. You can wear them for hours, while sitting or sleeping (not really meant to be walked in), to separate, stretch, and properly align your toes.

The Original Foot Alignment Socks can be had here for about $20

For quite a bit less money, around $6.00 a pair, you could try these from Amazon

Women’s Large/Men’s

Women’s Medium

Yep, I’ll be needing these socks after wearing these shoes…

cut out tracing of my foot

cut out tracing of my foot

does not fit into my shoe.

does not fit into my shoe.

Namaste, Michele