Sunday, March 6, 2011

Yoga Gems #2: Winged-Feet

Find the wings in your feet to generate lift and lightness in your poses…

In high school a girlfriend once called me a macropod.  This is a very large word to come from the mouth of a 13 year old.  I am sure I had to go and look it up in the dictionary later that day, but her father was a journalist and she was pretty good with words so I would not be surprised if was just part of her vernacular.
I cannot recall precisely what it said under the definition of macropod but there was an example.   That example was something to do with kangaroos.  Now, she was not trying to tell me I had a pouch or a tendency to hop around.  Not even that I had long pointy ears.  No, she was referring to my enormous feet; macropods are basically any of the marsupials belonging to the kangaroo family and the word itself comes from the latin “big foot”. [As an interesting aside I just found out some cool things about kangaroos here]
How could I be angry at her?  She was just telling the truth and, besides, she was a good friend. 
The thing about my big feet is that I am probably not tall enough for them.  Most people are surprised when they find out my shoe size.  It is incredible (but true) that my feet have been this size since I was about 12 and I think what must have happened is my body spent so much energy on growing my feet that when it came time to start growing other things it had simply run out of energy so I ended up a short big-footed person.  This was highlighted to me again this week when I found two other kindred macropods in my yoga class with the same foot size as me (hard to find) but who are a good few inches taller.  I’d like to just stop for a moment to make the point that we don’t normally go around comparing body parts in our yoga classes but we somehow got to talking about our feet after class in a spate of wind-down girl-y chatter. 
In any case, apart from being large, my feet are naturally fairly flat.  Now there are a lot of us flat-footers out there in the world and I have heaps of them in my yoga classes.  But I have found that even the flattest of feet has the capacity to cultivate an arch.  And this is important because the arch gives us lift through the entire body.  If you let your weight collapse onto the inside of the foot you will feel a sinking rather than lifting sensation and there is no yoga pose that I can think of where you want to feel like you are sinking. 
Cultivating the arch in your foot is hard if you are not used to it, but it is worth the effort because you will ultimately have a much better foundation for all of your yoga poses.  In the movie I have posted below you can see very clearly what happens to my ankles and knees when my arches collapse.  There is no doubt that there would be effects in my hips, spine and even shoulders and my body collapses in on itself. 
Apart from seeing what happens if you don't have an arch, I show a few tips for cultivating good yoga feet.  Once you start to understand the feeling of lift in your feet you then need to practice mindful walking and mindful standing off the yoga mat to bring this little yoga practice into your daily life.  This is why I have called it a yoga gem—because it should be practiced every day and become a natural part of your life.
My feet are still flat, but these days I never stand or walk with them that way as it feels just awful.  I truly believe that learning to cultivate my arches through practice and mindfulness has helped solve some of the knee problems that I used to have.   From a young age I was prescribed orthotics to help correct some of my foot problems.  They helped a little but my feet were still ‘lazy’.  About the time I started practicing yoga I also threw out my orthotics and my feet feel better than ever.  Use the tips below to see if you can find the lift in your own two feet.  I can’t promise that you will fly, but maybe one day…

Generate Lift By Creating Spirals
The two key actions shown in the movie to help you cultivate your arches are:
1)      Create an outward spiral from the inner ankle, across the front of the shin and up towards the outer calf muscle;
2)      Create an inward spiral from the outer ankle across the top of the foot to the mound of the big toe.
The outward spiral creates the lift, the inward spiral connects you back to the ground. 
This can be a very tricky thing to get at first, especially if the feet are a bit lazy.  There are all sorts of instructions you can try to help.  I show one of these in the movie. 
First, start on the outside edges of your feet and really lift up the insides of your feet so they do not touch the ground (outward spiral). 
Second, spread wide across the ball of your feet and then try to pull your toes back to your shins.  This will help cultivate an arch. 
Third, place the mound of the big toe down while still staying on the outer edge of the foot and drawing the toes back (inward spiral).  You can then place the toes down carefully without dropping the inner arch of the foot.
Most people can do steps 1 and 2, but have trouble putting the mound of the big toe down without collapsing the arch.  At first many people try to keep the arch and will just put the tip of their toe down and won’t really connect through the mound, but this is not enough.  You will not be stable.  You really have to press that big toe mound down firmly.  Push it down with your fingers if you like. 
Once you are practiced in this you can do it in reverse, starting by grounding down through the mound of the big toe (inward spiral) and then creating the outward spiral.  The only problem with this is that if your feet are a bit lazy you won’t know how to create that outward spiral at first so you might have to go back the steps described above until your feet “get” what you are trying to do.  Quite often you can just go through those steps on one foot and then the other foot will understand by itself and automatically lift the arch. 
Finally, it is important to remember that whether or not you have flat feet, you need to always be mindful of cultivating the feeling of lift in your arches in all of your poses, especially, but not limited to, standing postures where the full weight of your body is on your feet.    
Wishing you wings on your feet!


  1. Hi Samantha, your work is wonderful. You are taking your yoga teaching to new heights. Congratulations!!! Upali

  2. Hi Samantha, even if I'm so far away in Tchad I have my mat, my experience I got in your classes with me and I'm enjoying reading your blog, watching the videos and experimenting afterwards! Thanks so much.

    Take care, helene

  3. Hey Upali! Hi Helene!

    Hope you are still enjoying your practice and that we will get to share some yoga in person again one day!