Beerasana is happy to host our friend and student, Dr. Lance Robbins, writing about one of his favorite fetishes. Take it away, Lance.
Toe-Ga: Yoga for Toes and Feet
DR. LANCE ROBBINS
One of my daughter’s favorite diversions is a kid’s yoga game that works the toes. All the anxious kids wait on their mats while the instructor spreads multicolored cotton balls around the room. When she says, “everybody go!” the kids race around the room trying to gather as many of the little fluffy balls that they can and bring them back to their mats. The only catch: they have to pick them up and carry them using only their toes!
As I watch this delightfully simple game my biomechanics brain is hard at work thinking of all the wonderful benefits this will bring for those rarely used intrinsic foor muscles. If I could only get some of my adult clients to participate!
As a chiropractor I have helped many people understand the importance of a healthy spine: about the necessity of dynamic stability, adequate strength, and flexibility throughout their range of motion. This is why so many clients of mine receive yoga and Pilates-based rehabilitation exercises.
However, if there is one thing I have learned it is that the spine does not walk around on its own. Two exceedingly important lower extremity appendages form the primary support and locomotion features of the human body. That support and locomotion starts all the way down at the foot. With simple foot/ankle/toe exercises I find that people need a lot fewer adjustments to maintain pain-free low backs, hips, and knees.
Think about it like this:
If you wrapped your hands up the same way you do your feet from the time you were born until you turn 18, and then I asked you to unwrap your hands and write your name, how well do you think you would do? We have more muscles in our feet than we do in our hands. Now you see why the barefoot movement is sweeping the nation. Although not for everyone, being barefoot has many benefits.
This leads me to another important feature of the feet. During my acupuncture and Kung Fu training we learned that the feet and toes are where we derive energy/Qi from the Earth. A very powerful acupuncture point called Yongquan, Kidney 1 (Bubbling Spring) is directly under the bottom of the foot at the apex of the transverse arch between the 2nd and 3rd metatarsal heads. It is said that this is the point where the Earth Qi enters our body. Through a process the Chinese call ‘Rooting,’ we can tap into this energy to be used throughout our body. Beyond this the Chinese have been teaching for over 2,000 years that the stimulation of Kidney 1 can be valuable for relief of back pain.
So what does all this have to do with Yoga for Toes and Feet you ask? Everything! Yoga poses are a great way of developing our ‘Rooting.’ All you have to do is add a little foot focus to your practice.
Try this on for size… take a short walk down a hallway with your hands and fingers resting in your back pockets so you can get a good feel of those lovely gluteal muscles. As you walk pay attention to what you feel. Now turn around, lift your toes, and keep them lifted as you walk back. What do you feel?
Heehee… I like to call it a butt muscle!
Wait a minute… how did lifting your toes firm up your tush? It’s called kinetic chain muscle activation, my friend. Toe extension facilitates glute function!
Now lets translate that into your practice with a few simple exercises. These come from my friends Drs. Shawn Allen and Ivo Waerlop, collectively known as The Gait Guys.
Once you can perform these two toes exercises in static mountain pose position, try performing them during any of your standing poses to increase the lower kinetic chain muscle activation.
- Tripod Anchor: visualize the 3 points of the tripod on the bottom of the foot (base of 1st and 5th metheads and calcaneus), now try to anchor each point to the ground symmetrically creating a balance of weight throughout.
- Toe Extension: while maintaining the foot tripod created in the first exercise just lift all your toes up. Hold the lift for 30 sec to 1 min. Next try holding them up during simple standing postures.
- Arch Supports: this one requires a little more focus. Start by anchoring the tripod noted above. Next lifting up the toes as you did in the first exercise. Now look down and see how as you lift your toes your arch actually goes up with it. Now comes the hard part—you want to lower all the toes back down straight (that means they can’t be curled). As you lower the toes though YOU HAVE TO KEEP THE ARCH UP! Again start by holding the arch up with the toes down in mountain pose for 30–60 secs. After that try doing it in different poses.
Dr. Lance Robbins is a licensed Chiropractic Physician, Certified Acupuncturist, and Certified Personal Trainer located in downtown St. Petersburg. He owns and operates Chirolates: a multi-disciplinary training studio offering Health Recovery and Performance Enhancement. For more info email: Chirolates@gmail.com or Visit: www.facebook.com/chirolates