“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Referring to the integral structure of any construction – the foundation, Henry David Thoreau could have easily been writing about yoga. Much like the foundation of a house, the foundation of a pose – the feet – play an indispensable role in the integrity and stability of an asana. For a house, the foundation provides the base that supports the weight of the entire structure, transferring its weight onto the earth and providing support for its staggering weight. Our feet do the same thing in yoga. Build your pose upon a weak foundation, and you will teeter at best, chase after an elusive balance, and deprive yourself of the deepest expressions available to you in a pose.
Building the foundation of your pose should be your first and, perhaps, most important task when you step onto the mat. When we root deeply and surrender, trusting that the earth will support us, we are able to rise and expand upward. The exercise of rooting into the earth connects us with Apana-Vayu, the grounding and descending force in the body that governs the elimination of toxic energies. Like almost every other aspect of yoga, the subtle act of rooting down doesn’t just happen; it has to be cultivated.
Many yoga practitioners must first re-educate their feet. Think about it: feet are engineering marvels that on any typical day, are misused. These narrow planks of 28 bones and deeply connected muscles are expertly designed to carry our weight, balance us, and propel us in motion. We emerged out of caves to roam the land, running with impressive speed and power over all types of terrain. Over the millennia, however, we managed to marginalize our feet, at times squeezing them for hours into tight, pointy, high-heeled shoes, denying them the benefit of walking unimpeded by shoes. When we stop calling upon every muscle and bone in the foot to do its job, they, over time, simply stop doing their job.
Yoga teachers often see their students trying to “fix” the pose once they’ve come into it. Usually, by then, it’s too late. If the mistake is in the foundation, it will only get worse. Whatever misalignment is happening at the foot level will only radiate upwards on the skeletal stack. You often hear yoga teachers cue students to root into the heel and the big toe mound. Those are powerful tips.
Here are a few simple steps to build the strength of your feet and a powerful foundation:
1.) Spend time in your bare feet every day. As much as possible, even in the winter, walk in your bare feet.
2.) Fan out your toes and flex the arches. Point and flex; do that several times. Notice all the other muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints getting into the action: the achilles, the tibialis anterior, soleus and gastrocnemius.
3.) In standing yoga poses, root into the center point of the heel bone, and radiate the energy from that point outward through the inner arch to the big toe, across to the little toe and back to the heel via the outer edge of the foot. You will begin to feel the incredible power that the earth returns to you in your solid, stable, rooted pose.
5.) Cultivate a strong Tadasana, and practice it often.
6.) Get a foot massage…or give one to yourself!
Consciously integrate your feet back into your life and your yoga. Build your pose, like your practice, on a solid foundation. You will experience true expansion.