‘Amanda you’re obsessed with feet’, one of my students said to me the other day. It’s true I am fascinated by feet – every day I spend time feeling how weight travels into and through my own feet. I do this as I go about my daily activities – not just in my yoga practice. I have so called ‘flat feet’. I think what people mean when they talk about ‘flat feet’ is a foot without a discernible arch. I’ve long been aware that the wear on my shoes and my wet footprints show that weight is distributed clearly through heel/outer edge of foot and ball of foot. This suggests there is definitely an arch even if it isn’t especially visible. So things are not what they seem. If you’re interested in your own feet you could begin by inspecting the wear on the soles of your shoes and have a look at your wet foot prints. Notice if there’s any difference between one foot and the other.
On a recent training with Amy Matthews, I learned that a ‘well organised’ foot is a healthy foot. A foot with a high arch may not necessarily be well organised or healthy. A so called ‘flat foot’ can be a healthy foot if it is well organised. For healthy walking we need to get weight from heel strike, through bones at the outer edge of the foot (heel foot) thence in a spiral through to the middle/inner bones of the foot (ankle foot) for pushing off. The bones of the ‘heel foot’ include the calcaneus (heel bone), the cuboid, the 4th and 5th metatarsals and phalanges (see diagram below). The bones of the ‘ankle foot’ include the talus, the cuneiforms, the navicular and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd metatarsals and phalanges. Ideally in standing, walking etc. the talus bone will sit nicely atop the calcaneus without slipping inwards.
People who develop bunions are often made to feel it is their own fault for wearing unsuitable shoes. It’s true that some shoes will exacerbate a tendency towards bunions, but usually they arise from a pattern of walking and standing that allows too much weight to travel into the ‘ankle foot’. The talus may tend to ‘slip’ a little inwards off of the calcaneus, weight tends to fall more towards the bones of the inner foot, then the big toe and second toe begin to abduct (move away from midline). The little sesamoid bones – which should protect the joint between the big toe bones and the first metatarsal – start to move away from their supportive position as the toes abduct. The result is a painful big toe joint. Our bones can change shape according to how we use them, so over time, the joint begins to distort and the characteristic bunion protruberance begins to manifest.
In the video below, I suggest various exercises for your feet. In order to make changes to the pathways of weight into your feet, you will need to dedicate yourself to gaining of awareness and practice of the exercises. There is no quick fix but change is possible.
First of all massage your feet and get to know them. Find the location of your foot bones – all twenty six of them (twenty eight, if you count the little sesamoid bones under the first metatarsal). Your toes are called phalanges. The longer bones that you can trace in the top of your foot are called metatarsals. There’s a little bump on the inside of the foot that is part of the navicular bone. Across the top of the foot are the cuneiforms. The cuboid is kind of cube shaped and is located towards the outer part of your foot. The talus bone is difficult to feel but you may be able to locate it if you relax your foot and press into the front of your ankle. (see video). The heel bone is called the calcaneus – it’s the biggest bone of the foot and an easy one to locate.
Next begin to practise moving your foot (plus toes if you can manage it) in towards the midline (adduction) and away from the midline (abduction). Then as you adduct your foot, roll it towards the outer edge (inversion). As you abduct your foot, roll it towards the inner edge (eversion). Next add dorsiflexion to adduction and inversion. And add plantar flexion (ankle joint extension) to abduction and eversion. Practise going between these two patterns. If you tend towards having bunions or ‘flat feet’ , you may need to focus a little more on adduction + inversion + dorsiflexion. If you have a foot problem that involves a lack of mobility/stiffness and maybe a high arch, you may need to focus a little more on the abduction + eversion + plantar flexion pattern.
When you’re ready, move to standing and pause – notice how your feet feel now. Where do you feel weight in your feet? Do you notice a difference between your left and right foot regarding the sensation of weight? Next, see if you can extend the toes (interphalangeal joints) but flex at the joints between the toes and the metatarsals (metatarsophalangeal joints). Then see if you can lift your big toes and press down with the other toes. Follow this with pressing down the big toes and lifting the other toes. Practise going between the two movements a few times. If these movements seem impossible – visualise them happening – in time this usually works!
To align your foot for standing – now catch your right little toe to the floor, fan the toes, bring the ball of your right foot to the floor and then the heel. As you do this, aim to bring the talus bone nicely atop of the calcaneus. Repeat with your left foot. There’s more on this in my previous blog ‘Footwork – how to align the feet’.
Finally begin the Figure of Eight exercise – with feet about hip width apart, bring weight into your right heel, then shift weight to the base of your right little toe, then to the base of your big toe. Then shift weight across to your left heel, shift weight to the base of your left little toe, then to the base of the left big toe and then back to the right heel again. Continue. When you feel satisfied with this part of the inquiry, move your feet a little wider. Then, as you bring weight onto your right foot, bend your knee, transition through the points on that foot and push a little to send weight over to the left foot and continue…… See if you can feel the figure of eight move through your legs and into your pelvis, ultimately into your upper body so that the movement feels like a dance. When you feel almost done, begin to make the movements smaller again until eventually you become still. Pause and notice how your feet feel now. How do your feet and the rest of your body feel in relationship to the earth? I hope you’ll get as much pleasure from feeling your relationship to the earth through the soles of your feet, as I do!