“My daughter has flat feet” a trainee said on a recent Yogacampus training module on the feet and legs. I urged him to find another way to describe his little girl’s feet – especially to her. When people talk about flat feet, they probably mean collapsed arches with a shift of weight to the inside of the foot. It’s true that this foot pattern can lead to pain in the feet and/or knees, but the term ‘flat feet’ seems to have derogatory connotations – as if those with high arches are the superior people! Alexander Lowen, in his book Bioenergetics, writes that his mother was rather obsessed with the height of his arches when he was a child. He differed from his mother on this topic. By the time he wrote the book he said: “I did not have the high arches that would have made my mother happy….I have worked on myself bio-energetically and tried to get my feet more fully in contact with the ground by flattening them out.” Lowen had deduced that the height of the arch did not determine the health of the foot. My teacher Amy Matthews says that what’s important is how well organised the foot is – how well the pathway of weight can travel through the foot in a functional way.
Besides Lowen’s mother, another ”flat foot’ decrier is Ken Dychtwald. A passage from his book Bodymind, used to be pre-reading for Standing Poses on Yogacampus teacher trainings. Dychtwald says: “Flat feet indicate a ‘hockey-puck’ way of relating to the world, both physically as well as psychologically. The hockey-puck-foot person will skid and slide along the surface of the planet, never quite putting down roots, never quite standing still. …. The disadvantage of this psychosomatic combination is that such a person might have a difficult time staying still in relation to other people and responsibilities.” I never warmed to Dychtwald’s theory, so I used to present the passage to the trainees as a discussion topic. One trainee memorably declared him to be a fascist!
There’s some good stuff in Dychtwald’s book though. I find this a useful image of weight to the sole of the foot:
A common instruction given in yoga classes is: ‘weight to the four corners of the foot’. This will bring some awareness to the feet in asana but there are problems with the instruction. Firstly feet don’t have corners. Secondly, in susceptible people the idea that there should be weight on the inner heel could contribute to a shift of weight to the inner edge of the foot. Three points therefore works better!
Practising Figure of Eight exercise helps students sense these three points. See image on the left showing the pathways of weight in the feet. See video below where I’m demonstrating the exercise.
On the training day mentioned at the start of this piece, we looked at the anatomy of the foot and we explored foot movements. These included: flexion/extension; adduction/abduction; inversion/eversion and how supination and pronation are combinations of these. Specifically: supination involves flexion, adduction and inversion; pronation involves extension, abduction, eversion. Then we added the ankle joint movement of dorsiflexion combined with supination; ankle joint movement of plantar flexion combined with pronation. Sounds complicated? Yet these patterns are present in normal walking – it just goes to show what miracles our feet are! Here’s an idea of what happens: at the point of heel strike, the foot and ankle will involve dorsiflexion with supination. Then weight will ideally move via outer bones of the foot to the base of the little toe, across to the ball of the foot for push off. Pushing off involves an element of plantar flexion with pronation.
Practise the foot movements in the video below, repeat Figure of Eight exercise, then try walking slowly and see if you can sense the patterns. If you find the weight in your feet is tending to skip the outer part of the foot/base of little toe, practise the foot patterns regularly with emphasis on the supination with dorsiflexion position. NB In my video Love the Lumbricals there’s more detailed information that can help organise the feet in asana, plus help with re-patterning.
My colleague Fabiano Culora, who also teaches Experiential Anatomy for Yogacampus, encouraged me to teach the feet and leg module. He knows how I love the feet! My love of the feet goes back a long time and it deepened when I acquired the book ‘Exploring Body-Mind Centering.’ There’s a chapter in there called ‘Lumbrical Movement of the Feet and Hands: Sensory Integration from Core to Periphery’ by Annie Brook. I’d had some awareness of the existence of the intrinsic muscles of the feet and hands – the lumbricals – but this chapter especially intrigued me. I’ve explored lumbrical movement in my yoga practice ever since – how the diaphragms of the feet and hands can support the breath – all the way to the peripheries, with a fluid connection from the hands and feet to the core. In October 2021 I published a video that teaches these practices and also hand and foot patterns. Love the Lumbricals is for anyone interested in improving the functionality of their feet and hands – with a somatic approach. You can find the video here: Love the Lumbricals