Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Toes in Yoga

Photo by Jobi Otso.

The more you practice asana (yoga poses), the more you realize that small things are actually big things. 

Alignment of the limbs... the quality and speed of the breath... engagement of specific muscles...even the difference between looking up or down can make a big difference in how a pose feels, and how much benefit you receive from it.

Photo by Lily Michael Photography. Model is Allie Rae.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the toes in yoga. By engaging and spreading the toes, you can create a stronger base for standing / balancing poses. You draw more muscular support from the rest of the lower leg, which extends a longer line of energy through the body.

In every pose, we seek to draw as much Prana as possible into the body-- more life force, light, healing, and circulation. This extends from the crown of the head all the way down through the toes.

Throughout your practice, your toes should be alive and engaged, not just hanging out! This make a big difference in a lot of poses.

Photo by Cait Loper.

Here are some examples:
  • The toes stabilize during any balancing pose, like Tree. By spreading the toes, you draw more grounded energy up from the earth beneath you. You activate more muscles in your feet, and stabilize the arch more.
  • In the transition from Plank to Chaturanga, rolling over the toes with a unilateral movement helps you maintain correct alignment of the hips and creates the smoothest possible transition in the vinyasa sequence. If you're in the habit of flipping over one foot at a time, check in with your teacher for help re-learning this transition and talking about why the feet should move in unison.
Above photo by Jobi Otso.
  • For balancing poses like Crow and Eight-Limbed pose, activating the feet and toes actually helps draw energy into the core, helping to increase the sense of lift and lightness as you 'fly.' The same goes for headstand and handstand; by activating and flaring the toes, you are creating a longer line of energy from the ground all the way into the part of your body that's extended farthest.

Photo by Justin Kral of Kral Studios.
  • In Prasarita Padottanasana, engagement of the two big toes helps align the pelvis correctly. Engaging the big toe flexors has the added benefit of strengthening the longitudinal arch of the foot, too; in addition to being toe flexors, these muscles are also dynamic stabilizers of the arch. (You can read more about this on The Daily Bandha).
Photo by Brynna Bryant.

It's so important to be aware of your feet and toes during your yoga practice. Wake them up! Spread the toes. Notice the way this draws more energy into your body. Enjoy the added benefits of every pose when your feet are active.

Illustration by Laura Taylor Mark.

Here are some other great articles about how the importance of the feet during yoga:
  • why toes matter, from Yoga Journal; includes information about how healthy feet and toes help prevent inflammatory conditions like bunions and tendinitis 
  • Ever tried Toe Squat? This is a wonderful (and sometimes intense) pose for increasing flexibility in the toes and feet.
  • 5 poses to build balance and stability in Toestand
Cheers to your happy yoga toes!

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