Cold feet?

Our feet are essential for balance, grounding, forming the foundation of many postures and helping us to work into even more.  With bare feet we can spread our toes and the proprioceptors in the foot can send more accurate messages to our brain regarding our balance and position in space.  As the weight shifts from the inside to the outside edge of the foot so the effort required of the different toes varies.

Our feet are meant to be triangular in shape, with the toes splaying out so the foot is widest at the tips of the toes.  Unfortunately wearing shoes tends to bring the toes inwards, however careful we are, changing the shape of the foot over time.  Even socks can restrict the movement of the toes, particularly when they contain lycra, as so many do nowadays.  When did you last let your toes out for a good wiggle?

All this means that in our yoga practice it can be beneficial to work barefoot. It helps us to see how we are using the feet in our different postures and gives our toes a break from wearing shoes and socks.  These days we generally work with a sticky mat, but the benefits of this can be lost if we wear socks.  Relaxing into a posture is that much easier if you are not trying desperately to prevent your feet from slipping inside your socks.

If you are wary of removing your socks for fear of getting chilly feet then treat yourself to a pair of yoga socks, shaped for individual toes and with little rubber grips on the bottom for traction on your mat or the floor.  My Yoga-Mad Half Toesox have become the one piece of kit I couldn’t live without.  You can get fun brightly coloured ones or more sedate black, with peep toes or enclosed toes.  Why not give them a try?

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Learning from injury

When our body is working well we may not pay it much attention, but even the slightest injury can increase our awareness of the role of the injured body part in our overall well-being and state of mind.  I once managed to break (I think) my little toe, right at the start of the autumn term.

The next few weeks gave me a great learning opportunity. When part of the body is injured, other parts will try to compensate and may be hurt themselves along the way.  Depending on the injury, we may need to rest or perhaps movement will help the healing process.  Either way, there is invariably something to be learned from the experience.

For such a tiny part of the body, the little toe has a major role to play in balance, as the weight shifts across the foot during balancing postures.  Being unable to stand comfortably on one foot really made me appreciate how important that little toe is!  It also made me reach for a support…which led to my second realisation.

When we do our balances using a support, the work needed in the foot is significantly reduced and as a knock-on effect, less effort is needed higher up, in the core muscles that help to stabilise the body.  By continuing to use a support for balances, the foot will not be encouraged to develop the strength and flexibility needed to provide a good foundation for our postures and as a result, our ability to balance will not improve.  If we struggle with standing balances this is indeed a catch 22 situation!  For this reason, I always encourage people to try and balance without a support, however wobbly they may be.  It is only by being prepared to move outside our comfort zone that we can grow and develop in our practice.

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