Get Grounded- Interview with Beth Rigbybeth | August 1, 2007
Yoga Fit Magazine, August 2007
by Mathhew Solan
Feet First- Get Grounded By Focussing on Your Feet
Your feet are the only body part that remains in constant contact with the Earth. They are on the go from your first step out of bed through the 10,000-plus steps the average persona takes daily, more if you add time spent pounding the treadmill, cutting on the court, hiking the trail, or just dancing the night away.
Most people don’t notice their feet. That is until they hurt even a little, or worse, suffer from an ankle sprain or twist. It sends out a ripple effect. Your active lifestyle comes to a screeching halt and even the slightest movement can make your entire body ache. Even Socrates understood this —”when our feet hurt, we hurt all over,” he once said. Smart man that Socrates.
If you could look inside your feet, you’d wonder why they ever trip you up. Your feet were made for walking. They hold 25 percent of your body’s bones; 26 in each foot along with 33 muscles, 31 joints, and more than 100 ligaments. That’s a strong supporting cast. They help flex your feet up towards the knee; point the toes away from you; and rotate them in and out. It supports your entire body whenever you walk, run, jump, or just stand around. But all that supports means little if you are not fully grounded, says Kripalu Yoga teacher Beth Rigby. Being grounded is what separates from being a light foot and having two left ones.
“When your are fully grounded and have greater body awareness, you are more mindful, you are less likely to injury yourself because you are in-tuned to how your body moves,” says Rigby. “You might be jumping around playing tennis, but if you know how your feet move and where they should be, you’re less likely to take a tumble. It’s when your mind gets outside the body that you can get into trouble.”
You could say that Rigby is grounded most of the time. A former gymnast and cheerleader, Rigby now teaches Yoga Meets Dance, an offshoot of Kripalu DansKinetics, which blends yoga, meditation, and guided movement. She’s never had a foot or ankle injury during her life except during those moments when she’s “goofing around” and not fully grounded. Ironically, these moments have never occurred on a balance beam, school gym, or yoga mat.
Her latest stumble took place last year when she sprained her ankle while running to her car. “I just wasn’t mindful of my movement and what I was doing,” she says. For three weeks she hobbled around on crutches with a bad sprain. When the swelling went down, she began the process of getting her foot back in action and restoring her feeling of being grounded. She turned to the best medicine she knew: her yoga practice.
One Small Step
The road to foot recovery: focus first on mobility and then strength.
Mobility: Mobility is simply to get the foot and ankle used to moving and twisting again. “Gentle walking is a great first step as are series of ankle circles, point and flex exercises, and the foot and simple squats, where you keep your heels flat on the floor to help strengthen your feet’s muscles as well as the toes and lower legs,” says Rigby. (See “Step Lively” for more instruction.) Virasana (Hero Pose) and Balasana (Child’s Pose) are also great mobility-building poses. Both work to stretch the top of the foot and ankle while toning the sole of the foot. Overtime, these pose can help better spread the toes to increase more equal contact with the ground. Once you can comfortably place weight on your foot, you can begin strengthening.
Strength: Almost any balancing pose is ideal for building foot and ankle strength, says Rigby, in particular the old reliables Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and Vrkasana (Tree Pose). Rigby likes Tadasana because “it teaches you to equally distribute your weight across both feet, so you understand the sensation of being firmly grounded with your feet reaching into the Earth,” she says. And when you are recuperating from a sprain or other injury, Mountain Pose can help you gauge your recovery. “You’re often scared about putting pressure on your hurt foot. But in Mountain Pose you know immediately if you’re favoring it or not. You can feel how your foot is healing on a daily basis. When you feel fully engaged in the pose, you can begin to trust the healing process.”
Once you feel safe balancing on two feet you can move to one foot. Tree Pose is a popular balancing pose because it has so many modifications almost anyone can do it, says Rigby. You can bring your foot to the ankle, inner thigh, or for more of a challenge stand, on a block. Your hands can stay in namaste position or reach your arms overhead to show your branches. You can even use a wall for support. But most of all, one-legged balance poses teach you how to remain mindful about your body. “It’s almost impossible to stay balance on one leg if you’re thinking about grocery shopping,” says Rigby. As you progress, and your feet become stronger and suppler, you can deepen your body awareness with more challenging one-leggers, such as Garudasana (Eagle Pose) and Virabadrasana III (Warrior III Pose). Want to really test how grounded you are? Try to hold them with your eyes closed.
These standing poses also teach proper feet alignment where you equally ground though the four corners of the feet — the big toe mound, the baby toe mound, the inner heel and the outer heel — distributing weight evenly between each foot. When you do this your create and a solid foundation for movement. “Your body reflects everything your feet do,” says Rigby. “When your feet are in proper alignment, so is your body.” You won’t be caught off-balance and you’ll be more prepared for sudden stops, twists, and turns. You’ll be so in-tune with your body that you won’t even notice your feet anymore.
“Always wake up your feet before your yoga practice or any activity,” says Kripalu Yoga teacher Beth Rigby. Here are some simple warm up exercises to follow. Also you them to refresh tired feet and help increase mobility and if you are recovering from a sprain or other injury.
Point and Flex: From Tadasana, point your toes away from the body and flex the foot several times by drawing the toes towards the body. This creates mobility in the ankle as well as strengthening the muscles of the feet and ankle.
Ankle Circles: Slowly take the ankle in circles in both directions, clockwise and counter-clockwise. This action stretches and strengthens the foot and ankle muscles while maintaining mobility in the ankle and foot joints.
Interlace Fingers Between Toes: From a seated position, interlace your fingers between your toes. This stretches the muscles of the toes and allows them to spread, which increases more balanced contact with the ground.
Tennis Ball Roll: Roll the entire sole of the foot back and forth over a tennis ball. This helps to warm up the feet, release any tension, and regain fluidity.
Marble Pickups: Place several marbles on the floor near a cup. Keeping your heel on the floor, pick up the marbles with your toes and drop them in the cup. This strengthens the foot muscles and promotes using your toes as individual entities as opposed to a group.