Fallen arches, salsa dancing and yoga standing postures

Scott and I enjoyed a 38-hour stay in Toronto this past weekend to catch one day of the Canada Salsa Congress. We got a taste of Zouk, watched mesmerizing dance groups such as Yamulee perform, and danced till 3 a.m. (with me in a — I kid you not — pink-sequined dress).

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about what I learned about feet — specifically, mine (though I hope maybe you’ll discover something about your feet as well).

One of the sponsors of the event was DanceFeet, a Toronto-based custom orthotics operation co-founded by a chiropractor who also happens to be a salsa dancer. I did the free assessment — stepped on the pressure pad they had out, reviewed a computerized map of my steps and did some balancing squat tests.

Prognosis? I have fallen arches. Aka flatfeet. Aka issues with the medial longitudinal arches of my feet.

This didn’t surprise me, since one of my sisters has arch issues. It was actually a relief, because it was the best explanation so far about why I have so much pain when I wear heels.

The one-legged squat test got me thinking beyond salsa on 2 and bachata (please note that we do not look like this when we try bachata — for one thing, we are both wearing shirts), and into the realm of yoga, breath and bandhas: Flatfeet + utthita hasta padangusthasana = Imbalance!

Yes, you need breath. And bandhas. And focus. But sometimes, there’s a straightforward structural issue that requires consideration as well. I just found this thread in which one ashtangi is asking for advice about this:

I have had some problems doing certain standing poses for a while now. I always figured that I wasn’t fully using my bandhas/core strength and that was why I was having trouble. The other day my instructor comes over to me in utthita hasta padangusthasana. She said to ground my big toe and use the arch of my foot to gain balance. The problem is I don’t have an arch.

Today during my practice, I took my Dansko shoes (with arch support) and tried to do the pose with one shoe on, AND IT WORKED. I was able to balance and bring my leg out to the side, look over my shoulder and not lose balance.

During the assessment I took over the weekend, I was told to stand on one of DanceFeet’s custom orthotics to do a one-legged squat — and, like the experience this person had, it felt much more stable to me. Yesterday during my practice, I did an experiment and tried folding over the edge of my rug and placing that under the inner arch (or lack thereof, I guess) of my foot in order to achieve a similar effect. The posture felt slightly more stable, but there have to be better solutions, right?

Bandha Yoga offers this breakdown of the foot, and discusses how you can use your toes and certain muscles to deepen and strengthen arches.

Thank you, salsa dancing, for leading me to this insight. I’m still in investigation mode with this information and want to know if anyone else has worked through fallen arch issues in standing poses. Do you have any advice you can share?

(P.S. — In the short time we were in Toronto, I managed to sneak out long enough to take a led class at Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto. It was much needed. I picked up David Robson’s Learn to Float DVD while I was there, and I have a feeling I will be offering it up during a giveaway contest this holiday. 😉 )

(Photo credit: Top: “Dancing Feet” by Jonathan Chen via Flickr Creative Commons. Second image: Via BandhaYoga.com.)

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5 thoughts on “Fallen arches, salsa dancing and yoga standing postures

  1. I love that you discovered this at a Salsa event in one of my most favorite cities! I also have arch issues. While yoga has made my foot stronger, I struggle with my one legged postures–they had been my nemesis for good reason! I have moved into a new realm of acceptance. Sometimes we just have to accept the limitations our bodies have to offer, stop looking to master a posture and learn to modify and be. A little nuturing goes a long way! :)

  2. I too have one-legged balancing struggles! But, not because I have fallen arches, rather, I have very ‘bowed’ legs. So I tend to lean more into the outside edge of my standing foot causing my arch to lift too much to the point of tilting; and adding to the imbalance is the fact that I’ve had arthroscopic surgery resulting in 30% less medial meniscus in both knees (2009) and I’m currently dealing w/another torn meniscus (lateral) in my left knee; frustration overload! (haha) Although, no surgery foreseeable in my crystal ball, only prolotherapy … which is definitely working for me! So, I must agree w/Janet, nurture yourself for sure and modify w/satvada (accept without exception) and be OK with it! ;D LOVE you blogs Rose! ~ Namaste

    • When I walk, I tend to put more pressure on the insides of my feet.

      Big thank you, Vanessa, for sharing your own struggles — including surgery. Since I knew you at the time you were going through that whole surgery period, I have to tell you again how inspiring I found your attitude. Maybe you had frustration overload at times, but overall, you exuded a really yogic approach.

  3. I am a salsa dancer of nearly 20 years; sadly my whole body, but particularly my feet, has really taken a beating — it IS a competitive sport, in more ways than one! Unfortunately no one told me my granny had bunions and I would therefore get them eventually, in which case I would have been much more careful about my footwear and excessive pachanga/boogaloo practices, as well as walking about in narrow high heels a lot of the time.

    Because I was teaching salsa for several years, I experimented with some orthotics but didn’t feel I could take the time off from teaching to have surgery.
    Once I stopped teaching to concentrate on social dancing/improve my dancing on2, my left foot bunion got so big and ugly — not to mention painful — that I began discussions about surgery, and meanwhile had to taper the dancing down a bit (hard for a salsa/mambo fanatic!), as well as switch to mostly flat shoes when not dancing — but that’s where the arch problems started to happen, both in the normal arch as well as the lateral arch (the arch in the ball of your foot, which is where I have had the most pain for the past several years, particularly from callous build-up on the ball of my foot, which seems to be the body’s way of protecting itself from the concavity of the fallen arch — Dr Scholl’s ball of foot cushions help a bit, but not if you are dancing a lot).

    When I finally had an x-ray and appointment with a podiatrist, I was told my feet were ‘too flexible’ — a good thing for a dancer, maybe, but not for feet, apparently, especially where the lateral arches are concerned!

    After a long wait I got an appointment for a bunion op on my left foot. The guy who was doing it only did two types of surgery — the traditional kind where they shave off part of the bunion growth, adjust the alignment of your big toe, and pin the metatarsal and the toe back together, which takes well over 2 months to heal properly (difficult for a dance addict) — and the kind where they fuse the long bone of the foot (metatarsal) with the big toe bone. I decided to have a dance blow-out in advance of the op so went to Croatia for a salsa festival, danced my feet off and even hiked the spectacular Piltvice Lakes park, and then came back to get ready for the surgery — but the day before the op, they re-x-rayed, and the doc then said I should have the fusion op. I categorically refused this as I could not imagine being able to spin with a rigid big toe, and didn’t feel ready to stop dancing altogether. So he went ahead with the first op, and I then spent over 8 weeks with my foot up and/or on crutches.

    Sadly — either because I went back to dancing too soon (and if you ever have this op, whatever you do, do NOT dance zumba or do any jumping!) or it was just bound to happen anyway — the bunion has already shown signs of returning, just a little over a year later, and my foot (both feet, though the one I didn’t have the op on is much stronger) is still very painful.

    However, the main problem I feel now is what is going on with my arches, both the normal foot arch, which is now flattening as a result of too much wearing of flat shoes to help ease the pressure on the bunions from heels, and the lateral arches, which now have a peculiarly concave, almost hollow feeling where the ball of the foot is. I tried doing yoga and pilates to help myself strengthen my core muscles when recovering, but as you have noted it is very hard to balance in tree pose, etc — or for that matter, drilling spins for salsa — on my left foot particularly since the op and because of the arch problem.

    I am now feeling very concerned that my remaining dance days may be numbered; if anyone has any advice or recommendations as to what to do to strengthen my arches without putting too much pressure on the big toes, let me know.

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