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.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Know thyself (bones, muscles, Golgi tendon organ and all)

Via BandhaYoga.com

I spent the weekend in a yoga anatomy workshop that was led by University of Michigan-trained orthopedic surgeon and hatha yoga practitioner Ray Long, MD, and assisted by 3D graphic designer/illustrator Chris Macivor.

It rocked.

In this blog post, I’m going to share a couple nuggets about how yoga students and teachers can approach learning and applying anatomy, and then I’m going to send you over to additional resources from this doctor-designer team.

The more I learn about anatomy, the more I think that one of the most sorely lacking aspects of the American educational system is what we don’t teach our kids about their own bodies. You can’t really fault a society that turns to quick-fixes — pills, surgeries and questionable products hocked on infomercials — if people aren’t taught how to assess the source of their pain and how to further investigate potential fixes.

I’m lucky I found yoga, because I’d probably be in that category of quick-fix seeker. I’ve never so much as taken an anatomy class, and I never did much in my teen and adult years that required truly connecting with my body — I exercised only grudgingly, didn’t do any type of dancing, didn’t play sports, didn’t ski. It wasn’t until I started my yoga teacher training in 2009 that I started to delve into the human form. I got a sweet taste of anatomy during my 200- and 500-hour yoga teacher training programs at Hilltop Yoga, and I deepened my understanding from studying with Tim Miller.

Proprio….neuro…what?

I first heard about the concept of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), or facilitated stretching, in one of Tim’s “Asana Doctor” workshops. (Read about the history of PNF.) PNF, used by physical therapists and other clinicians, can be applied to yoga. Dr. Long’s website describes it this way:

Stretching applies tension to the muscle and its tendon. There is a nerve receptor (the Golgi tendon organ) that is located at the muscle-tendon junction. This receptor senses tension and relays a signal to the spinal cord. The spinal cord then signals the stretching muscle to relax. This reflex arc acts as a protective circuit breaker to prevent the tendon from tearing at its attachment to the bone. Because all skeletal muscles have Golgi tendon organs, this powerful technique can be applied to gain length and dissolve blockages throughout the body in yoga poses. Use it with caution and care.

So basically, PNF uses a primal response — protecting the health of the body — to essentially trick the spinal cord into sending out a “call off the guard dogs” order. Genius.

Here’s more from BandhaYoga.com:

Facilitated stretching involves contracting a muscle that you are lengthening. This increases the tension at the muscle-tendon junction and recruits more Golgi tendon organs than does stretching a muscle alone. Facilitated stretching causes the spinal cord to signal the muscle to relax, in essence, creating ‘slack’ in the muscle. You can then take up the slack to move deeper into the pose.

I’ve seen yoga students who had little mobility in a pose such as utthita hasta padangustasana deepen to an amazing degree using this technique, which essentially involves the student resisting (in this case of utthita hasta padangustasana, the student would have a little pressure applied to the lifted leg) against the instructor for a short amount of time, then release. This would be done a couple more times before the instructor asks the student to try going into the full expression of the posture. 

Over the weekend, Dr. Long used PNF on my supta kurmasana, and it helped me get farther into this pose than I have ever been able to get before — which is especially cool because I find this pose rather frustrating. Finding a way to better connect with the pose is helpful not just for my body, but my mind.

You can apply PNF yourself, by resisting against your own body — so the technique doesn’t depend on you being in a class or a workshop (though I can tell you from experience it is, of course, better with an experienced teacher).

Connecting with your inner anatomist

Both Ray Long and Tim Miller adhere to the principle that it’s more of a service to teach people how to sleuth rather than give them a long list of facts to memorize. Yoga students and teachers need to be able to look at a postural challenge and work backward, then forward again. What is causing this pain/tweak/limitation? How can this be relieved now? How can this be further refined going forward?

Ultimately, though, I think it’s useful for anyone to have a basic understanding of this stuff. After hundreds of hours of studying yoga over the past two years, I still think that sitting — plain old sitting — is one of the hardest poses to maintain. If we all knew just a little bit more about muscle groups and sources of strain and tension, we might be able to make minor adjustments in our daily lives to relieve pain and perhaps even avoid it in the first place.

Some of the nuggets I took away this weekend:

Know what affects mobility
Three factors affect mobility: the shape of the bones involved, the ligaments involved and the muscles involved. You can’t do anything about shape of bone once you’re an adult, and you don’t want to change ligaments. That’s why we focus on muscles.

You don’t have to enroll in med school to get a handle on anatomy
You only need to know about 20 muscle groups. They’re all interrelated and it’s not as complicated as it looks.

Wash, rinse, dry, repeat
When presented with a postural challenge, approach it logically. As an example:

  • Analyze the pose and isolate what’s involved. (What are the joints doing? What the agonist and antagonist muscles doing?)
  • Gain length where you need to gain length and engage the muscle stabilizers.
  • Assess the effects.

Learn more

My suggestion? Check out the “Scientific Keys” section on BandhaYoga.com, pick up Ray Long’s books (available at BandhaYoga.com and through the YogaRose.net Amazon affiliate store) and get to one of these yoga anatomy workshops if you can.

You can learn about anatomy from a book, but I don’t think it will really resonate if you don’t get the chance to devote time during a class or workshop to sleuthing real-live anatomy puzzles. Plus, Ray takes you through a lovely standing posture sequence to awaken the psoas and you get to enjoy a hypnotic savasana. (I can’t help but note that while I was doing the psoas series this weekend — see the sequence here — I thought it was yet another beautiful example of the benefits of the Ashtanga yoga sequence of standing postures.)

If you’re into social media, you can follow Bandha Yoga:

Whether you’re a yogi or not, happy sleuthing!

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.