Our feet are our body’s foundation, our connection to the earth. They keep us mobile, aligned and balanced, yet they are often one of the most neglected and abused parts of the body. How often do we actually stop and think about our feet and what we put them through EVERY DAY? Probably only when they start aching after standing or wearing uncomfortable shoes all day.
Our body reflects everything we do with our feet. When our feet are tired, our whole body is tired. When our feet hurt, even the simplest of tasks might be hard. Whether we realize it or not, because of the way we treat our feet, most of us have feet and ankles that are no longer in balance. Because of the misalignment of our feet, our body now has to make adjustments in order to keep its balance. This means that our overall posture changes. When our posture changes to compensate for foot problems, our joints become misaligned which in turn, can lead to chronic joint inflammation in addition to other health related problem.
The good news is that practicing yoga can help. Severalstudiesshow how yoga helps bring flexibility and strength to our feet, toes and ankles, leading to overall better alignment and health of the body.
You can use our Search Feature to search through all of our Yoga for Feet classes on your own. To get you started without searching, we’re highlighting six feet classes in a variety of styles, levels and durations that will be sure to help us learn to navigate mobility and stability through the foundation of the feet.
Foot Alignment Tutorial with Tiffany Cruikshank: This class is more of a tutorial on foot alignment and how it applies to our practice of asanas. We’ll look at the foot alignment in standing, seated and supine poses and how it applies to the pelvis and the rest of the body. This is an important practice for beginners and advanced students alike to take with you into your other classes.
Happy & Strong Feet with Jo Tastula: Worshiping feet is considered a very selfless act of service in many cultures. Today, we worship our own feet as a form of deep self care! Our modern day foot has been squashed, stifled and weakened by shoes and walking on predictable terrain (i.e. horizontal flat surfaces) so this class focuses on gaining full mobility and range of motion in the feet as well as strengthening and toning exercises. Props: Warm Towel
Relearn Your Feet with Tara Judelle: Relearn the feet – Class focusing on standing balancing poses introducing the concept of “heel foot” and “ankle foot”. Using meticulous instruction around the mechanics of the foot we learn to navigate mobility and stability through the foundation of the feet. Includes Garudasana (Eagle pose), Warrior III, Padagustasana (Hand to foot pose), and Sirsasana (headstand).
Yoga for Your Calves & Feet with Jason Crandell: It’s easy to forget about your calves and feet—especially with the constant focus on hips, hamstrings, shoulders and spine in yoga class. The feet and calves, however, need some serious TLC since they both become tense quite easily. This practice will open the calves and articulate the feet in essential, satisfying ways. This practice also shows you exactly what it means to “lift your inner-arches” and how to create this vital action in your standing poses. (You will need a belt for this practice).
On Your Feet All Day with Felicia Tomasko: Do you stand on your feet all day? Nurses, teachers, doctors, firefighters, restaurant workers, vetrenarians, flight attendants, retail salespeople? This is the yin practice for you. Get grounded and rebalance the body with this slow yet powerful yin practice. We begin on the earth, supine, on our backs, with a sequence that works with flexibility and mobility of the feet, legs, and hips. The second part of this practice involves some seated feet stretches, cat stretch variations on our hands and knees and then ends with a pigeon pose to continue to allow ourselves to release the tension stored in the body after standing all day. By the time we get to savasana, we’ll be ready to stand up again.
Healing Feet Practice with Elena Brower: Such a sweet, healing practice to end a long day on your feet. Standing poses and balances, vinyasa flows with variations for your feet, some nice stretches for the tops and soles of your feet, with reminders to keep your foundation – and your face – spacious and soft.
In our world of yoga, the saying “practice makes perfect” does not exist. We can only strive to get better and better. We start off as beginners, then we become mediocre, then we become good, then we become great, then we become amazing and so on and so forth. The point is, you will never be perfect. You can only be better than you were the day before. So this weekend we challenge you to do just that – strive to be a little more amazing than you were yesterday, on the mat and off.
In this week’s Overheard in Yoga Class, Steven Espinosa reminds us that doing something faster is not always better. Regardless of what you’re doing, whether you’re vacuuming or doing yoga, it is always good to do it mindfully and consciously. Faster is not always better – mindful, conscious movement is always a better a choice.
As in life, the greatest rewards in our practice come from doing the simplest things. With the awe-inspiring grace of complex postures and the promise of a sculpted, balanced body it’s easy to overlook the benefits that come from a simple, sane, satisfying yoga practice.
Teaching has a similar pitfall: teachers often exert more pressure on themselves to come up with new sequences, posture combinations, and themes than to develop a consistent point of view and repeat the most essential teachings of yoga.
I spend the majority of my classes returning to the same, essential themes. After all, most of us can’t be reminded of what is most important often enough. These themes help my students connect to what’s most important inside their mind, body, and heart. These teachings will never become dated.
Integrity of Movement is more important than range of movement
It goes without saying that a consistent yoga practice will increase your range of motion. It also goes without saying that this is a good thing since so many of us need greater space, comfort, and freedom in our body. Yet, too much focus on range of motion can easily steer us in the wrong direction. Yoga emphasizes even, sustainable, and integrated movements that facilitate our breath and stabilize the nervous system. Of course, we stretch our body in the practice but we’re looking to cultivate something much more subtle and harmonious in our body than simply pulling on various tissues. We’re looking to cultivate an even, balanced tone throughout our entire body. We’re looking to experience a unified field of sensation so that we can feel our totality, not just create more degrees of pelvic rotation.
Postures can be practiced differently on different days for different reasons
Should triangle pose or warrior 1 include a backbend? Well, it depends. Should you go bring your bottom hand as low as it can go in ardha chandrasana or should you put it on a block so that you can rotate your spine more? Well, it depends. In these scenarios—and many, many more—the nuances of the posture depend on the experience you are looking to cultivate.
There is wide-range of options within each posture and you can emphasize different aspects of postures on different days. Using triangle pose as an example, you could focus on engaging the bottom tips of the scapula, extending the thoracic spine and extending the top arm much more if you were focused on backbends. If you were focused on twists, you could elevate your bottom hand on a block, fire your obliques more intensely, and firm the bottom scapula against the back ribs.
It’s important that we remember these postures are simply templates and that we’re encouraged to explore within their parameters.
Distribute your actions, distribute your awareness
Practicing yoga awakens the sensations of your body. When beginners awaken the sensations of their body, they are likely to pay all of their attention to the part of the body that is most intense. For example, a new student will tend to focus their attention on their hamstrings in a forward bend because this is where the most intense sensation is present.
As students mature in their practice—and teachers mature in their teaching—this equation should shift to include the entire body. Instead of focusing all of the attention and action in local areas—such as the hamstrings—practitioners should draw their attention into their entire body in every asana. This cultivates a unified field of awareness and sensation throughout your body. While the hamstrings may be the initial draw of a forward bend, we want to observe our feet, hips, torso, neck, facial muscles, breath, mind-state and so on. A pose is never just about one area of the body—it is about one area of the body in relationship to the other parts of the body, the breath, and the mind.
Exploring your comfort zone and playing your edge
Your edge is the threshold in a pose—or moment in seated meditation—where physical, mental, and emotional resistance comes rushing to the foreground. Reaching your edge is like applying an enzyme that ignites a reaction and magnifies your physical, mental and emotional patterns. This magnification—while challenging—allows you to see yourself (and your conditioning) with greater clarity. In short, you become conscious of previously unconscious patterns.
Most instructions focus on trying to get students to go even further in a posture—even when they’ve already hit their end range of motion. It may be more beneficial to focus on helping students nurture greater ease and relaxation when they’re at their edge instead of trying to get them to go further. Instructions like “lengthen your exhalation, acknowledge the resistance that’s present, and soften your face,” are some of the most powerful, transformative instructions that you can provide your students.
Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.
Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.
Are you a busy, stressed out, take-on-too much, want to conquer the world and take care of everyone you love (and yourself!) while you do it kind of woman? This new section of YogaGlo has been designed with you in mind. We’ve asked our resident female yoga teachers to create classes that address specific needs — fertility, menopause, anti-aging, PMS — and other classes that will help you explore who you are and who you want to be, from body image/self esteem practices to classes that help you find your inner calm, inner strength and inner YOU.
We’ll be adding to this area over the next several months and will eventually fold in all the Pre Natal and Post Natal classes into this same space so you can find all the classes just for you in one place.
In the meantime, explore this new area and let us know what you think. What would you like to see us add over time? We can’t wait to build this Yoga for Women center together so it becomes your go-to resource.
In this Pose of the Week, Sianna Sherman demonstrates Full Side Plank Pose or Full Vasistasana. Begin in Side Plank, squeeze the legs together, keep the hips high, hand strong and shoulder back. The first way to get into the pose is to bring the knee up, take hold of the outer edge of the foot, then stretch the leg up, open the throat, activate the feet and curl back. A second way to come into the pose is to lift the leg straight up without bending it. You can also hold the big toe if that’s an easier hold for you.
Everything we do relies heavily on our ability to balance, yet maintaing physical balance skills is one of the most underrated aspects of well-being. As we age, we gradually start to lose our muscle strength, vision and sensory perception – all things that contribute to our ability to balance. As a result, our mobility can be compromised and lack of mobility can lead to falling, which can lead to a whole new set of health issues.
The good news is that physical balance is a learned skill that can be maintained and improved by practice. Severalstudiesshow how yoga can strengthen our self-perception which can help the body to better position our muscles and allow us to sense where our body needs to be without looking. In addition, yoga builds muscle and increases range of motion in the joints, which helps in distributing weight evenly, creating overall stability.
You can use our Search Feature to search through all of our Standing Balances classes on your own. To get you started without searching, we’re highlighting six standing balance classes in a variety of styles, levels and durations that will be sure to help refine all of your standing balances and help you stay centered.
Balance & Control Transitions with Jo Tastula: This is a lively class that focuses on standing balance postures as well as slow controlled transitions. Balance postures are physically strengthening and also develop both coordination and tempo. Sun salutations to warm up (surya namaskar a & dancing warrior) and balance poses swan (hamsasana), standing splits with hands interlaced (uttana padasana) eagle (garudasana) crow (bakasana) and inversion tripod headstand (sirsasana). The trickiest transition is probably triangle to extended hand-to-big-toe (trikonasana to supta utthita hasta padangustasana). Finishing poses are single pigeon (eka pada rajakapotasana) and forward bend (paschimottanasana).
Standing Pose Practice with Noah Maze: Stand!–This class of fundamental standing poses will educate, engage, and challenge you. Cultivate your studentship of these poses from several different approaches, culminating in vinyasa style sequencing.
Fluid Standing Pose Practice with Steven Espinosa: Receive The Rewards – our yoga practice can often be challenging but the rewards are worth our efforts. Gentle but steady warm up leading into a fluid Standing Pose series including Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose). Also combines standing hip openers with standing balance pose in Vrksasana (Tree Pose). Concludes with thigh and hamstrings leading into backbends with Setu Bandasana (Bridge) and/or Urdhva Danursasan (Upward Facing Bow).
Balance Boost Yoga with Elena Brower: A sequence of symmetrically arranged standing poses, hip openers and backbends to heighten our awareness of how and where our attention pools in our bodies, giving us information about how we can redistribute our attention and usher balance into our lives both on and off our yoga mats.
Refine Your Standing Balances with Jason Crandell: Afraid you’re going to fall over and take out a row of fellow students while in tree pose? Fear not. This thorough practice will refine all of your standing balances and help you stay centered. You will focus on developing strength, flexibility and poise while practicing tree pose (Vrksasana), half moon pose (Ardha Chandrasana), eagle pose (Garudasana), Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana III) and many more.
Divine Alignment with Kia Miller: Explore how the way you stand informs each pose you do. Find your true ‘Tadasana- Mountain Pose’ and slowly build to a balancing posture – Warrior 3. Enjoy challenging yourself in this sequence and finding your own Divine Alignment. Props – 2 Blocks.
This week we celebrated a very important day. Earth Day. But why is something as precious as our mother earth only celebrated one day a year? This weekend we challenge you to make a commitment to celebrate Earth Day everyday! Learn more about the environment and what you can do to protect it. From turning off the water when brushing your teeth to switching to online bill payments, if each of us does just a little a bit, together we can help make a big difference!
What do you do to help protect mother earth? Leave your answers in the comments section below.
Posted on April 23rd, 2013Alice G. Walton3 comments
The sixth limb of yoga, dharana, is affectionately referred to as “concentration.” It’s a limb that can get overlooked as either unimportant or too difficult to bother with, especially since its fuller, less tangible translation is “the binding of the mind to one place, object or idea.” This conjures up images of master yogis staring at objects until they’re “one” with them. And while there can be some truth to this scenario, it’s not entirely accurate. Dharana, in reality, is one of the most important parts of yoga there is, and learning how to practice it (because it is definitely a practice) may be one of the most worthwhile things we can do for our brains.
This is party because dharana and the next limb of yoga – dhyana, or meditation – are two sides of the same coin. Conceptually they can be separated, but in practice, that makes less sense. Dharana, at its very heart, can be thought of as the work it takes – the practice – to get your mind to the point where it’s ready for meditation. So dharana isn’t so much the state of concentration, but it’s more the act of brining your “monkey mind” back to whatever it is you’re focusing on. Again, and again, and again.
Many yogis say that for beginners, choosing a thing to focus on, rather than an idea, is the way to go. The object can be a physical object, the breath, or an oral mantra. The idea is just to have something outside yourself that serves as a point to draw the attention toward. “I usually recommend practicing in the morning, before you get into the machinations and manipulations of your daily life,” says Thomas Amelio, managing director of the Open Center in New York City. “I recommend setting a timer – just to 10 or 15 minutes if you’re beginning – so you don’t have to think about it. Pick something to concentrate on, and try it for a few weeks or months.”
Most people, including Amelio, know that this is easier said than done. The problem is that the mind goes where it wants. So while the idea of intently focusing on, say, a flower is all well and good, the mind is naturally going to wander away from it, especially at first. Swami Satchidananda writes about a funny scenario that we’ve all experienced in some iteration, where a person is trying to practice dharana with a rose. “As you look at the rose,” he writes, “the mind will try to go somewhere. The minute you begin, the mind will say, ‘Ah, yes, I remember she sent me a rose like that for my last birthday.’… And then, ‘After that we had dinner. Ah, it was the best dinner. Then we went to the movies. What was that movie? King Kong?’ It will all happen within two minutes. Even less than two minutes. So, on what are you meditating now? Not on a rose, but on King Kong.”
Because just about everyone experiences the unwelcome King Kong meditation, Amelio says he usually recommends practicing dharana with a mantra, since “it gives you something – a vibration – to focus on. And an internalized mantra can actually be more powerful than an oral one because you’re occupying your mind. If you’re repeating a mantra aloud, you can still be thinking about what you’re going to wear to work the next day. But an internalized one takes up that space.”
If you’re not using a mantra, though, and you’re practicing concentration with an image or an object, the most important thing to remember is that the goal is in the practice. Bringing the mind back to the rose – as many times as it takes – is what dharana is all about. Satchidananda points out that the practice of dharana is not concentrating on the rose – it’s the act of redirecting the mind, again and again. He writes, “This very practice itself is called concentration: the mind running, your bringing it back; its running, your bringing it back. You are taming a monkey. Once it’s tamed, it will just listen to you. You will be able to say, ‘Okay, sit there quietly.’ And it will. At that point you are meditating. Until then you are training yourself to meditate. Training your mind to meditate is what is called dharana.”
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that dharana can help us with our focus in any walk of life, not just when we sit down to meditate. Amelio stresses the fact that there’s just something innately gratifying about focusing intensely on something – like getting lost in a book or abandoning yourself to the beauty of the ocean. “People often feel that they’re scattered in day to day life,” he says. “They get taste of dharana and they’re surprised. Concentration gets easier as you practice it. It’s joyous to concentrate on something, there’s pleasure in it. When you get familiar with dharana, the mind becomes a much less restless place to be.”
Have you practiced dharana? What do you find is the most effective way?
Alice G. Walton, PhD is a health and science writer, and began practicing (and falling in love with) yoga last year. She is the Associate Editor at TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com and a Contributor at Forbes.com. Alice will be exploring yoga’s different styles, history, and philosophy, and sharing what she learns here on the YogaGlo blog. You can follow Alice on Twitter @AliceWalton and Facebook at Facebook.com/alicegwalton.