"Turn on your active feet."
If you've been to one of my Forrest Yoga classes, you've probably heard me say this at least one or eighteen times, likely followed by "Lift and spread your toes."
Active feet is a basic move in Forrest Yoga, meaning that it is essential to the practice and we do it in every pose (not that it's easy).
It feels weird to do this though, especially if you're new to it. . .It's surprising how much attention it takes to keep the feet flexed like this. . . So why do we do it?
Because in order to have a stable low back, balanced hips, relaxed hip flexors and pain free knees and ankles we need strong feet.
Unfortunately, modern life and footwear doesn't do much to keep our feet strong. After decades encased in shoes, many folks have limited or no movement in their toes or ankles and weak arches which leads to the arch collapsing and the feet and ankles rolling to one side. This creates imbalances that affect our gait, movement patterns, posture and daily stiffness.
If the arches collapse, typically the inner thighs and hamstrings shut down as well, taking away valuable back support and lengthening.
Walking with our weight shifted to one side of our foot throws our entire gait off, putting undue strain on the knees and ankles.
In the same way that a crooked house will never sit straight until the foundation is fixed; we similarly need to look at our own foundation to be address imbalance and pain in the body.
Active feet is a simple way to reignite the muscles in our feet and inner thighs. When we lift and spread the toes, we fire up those sleepy muscles and give our body a solid foundation.
Want to try it?
Stand with feet parallel and hip distance apart. Get all 10 toes and both heels pointing straight ahead and feel for balancing your weight between the inside and outside edges of your feet.
Press down through the heel and the ball of the foot while lifting the toes and arch. Spread your toes.
Practice this in yoga. Practice it at home. This simple move might just be what your achy back, painful knees, tight hamstrings have been waiting for you to discover.
Bonus trick for you anatomy nerds out there:
Lifting the toes & arches more strongly ignites the inner line of the legs.
Spreading the toes more strongly engages the outer line, particularly the calves.
So for example, if you're working with a medial knee issue (medial ACL tear, worn medial miniscus), focusing on the spreading of the toes will help create lateral support for the knee while lifting them will stabilize the inner thigh. Try playing with both separately as well as together to see what provides the best relief.