In discussing the feet, we must address the necessary balance of mula & uddiyana bandha. Our feet are our foundation in any standing posture. By spreading our toes & evenly distributing our bodies weight in our feet, we create mula bandha energy. By engaging our arch, we create proper & necessary support for the joints above the knee, allowing a sense of uddiyana bandha energy, as though we are lighter in the pose.
One common cause of malalignment in the knee is due to a fallen arch, or lack of engagement in the feet. This is often why people with “flat feet” will feel discomfort in their knees – because the knee is not receiving the required support from the foot. While a fallen arch can be a result of injury, it also has a lot to do with our genetic makeup. A collapsed arch, whether from lack of engagement, injury, or genetics, can wreak havoc on the joints above it. With regards to the knee, if the arch of the foot is collapsed & not actively engaged & supporting our movement, the knee tends to track inwards towards our medial line, creating unnecessary pressure & tension in the knee joint.
To increase our awareness of how & where we habitually place our weight in our feet, let’s do a little exercise.
- Grab 2 yoga blocks, or 4 if you have them, and place them about 5″ apart or just far enough apart so that the arch of your foot is between the blocks & the mounds of your toes & your heel can evenly ground into the blocks. If you have 4 blocks, do this setup for each foot.
- Take a moment to center yourself over the blocks. Find all four corners of your foot – the base of your big toe, the base of your pinkie toe, & the inner & outer edges of your heel. Slightly sway front to back & side to side. Slowly come to a balanced, even center.
- Lift & spread the toes. Feel how that engages the plantar fascia, the thick tissue on the bottom of your foot, as well as the entire foot, & the leg muscles.
- Simultaneously experience the lift of the engaged arch while rooting down through the four corners of your feet. Allow that support to help tuck under your tailbone, engage your lower belly, & draw your sacrum downwards. Roll your shoulders back & down to feel a lift in the chest.
- Breathe. Slightly tuck your chin if it is jutting forward. Take note of where you initially felt the weight in your feet upon standing on the blocks & what adjustments you made to feel even & balanced in your feet.
- Slowly begin to bend the knees, carefully aligning the kneecap over the second toe as you bend. Bend just slightly & do not allow your knee to bend beyond your toes. In addition to keeping that engagement in the arch, if your knee starts to track inwards, press the thighs outwards slightly & abduct at the hip, without lifting the inner edges of the feet, to allow the kneecaps to track & point forward.
This exercise is fantastic for building awareness in a number of poses. The importance of the foot cannot be overemphasized. It’s literally the foundation for our entire anatomical structure & alignment! Proper engagement & alignment in our practice, on & off the mat, can contribute to the health, comfort, & longevity of all of our other joints.