Yoga for Your Feet

“The ability to stretch our toes like fingers and to create a wide, healthy, open space between each and every toe is not some vestigial ability available only to a chosen few.”

-Mary Dunn, quoted in Yoga for People Over 50

Toe Exercises – Start Your Practice

Students often laugh in disbelief when I ask them to do these Toe Exercises, since many of us have really lost a lot of coordination in our toes. By creating space, strength, and flexibility in our toes, we are both widening our base for increased stability and using the whole of our foot for better agility. Try it by watching the video above, or following these guidelines:

  1. Take off your shoes.
  2. Pick all your toes up off the ground and spread them as widely as you can. Is there space between each toe? You can practice creating space between the toes in any yoga pose. While you’re off the mat, you can intertwine your fingers between your toes and manually create space.
  3. Now, try pressing just your big toe into the earth, and lift up all the little toes. If the big toes want lift up too, manually override that by using your fingers to keep the toes down.
  4. Now try pressing all the little toes into the earth, and lift up the big toes. Again, if your toes are not cooperative, use a manual assist with your fingers.
  5. Go back and forth between lifting just the big toes, and just the little toes. Keep practicing every day and notice the difference!
  6. Advanced Toe Exercise – try pressing the big toes down and the little toe, and lifting all the toes in between!
  7. Finish up by bringing as much space between your toes as you can.

Got Foot Problems?

By age 40, about 80 percent of the population has some muscular-skeletal foot or ankle problem. By age 50 to 55, that number can go up to 90 or 95 percent. Walking and yoga may help reverse foot problems. According to Suza Francina, author of The New Yoga for People over 50, “the combination of walking and yoga is the supreme way to rehabilitate your feet.” She recommends walking barefoot as often as possible, as well as doing various toe stretches like the ones in our video above that encourage opening space up between the toes where we have lost dexterity due to the confinement of wearing shoes. In addition, many poses done in a regular yoga practice stretch and strengthen the feet and legs too, and experts say they can provide benefit beyond treating common foot problems like plantar fasciatis, fallen arches, bunions, and many more.

“I recommend that all my patients start yoga immediately. When you treat foot problems with yoga, you end up treating back pain, hip pain, all kinds of structural problems. Not only does it stretch out the muscles and lead to a greater range of motion, but it helps heal the root issue of inflammation as well.”

Robert Kornfeld, holistic podiatrist

The anatomy of your foot is a marvel, a miracle. Da Vinci called the human foot a “masterpiece of engineering and work of art.” With 200,000 nerve endings, 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles, and 107 ligaments in each foot, we mere mortals are able to execute highly precise movements.

“The sole of your foot has over 200,000 nerve endings in it, one of the highest concentrations anywhere in the body. Our feet are designed to act as earthward antennae, helping us balance and transmitting information to us about the ground we’re walking on.”

-Adam Sternberg, New York Magazine article “You Walk Wrong”

Mountain Pose – The Foundation

The feet are our foundations, our basic connection to the ground upon which we stand. When we “root down” during various yoga postures such as Mountain Pose, it is an invitation to bring awareness to your feet first, and then legs. Walking upright, we need to feel the ground in order to feel balanced. With every step we take, healthy feet allow us to move with confidence throughout the diverse terrain of our daily lives.

You can do this pose anywhere. I prefer to practice it on a yoga mat with bare feet, but try Mountain Pose while standing in line at the grocery store or talking to a friend. Stable, alert, and upright, this foundational pose begins with a sharp awareness of our feet. Start with your feet and work your way up the body.

Enhance Your Balance – Calf Raises Exercise

  1. Bringing movement into our Mountain Pose, we rise up onto our tip toes, and rock back onto our heels.
  2. Whether you incorporate simple arm movement, or hold onto a chair for this simple exercise, you may start to feel the structure of the foot more acutely.
  3. Notice where you place most of your weight as you rise up – is it on the inside edges of the feet, where there is more structural support, or on the outside edges? Can you rise up and hold for a beat?
  4. Try connecting your breath – inhale as you lift, exhale as you ground down – and relax into any micro-movements that show up in order to find the edge of your balance.
  5. Doing this easy exercise every day, I have developed strength in both my feet and lower limbs, and brought a newfound awareness to my feet that has greatly enhanced my balance.

Try Tree Pose

Tree Pose can be practiced using the support of a chair!

Tree Pose (Vrkasana) is one of our favorites poses, so we were thrilled to learn that Tree Pose may help slow advancement of a common foot problem – bunions. According to Robert Kornfeld, “Yoga can’t reverse bunions that have already formed—only surgery can—but practicing certain poses can slow their advancement.” He recommends practicing balancing poses like Tree pose in which the foot with the bunion is grounded and the other foot is lifted (of course we have to do both sides if we’re practicing any standing pose!) He says this will engage and strengthen the peroneal muscle of the standing leg that runs all along the outside of the lower leg, and tucks under the sole of the foot. That “grounding force” can help override instabilities that make the bunion worse. And Tree Pose can have many other benefits too, such as improving overall balance and focus. Check out our video:

Going Barefoot – for Optimal “Grounding”

Image from Wheels of Life

“The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections.”

– Walt Whitman

One study concluded that prior to the invention of shoes, people may have had healthier feet. I like to joke that one of the reasons I became a yoga teacher was so that I could go barefoot. In truth, I do need all the grounding I can get, and feeling my naked feet touch the earth provides me just that. According to one of my favorite books on the Chakras, much like a lightning rod protects a building by sending excess voltages into the earth, grounding protects our bodies from becoming overloaded by the tensions of everyday life. So, take off your shoes, root down, and practice as much Yoga for Your Feet as you desire. I’ll leave you with this poem I penned on the feet:

Ode to My Feet
 
Hello feet! I haven’t paid you much heed
And yet there you are, my two trusty steeds
Bearing my weight day in and day out
In today’s class, I’d like to give you a shout out.
 
Each foot contains 26 bones,
And has not one but three arches! I learned through my Iphone.
The 107 ligaments spread throughout its base
Allow us to balance, to spring and to pace.
 
Such precision required to move through our days
Is often ignored until there is pain
Whether bunions, arthritis, or gout, we may know
That an injury in the metatarsals is likely to grow.
 
Without proper care, the offset is dire
And can travel to knees, backs, and hips like wild-fire.
 
If your arches have fallen, walk barefoot they say
And try grabbing things with your toes – start today!
Build strength in your feet and your ankles with cues
To distribute weight evenly - stability rules!
 
The foot is a marvel with its myriad bones
Each doing its job to carry us home.
So appreciate yours, take good care and be smart,
Like Da Vinci who pronounced them “a work of art.”

More Tips:

  • Try picking things up with your toes
  • Distribute your weight evenly as you walk or in any yoga pose
  • Go to the doctor if you notice new pain in your ankles or feet

Resources:

4 Yoga Poses to Fine Tune Foot Stability and Prevent Injury, Yoga Journal

You Walk Wrong, NY Magazine

Shod versus unshod: The emergence of forefoot pathology in modern humans?, Science Direct

Foot Anatomy, MedicineNet

Wheels of Life, Anodea Judith, PhD

The New Yoga for People Over 50, Suza Francina

Anatomy 101: Strengthen Your Big Toes to Build Stability, Yoga Journal

Yoga Poses for Bunions, Ask the Experts, Robert Kornfield, DPM – Yoga Journal October 2015

September is Seniors Month!

We are offering special deals for seniors this month. Stay active, challenge your balance, and meet like-minded members of your community! At Team Sun Wellness, we teach many adults over the age of 65. Avoid injury, manage stress, and get more joy out of life by exploring some of our wellness offerings!

Aging gracefully: Our health and the rate at which we age entirely depends on our choices. We can actually reverse or slow down the pace at which we age by practicing yoga and meditation! We have seen improvements in balance firsthand with regular practice in our balance and yoga classes. Being more active seems to go hand in hand with maintaining or improving balance.

CHAIR YOGA – YOUR FIRST CLASS IS FREE!

According to a 2016 study conducted by Yoga in America, 17 percent of current yoga practitioners are in their 50s, and 21 percent are age 60 and older!

TUESDAYS AT 11AM: All ages and mobility levels are welcome. Learn breathing techniques, easy stretches, and specific yoga poses adapted for the chair. Props like blocks and straps are used to help support, achieve, or deepen a pose. Improve your balance with standing poses that use the chair for support, if it’s in your practice. Come refine your posture, improve balance, strength and flexibility – in a supportive and relaxing community environment. First class is free for seniors! For more info: Chair Yoga. Swarthmore United Methodist Church.

BALANCE WORKSHOP – DONATION-BASED

SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 7th, 10-11:15AM: There’s a real “use it or lose it” component to maintaining your balance. Whether you’re looking to prevent balance issues or to reverse them, you need to challenge your balance on a regular basis. In our class we’ll be learning safe, effective exercises that can improve your balance, flexibility, and strength. With practice, almost anyone can achieve better balance. Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Donation-based, pay what you can. For more info: Balance Workshop. Swarthmore United Methodist Church.

You can do Tree pose with a Chair!

More links for active seniors:

Stay tuned for Free Mindfulness Meditation in October in Swarthmore Town Center! Wednesday October 3rd, 6pm.

Student Spotlight: Carol

We feel really strongly that yoga is for everybody, and yet the images of people doing yoga don’t tend to represent our own bodies or those we teach. So we decided to start a new blog series highlighting our own students, in an effort to shine light on regular people doing yoga and what that might look like. Plus, we wanted to learn more about our wonderful students outside of the classroom! Our first spotlight is on Carol, who was kind enough to come into our home so that we could get to know her a little better. Carol is so motivated and consistent in her practice, she inspires all of us to show up!

C is for Carol and Consistency

  • Name: Carol
  • Age: 68
  • How Long Practicing Yoga: 4 years consistently, 20 years sporadically
  • Favorite Pose: So many feel good!
  • Most Challenging Pose: Boat Pose
  • Sun Sign: Pisces
  • Pets: 2 cats, Diva and Misty
  • Favorite Sweet Treat: Dried Fruit
Carol holds her plank pose for 2 minutes every day!

I first met Carol L. in the fall of 2017 while teaching a Hatha Yoga series run by the Wallingford-Swarthmore Community Classes organization. Since then, she has attended roughly 115 yoga classes with me and a few workshops!!

“Compared to most other exercises, yoga is the best for allowing you to move at your own pace and accepting your limitations. It gives the best benefits without stressing joints and muscles. And it helps with self acceptance.”

-Carol L.

Carol gets to the mat about 5 hours a week and on top of that, logs a lot of miles on her treadmill for cardio.

“Yoga just makes me happy. Even thinking about doing yoga makes me happy. I’m more flexible, stronger and my balance has improved. I also have reduced much of my stiffness and back pain. I experience sciatica much less often, and when it does come on, it lasts a much shorter time.   My balance has improved.

-Carol L.

See you soon on the mat, Carol! Stay tuned for more Student Spotlights!

Joyful Yoga – All Levels Yoga for Everyday Well-Being

When: 10 Thursdays from 10:00-11:00am from September 19th – November 21st

During this group mat yoga class, we’ll find joyful freedom within our bodies while exploring a variety of reclining, seated and standing postures, with the breath at the foreground of our experience. These gentle hour-long sessions are accessible for all levels, and blocks and straps are provided to help deepen and achieve poses. Reconnect with your natural flexibility, innate strength and core balance – to bring your yoga practice off the mat into everyday well-being!

Where: Wallingford Presbyterian Church 110 E. Brookhaven Road
Wallingford, PA 19086 Free Parking on the premises

Payment Options: credit card, check, cash, PayPal, venmo (@Ann-MacMullan)

“How are we going to spend this brief lifetime?…Could we start to train as a warrior, aspiring to reconnect with the natural flexibility of our being and help others do the same? If we start to move in this direction, limitless possibilities begin to open up.”

-Pema Chodron

Yoga for Stronger Bones

Yoga practiced on a regular basis could help strengthen your bones! Certain poses including Warrior II, Triangle, and Tree are considered weight-bearing exercise, often recommended along with a healthy diet for optimal bone health.

“Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does. By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.”

-Dr. Loren Fishman, author of study “Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss

Recently, I’ve had several students approach me after yoga class to talk about their bones. “I just got the results from my most recent DEXA scan, and there’s been an improvement in my bone mineral density score in my spine!” says one 73-year old student who started practicing yoga consistently about two years ago in my classes. Another student, who just turned 70, reported a similar result on her latest scan. Both were kind enough to share their results with me, pictured below.

The DEXA or DXA scan is today’s established standard for measuring bone mineral density, and helps to estimate the density of your bones and your chance of breaking a bone. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, “a bone density test is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs.” If you’ve got osteopenia or osteoporosis, it’s reflected in the numbers.

In fact, more than 200 million people suffer from osteoporosis. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 and 1 in 5 men will experience osteoporotic fractures in their lifetime.

We reach peak bone density by our late twenties, and then it’s maintained by a continuous process called remodeling, in which old bone is removed and new bone is created. The renewal of bone is responsible for bone strength throughout life. Certain factors like age, genetics, lack of exercise and poor diet can slow down bone renewal, and then our bones might thin to such a degree that we develop osteopenia or osteoporosis. Happily, there are lifestyle changes you can make to maintain and build bone density.

Bridge Pose (Setu bandhasana) stretches the spine

Of course we’d love to attribute the slight improvement in our yoga students’ bone mineral density scores to the practice of yoga. The only real change they’ve made has been adding a regular yoga practice, and neither of them are on medication. So just how effective is a regular yoga practice for building stronger bones?

According to one study, “there is qualitative evidence suggesting improved bone quality as a result of the practice of yoga.”

The study is pretty much the only one of its kind, and its revelations are being touted in Harvard Health and The New York Times. Researchers prescribed 12 yoga postures held for 30 seconds each, practiced on a daily basis by 221 participants. They measured bone density at the beginning and end of the study, and concluded that yoga “actually builds bone significantly in the spine and the femur, the two most frequent sites of fracture.” You can find out more on Dr. Fishman’s site, Sciatica.org.

The 12 yoga poses included in the study:

Image from Dr. Fishman’s Study
  1. Tree (Vrksasana)
  2. Triangle (Uttitha Trikonasana)
  3. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II
  4. Extended Side Angle (Parsvakonasana)
  5. Reverse Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
  6. Locust (Salabhasana)
  7. Bridge (Setu Bandhasana)
  8. Supine hand-to-foot I (Supta Padangusthasana I)
  9. Supine hand-to-foot II (Supta Padangusthasana II)
  10. Straight-legged twist (Marichyasana II)
  11. Bent-knee twist (Matsyendrasana)
  12. Corpse (Savasana)

We do most of these poses in our classes on a very regular basis, as they were covered extensively in our 250-hour teacher training certification. It’s been eye-opening to learn that not all yoga poses are good for someone with bone loss issues, and could actually increase risk for a vertebral fracture – as in poses with extreme spinal flexion (as in, forward folds.) Yoga should be practiced under the guidance of an experienced teacher who provides safe alternatives to classic poses, with an emphasis on proper alignment.

A gentle modification of Extended Side Angle (Parsvakonasana)

I’m so excited for my students who have committed to a regular practice and seen some heartening benefits show up in the very fabric of their bones! They continue to do the work, and it’s wonderful to witness firsthand what could be part of a relatively low cost and low risk answer to maintaining strong healthy bones and avoiding broken ones. Yoga also comes with some pretty great “side effects,” such as better balance, improved posture and strength, and reduced levels of anxiety. Hope to see you and your beautiful bones on the mat soon!

For best bone health, Harvard Health recommends:

  • eating foods rich in calcium, such as low fat dairy products, sardines, salmon, green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified foods and beverages.
  • getting more vitamin D from the sun or a supplement
  • doing weight-bearing exercise every day
  • not smoking
  • not drinking too much alcohol

Note: if you are under 30, building bone so that your peak bone density score is as good as it can be could help you tremendously later in life! All of the above recommendations apply to those who are still building bone density.

Resources:

Six Weeks of Summer Yoga in Swarthmore!

There’s a new way to practice yoga – with even more flexibility in our class attendance. Sign up for 3, 6, or 12 classes and attend whichever classes work best for your summer schedule. Stay mindful and strong throughout the summer months as we move our group classes to Swarthmore United Methodist Church, right in downtown Swarthmore. Classes start July 16th and go until August 22nd.

Attend whichever classes work best for your summer calendar! All levels welcome; blocks and straps are provided. Please bring your own mat.

Gentle Yoga Tuesdays 9:00-10:00am “Gentle” refers to an attitude of taking exquisite care of ourselves in each moment throughout our classes. We’ll explore a variety of reclining, seated and standing postures and the transitions between those poses, adapted to your level. 6 sessions from July 16th-Aug 20th.

Gentle Yoga Thursdays *10:00-11:00am* New later time for sleepyheads! “Gentle” refers to an attitude of taking exquisite care of ourselves in each moment throughout our classes. We’ll explore a variety of reclining, seated and standing postures and the transitions between those poses, adapted to your level. 6 sessions from July 18th-Aug 22nd.

Hatha Yoga Thursdays 6:00-7:00pm Unwind with this gentle but challenging ancient form of exercise. Learn basic yoga asanas or postures to improve strength, balance, and flexibility while focusing on the thread of the breath that “yokes” the mind and body together. 6 sessions from July 18th-Aug 22nd.

All classes meet at Swarthmore United Methodist Church in the air conditioning. The church is right next door to the public library and borough hall – 129 Park Avenue.  Metered parking can be found right out front and in the Borough Hall lot next door, and there is free street parking nearby.

Payment Options: 3 classes for $42, 6 classes for $75, 12 classes for $120.

  • Pay through PayPal or credit card (buttons below):
  • Checks: Ann MacMullan / 1809 S. Bancroft St. Philadelphia, PA 19145
  • I also accept and prefer Venmo (User: @Ann-MacMullan)

3 Summer Yoga Classes

Attend 3 of any of the scheduled yoga classes meeting at Swarthmore United Methodist Church.

$42.00

6 Summer Yoga Classes

Attend 6 of any of the scheduled yoga classes meeting at Swarthmore United Methodist Church

$75.00

12 Summer Yoga Classes

Attend 12 of any of the scheduled yoga classes meeting at Swarthmore United Methodist Church.

$120.00

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans, a native of Swarthmore, is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness. Ann believes in the healing power of yoga and meditation for everyone, no matter what age, level of fitness, or life circumstance. For more information, email Ann at info@teamsunwellness.com.

“I have been a grateful student in Ann’s yoga classes for a couple of years. As an older yoga practitioner who has worked with other teachers in the past, I have especially appreciated her non-judgmental and very encouraging approach. Her classes offer increasing challenges for students to stretch their bodies and their repertoire of yoga poses, but always in a compassionate, supportive, and peaceful atmosphere. In addition, her subtle humor and intention to connect personally with her students makes practicing yoga just plain fun. As Ann expands her teaching opportunities, I hope to follow her for as long as I can move my body!” -Judy S.

Intro to Yoga with Team Sun Wellness

We are so excited to announce a new yoga class we’ll be teaching together in our South Philly neighborhood – Intro to Yoga at DiSilvestro Playground! Meets the first 4 Saturdays in June from 10:30-11:30am. Price is $45, which includes a yoga mat! Or drop in to one Saturday for $15, mat not included.

For the first four Saturdays in June (1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd) join Team Sun Wellness at DiSilvestro Playground’s indoor space for 4 gentle one-hour yoga sessions aimed at beginners, but open to all levels. During our sessions, we’ll explore a variety of reclining, seated, and standing postures and the transitions between these poses – adapted to your level. Our accessible sequences are designed to create balance between mind and body by connecting the movement with breath. Blocks and straps provided to help safely attain or deepen poses. Class size limited to 25.

Registration is being handled through Disilvestro (1701 S. 15th St Philadelphia, PA) and all the information can be found here: REGISTRATION FOR INTRO TO YOGA WITH TSW

About the Instructors: Ann and Brian formed Team Sun Wellness in 2015, joining forces to help people of all ages and walks of life take care of themselves through mindful movement and focused breathing. Both certified yoga instructors, Ann and Brian are passionate about bringing the principles of yoga – physical postures, meditation, and breathing – to populations outside the typical yoga studio space. We offer affordable classes in community and private settings where participants can feel supported while safely finding their own practice…and we have fun while doing it!

Special May Workshops!

We’re bringing you some special offerings in May and hope to see you come out for something a little different! All workshops meet on Saturdays at Wallingford Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Hall. Click on photos for more.

Full Flower Moon Workshop

SATURDAY MAY 18th: Combine yoga and floral design! Join us in celebrating the Full Flower Moon with a harmonizing yoga flow followed by DIY floral design 9:30-11am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church.

Start by getting grounded, breathing and moving to unlock your creativity during a gentle yoga sequence accessible for all levels. Then design your own hand bouquet to take home using locally sourced flowers and greens, with help from yoga teacher and floral designer, Ann MacMullan Jeans. No experience in yoga or floral design required! Bring your own mat or borrow one from Team Sun Wellness (supplies limited.) Class limit 25. $40 includes floral supplies to take home.

“Generosity is an activity that loosens us up. By offering whatever we can – a dollar, a flower, a word of encouragement – we are training in letting go.”

-Pema Chödrön

About the Instructor: In addition to teaching yoga and meditation classes as a certified yoga teacher (EYT-200) with her company Team Sun Wellness, Ann has a Certificate of Merit in Floral Design from Longwood Gardens and has worked as a floral designer for Merion Golf Club, Falls Flowers, and Egan Rittenhouse. She is passionate about the deep connection between people and plants, and delights in the abundance of Delaware County’s late spring blooms.

Full Flower Moon Yoga + Floral Design Workshop

Saturday, May 18th 9:30-11:00am includes floral supplies / Wallingford Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall

$40.00

Hatha Yoga – New Series

Unwind with this gentle but challenging ancient form of exercise. Learn basic yoga asanas or postures to improve strength, balance, and flexibility while focusing on the thread of the breath that “yokes” the mind and body together. Whatever your age or level of fitness, you’re welcome to join this accessible yoga class with a real group spirit. Come practice with strangers and leave as friends! And we’ll be adding more anatomy to our classes during the months of May and June!

Classes meet at Wallingford Presbyterian Church, an exceptional venue with hardwood floors and stained glass windows, and a feeling of sanctuary for all kinds. Class size limited to 35. Either sign up for all 5 sessions, or drop in for $15 to one.

Hatha Yoga Thursdays -May 9th – June 6th / 6-7pm / $50 for 5 sessions

$50.00

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans, a native of Swarthmore, is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness. Ann believes in the healing power of yoga and meditation for everyone, no matter what age, level of fitness, or life circumstance. For more information, email Ann at info@teamsunwellness.com.

“I have attended classes with Ann, participated in workshops, and worked with her in private sessions. Ann senses what each individual needs in all of these different settings. She is perceptive, insightful and kind. Yoga has helped my balance and focus. I wholeheartedly recommend her.” – Amy S.