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.

Balance Workshop

Join us for a fun workshop all about balance!

  • Saturday September 7th, 10-11:15am
  • Swarthmore United Methodist Church
  • Donation-based: pay what you can

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.

 While it’s true that our muscles, joints, and bones change as we age, and are no longer as elastic or strong as they once were, and we may also experience more issues in the vestibular system, or may be taking medications which affect balance, it doesn’t mean we have to blindly believe that our balance is only going to get worse.

I believe that if we have regular doctor’s checkups, stay active and mindful, have good posture, and continue to challenge our balance, we can maintain and even improve balance. I have seen improvements in balance firsthand with regular practice in my balance and yoga classes. Being more active seems to go hand in hand with maintaining or improving balance.

In this workshop, we’ll:

  • Evaluate our balance using a timed exercise.
  • Get mindful: create a mind-body connection by focusing on the breath to improve awareness.
  • Get in touch with our feet, the foundations of balance.
  • Learn new postural habits: good alignment means stability.
  • Stretch and strengthen muscles used for balance.
  • Learn new visual habits: lift the gaze to encourage use of peripheral vision.
  • Practice increasingly difficult balance challenges in a supportive, non-judgmental environment – such as: standing yoga balance poses, walking a balance beam, ball-handling, and other exercises that challenge our balance.
  • Explore the “edge” of our balance ability.
  • Celebrate our victories no matter how small by supporting and encouraging each other!

Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Chairs will be provided, and if you have a yoga mat, please bring one. (Or borrow one from Team Sun Wellness, supplies limited) We will be placing chairs on the mats to create a non-slip surface. Class size limit 20. This is a donation-based offering, so please feel free to pay what you can. Suggested donation is $20, but if you have limited funds, don’t let that stop you from attending for free.

EMAIL OR CALL TO HOLD YOUR SPOT!

info@teamsunwellness.com / 917.837.2014

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches yoga, meditation, and balance classes in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness.

Balance 101 Workshop

Saturday May 11th: Join us for a fun workshop all about balance! Explore new ways to assess and improve your balance. 9:30-11am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church.

Learn how our vision, inner ear, and the strength of muscles and joints all work together to help us balance. Improve your sense of balance through fun exercises while creating good balance habits that can be incorporated into everyday situations. In this workshop, we’ll:

  • Evaluate our balance using a timed exercise.
  • Get mindful: create a mind-body connection by focusing on the breath to improve awareness.
  • Get in touch with our feet, the foundations of balance.
  • Learn new postural habits: good alignment means stability.
  • Stretch and strengthen muscles used for balance.
  • Learn new visual habits: lift the gaze to encourage use of peripheral vision.
  • Practice increasingly difficult balance challenges in a supportive, non-judgmental environment – such as: standing yoga balance poses, walking a balance beam, ball-handling, and other exercises that challenge our balance.
  • Explore the “edge” of our balance ability.
  • Celebrate our victories no matter how small by supporting and encouraging each other!

Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Chairs will be provided, and if you have a yoga mat, please bring one. (Or borrow one from Team Sun Wellness, supplies limited) We will be placing chairs on the mats to create a non-slip surface. Class size limit 30.

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches yoga, meditation, and balance classes in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness.

Balance 101 Workshop

Saturday May 11th 9:30-11:00am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church

$25.00

Balance

Our sense of balance is something most of us take for granted. Behind the scenes, three complex systems work together to keep us upright.

  1. Visual:  The eyes supply information to the brain about the objects surrounding the body in the physical environment. To better understand the role of this system, try balancing on one leg with the eyes open and then again with the eyes closed.
  2. Auditory:  Our inner ears contain a series of canals filled with fluid and fine, hair-like sensors. These monitor the position of the head in relation to gravity (in an elevator or airplane) and linear space (in an automobile).
  3. Proprioceptive:  Sensory nerves in the muscles, tendons and joints provide awareness of the body’s posture and position in space. For instance, the ankles, knees and hips help us to recover after tripping on a crack in the sidewalk.

 

It is important to note that these three systems rely upon the core muscles as well as the joints, particularly the hip, knee, and ankle, to perform the physical adjustments required to maintain balance.

Hospital corridor and doctor as a blurred defocused background

The consequences of suffering a fall can last a lifetime and affect not only individuals, but families, workplaces and communities. A fracture can bring pain, financial strain, loss of mobility, and many challenges that come with adapting to new daily routines.

FALL PREVENTION

  • Build strength and flexibility through regular exercise (see below.) This is particularly important for those with injuries in their past who avoid exercise due to their fear of falling. This decreased mobility further weakens muscles and bones.
  • Be aware of tripping hazards such as pets, area rugs, electrical cords, wet surfaces and objects on stairways.
  • Address unsafe conditions in the home or workplace such as inadequate lighting, open drawers, cabinet doors and furniture obstructing walking pathways.
  • Correct any vision/hearing issues, which can impact reaction time.
  • Use caution with medications that can interact, causing loss of balance.

EXERCISES TO IMPROVE BALANCE

Just like any other physical activity, balance can be improved through building strength, flexibility, mental focus and overall body awareness. Simple exercises like these can be safely practiced daily at home or the office.

First, start with the Seated Abdominal Crunch.

  1. Sit with a straight back and ankles below the knees.
  2. Inhale and lift arms up and out to the side like a goal post or the arms of a cactus.
  3. Lift the left foot 12” off floor.
  4. Exhale and bring right elbow down toward left knee, maintaining a straight back.
  5. Switch sides

Next, take a break and stand up. We love practicing the Calf Raise to improve balance,  stretch the calves, and strengthen the arches of the feet. It’s also an effective foot massage! Over time, try this exercise without the chair, or for an added challenge, with the eyes closed.

 

Now you’re ready to try Tree Pose.

tree_chair_together

  1. Use a wall or chair if need be.
  2. Put all your weight on the right foot.
  3. Lift your left leg with a bent knee, opening your knee out to the right.
  4. Place the sole of your foot inside the right leg above or below knee.
  5. Bring first one palm up at heart center, and then if you feel steady, try pressing both hands together. Find a place to gaze that is not moving.
  6. Switch Sides.

We love practicing Tree Pose outside, grounding down through the standing foot in order to actively rise through the chest and uplifted arms, while pulling the belly up and in.  Check out our Tree Pose video– shot at the Philadelphia Navy Yard!

BALANCE AND EVERYDAY ACTIVITIES

Active attention to improving our balance can be easily integrated into daily routines and activities. Remember that both the posture and breath are closely tied to our sense of balance. Many exercises focused on improving posture and breath will also improve balance. Refer to the Posture and Breath pages for more details.

  • Keep Moving! Find opportunities to integrate several short walks into the day. Even basic movement is key to maintaining balance, as it keeps the muscles and bones strong while also relieving stress and anxiety.
  • Strengthen the Core While Sitting: Squeeze a yoga block or folded pillow between the thighs while working at your desk,  watching TV or speaking on the phone. The inner thigh and hip muscles are critical for stability when standing, walking or running.

CORE MUSCLES

The muscles of our core provide the stable foundation for all our daily activities, from brushing our teeth to lifting weights at the gym. “It doesn’t matter how strong your arms and legs are if the muscles they’re attached to aren’t equally as strong.” (Steven Ehasz, MES, CSCS). Pictured here are the stabilizing hip and abdominal muscles: Psoas, left, and Rectus Abdominus, right.

Ease of movement and injury prevention are two critical factors in maximizing our quality of life. It’s never too late to begin improving your balance!

Yoga for Every Body

find_your_own_yoga

If you can breathe, you can practice yoga! No matter your age, level of mobility or fitness, there is a yoga practice for you. Yoga is generally low-impact and safe when practiced appropriately under the guidance of a well-trained instructor.

“Whether you’re a couch potato or a professional athlete, size and fitness levels do not matter because there are modifications for every yoga pose and beginner classes in every style,” Dr. Natalie Nevins, D.O., on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association.

We truly believe yoga is for everyone, that’s why we offer mat and chair sessions for all levels. We are passionate about bringing the principles of yoga – physical postures, meditation, and breathing – to atypical populations, outside of the classic yoga studio space, and offer our classes in community, corporate, and private settings where participants can feel supported while safely finding their own practice. Feel free to explore our Class Calendar for more details on when and where.

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! This is not just a self-aggrandizing claim from some yoga teacher, this is from an evidence-based study, the first study to demonstrate improvement in both cardinal and metabotrophic biomarkers of cellular aging and longevity in apparently healthy population after Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention.

  • Physical benefits: reduces heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose, oxidative damage, fatigue, weakness, fear of fall. Improves heart rate variability, baroreflex sensitivity, insulin sensitivity, physical functions, mobility, flexibility, and urinary incontinence.
  • Mental benefits: reduces depression, anxiety.
  • Emotional benefits: reduces anger, stress, tension and improve self-efficacy
  • Social: improves life satisfaction
  • See: Yoga for Stronger Bones
Gentle Yoga at Wallingford Presbyterian Church

Gentle Yoga: Our largest class, you’ll find an age range from twenties and thirties all the way into the eighties! The sessions are accessible for all levels, and blocks and straps are provided to help deepen and achieve poses. “Gentle” refers to an attitude of taking exquisite care of ourselves in each moment throughout the class. We explore a variety of reclining, seated and standing postures (asana) and the transitions between those poses, adapted to your level. In addition, we’ll learn more about the limbs of yoga beyond asana or the physical postures, such as meditation (dhyana) and breath-work (pranayama.) See Classes for more info.

Yoga for Men with Brian: This class is specifically designed for men of all shapes, sizes and ability levels to build strength and flexibility in a comfortable informal setting. Men tend to have greater muscle mass and less range of movement and may be intimidated by a traditional yoga studio environment. We’ll work on how to build our core muscles to manage old injuries and prevent new ones, expand the range of movement in our shoulders, backs and hips, use the breath to improve posture and balance, and learn simple techniques for managing stress and developing work/life balance. See Classes for more info.

Students after Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga: 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! See Classes for more info.

Chair Yoga Student in her Warrior Two Pose

Chair Yoga: Pull up a chair! 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. We underline the importance of focusing on the breath, as breath-connected movement is essential for health and well-being, fusing mind and body. Come refine your posture, improve balance, strength and flexibility – in a supportive and relaxing community environment. It’s called a “practice” because there is no “perfect” in yoga. See Classes for more info.

Chair Yoga at Assisted Living Facilities: We have been doing this since 2015, at first as a way to bring activity into Ann’s grandmother Ellie’s life. Teaching chair yoga to those who are between seventy and a hundred years old quickly became something we are very passionate about, and currently offer different yoga programs for all levels throughout the Philadelphia area. Contact us for more info on bringing chair yoga to your community! We have seen the benefits firsthand – our students report that yoga has helped them remain independent longer.

Private Sessions: We adapt each session to your individual needs so you can participate safely in a comfortable environment, scheduled at a time that is most convenient for you. We can work in your home, or feel free to visit us in our studio in South Philly.  We are often in the Wallingford-Swarthmore area and work with individuals, couples, and small groups. Celebrate the moment with a special group session! Mats, blocks and straps provided. Contact us or more info.

Corporate Yoga: We love bringing the tools of self-care into the workplace! Contact us to set up a special event or weekly session.

Check out the Feedback Page to hear what some of our students of all shapes, sizes, ages and mobility levels say about practicing yoga with Team Sun Wellness. Our full line up can be found on the Class Calendar!