Here are a few tips that I put together for the Elbowroom blog to help cultivate a strong foundation in your practice. This is so so important for beginners and more seasoned yogis alike so I have reposted the piece here.
Have you ever seen a yogi effortlessly hold an elegant dancer pose? You think I can do that, attempt it and immediately fall over. Your internal dialogue runs something like ‘I am not strong enough to hold that pose’, ‘I am not flexible enough to even get into that pose’.
The truth is that the key to any standing pose lies in its foundation - the feet. Like a tree, a standing pose is simultaneously strong and flexible when it grows from solid roots.
One of the first things we do when we step onto the yoga mat is to learn how to stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). It may seem simple but this is the yogic equivalent of learning to walk before you can run. Every pose grows from the ground upwards. Activating your feet doesn’t just happen. It takes awareness and practice. Walking, running, heel striking, wearing heels, suffering from fallen arches can profoundly effect the feet. Often we are completely unaware of a weakness in that part of the body.
A passive foot is a weak foot. So what can we do to make our feet strong and active so that we can develop ease in every standing pose from the ground upwards?
1. Spread your toes – standing with feet hip distance apart, lift your toes and spread them wide like the rays of the sun. Consciously place the big toe mound on the floor and each toe in sequence all the way to the little toe.
2. Root the heels – find the very centre of the heel and firmly make contact with the floor. Heel and toe engagement create tripod of support.
3. Engage the arches – actively engage the arches of the feet by drawing them energetically upwards. Visualise the muscles at the centre of the arch of the foot as a suction cup that is actively working against gravity and drawing up towards the ceiling.
4. Root to rise – now that the toes and heels are purposefully connected with the floor consciously ground down deeply into the earth whilst keep the arches engaged. When the feet are properly engaged you will feel a strengthening energy rebound up through the inner legs all the way to the inners groins.
5. Stand up tall – every time you strike pose use the solid foundation to create length in the spine and stand tall. Practice makes perfect. You can even do this waiting for the bus!
6. Find balance – depending on the pose you may feel that one foot has to work much harder than the other. Regardless of the shape of your body, strive to find an even balance of effort through both feet. This will promote a sense of ease throughout the whole body and makes every pose much more accessible. Balance is key – on and off the mat!