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Because of my yoga practice, my awareness of feet has increased in the last few years, and my history of flat feet and weak ankles drives my interest in learning about foot health and its importance in long-term health.

I found some info about yoga poses and other exercises for the feet.

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From Yoga for the Feet:

Feet can also be the root cause of leg, pelvis and back problems. A fallen arch, or flat foot, can cause knee, hip, back and shoulder misalignment and pain. Adult bad posture and back pain can be traced back to lack of muscle tone or misalignment in the feet.

    • One in six people in the US have foot problems.
    • Nine out of ten women are wearing shoes that are too small for their feet.
    • Women are nine times more likely to develop a foot problem because of improper fitting shoes than men.
      • Eighty percent of all foot problems occur in women.
        • Two-thirds of foot problems can be attributed to shoes.
          • At one time or another, 85% of Americans have foot problems serious enough to require professional attention.

            Yoga poses for the feet

            • Virasana (hero post): very therapeutic for flat feet
              • Another article in Yoga Journal focuses on the benefits of the pose; the author does this post 45 minutes every day!
            • Vajrasana (thunderbolt or zen pose): similar to Virasana, helps to recreate or maintain healthy arches, increase flexibility in the ankle as well as reconstruct the alignment of the tarsal bones.
            • Baddha Konanana (bound angle pose)
            • Squat with Toe Stretch, knees on floor
            • Squat, knees up, heels on floor
            • Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog

            Other foot exercises are also explained near the end of the Yoga for the Feet article, which you can read here: http://www.sunandmoonstudio.com/Articles/feet.html

            According to the NYTimes (An Enduring Measure of Fitness: The Simple Push-Up):

            “Based on national averages, a 40-year-old woman should be able to do 16 push-ups and a man the same age should be able to do 27. By the age of 60, those numbers drop to 17 for men and 6 for women. Those numbers are just slightly less than what is required of Army soldiers who are subjected to regular push-up tests. “

            It’s hard for me to believe that the numbers are so high, considering the numbers of Americans who are overweight.  But maybe I’m on the super-weak end when it comes to push-ups.

            It’s only in the last 5 years or so that I’ve had enough upper body and core strength to do anything resembling a full push-up.  This is because of my yoga practice (plank pose and chaturanga dandasana especially).  Because of the benefits of flexibility, as well as strength and alignment, and mind-quieting, I want to do yoga until I am very old.

            And now the information in this article gives me more reason to focus on the push-up benefits of yoga, for my long-term health.

            “The push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness. It tests the whole body, engaging muscle groups in the arms, chest, abdomen, hips and legs. It requires the body to be taut like a plank with toes and palms on the floor. The act of lifting and lowering one’s entire weight is taxing even for the very fit.”

            “Push-ups are important for older people, too. The ability to do them more than once and with proper form is an important indicator of the capacity to withstand the rigors of aging.”

            LOVE YOUR TOES! 

            I say this to my clients and students often.  Why? Because our feet work so hard for us, and are often neglected, as so much swirls around our heads.  Love your toes and ground yourself.

            If you’re having a hard time sleeping because your mind’s racing, spend some time rubbing, squeezing and massaging your toes and feet before you go to sleep.  Do this yourself, or ask your partner to do this for you.  Even a few minutes will feel wonderful.

            I haven’t liked my toes or my feet much; my feet are flat and not cute in the dance shoes that I wish I could wear.  But that changed with yoga.  Now I spend a lot of time looking at my toes, and they’re kind of cute! 

            So, one way I love my toes is to dress them up once in a while with nail polish.  But I’ve been reluctant to do this too much because the nail polish and nail polish removers are gross.  They smell like chemicals and unhealthy.  Forget about going into a nail salon! 

            I finally did something about this. 

            Yesterday, I bought non-toxic biodegradable nailpolish remover ($9.99) and a water-based nail polish–desert sunset color ($8.99) from Sun Coat.  (Bought at Real Food Co. in San Francisco, on Polk Street.)  No chemical solvents such as toluene, acetates and alcohol; no pthalates; no formaldehyde.  And no smell!  The conventional nail polish I had on my toenails came off well.  I’ll say it again, No Smell!  I’ll paint my nails again later and will report back.  (My friend told me about another line of healthier nail polish: No Miss Nail Polish.)

            PS: Back to a busy mind.  One way to deal with this is to turn it upside down.  Try legs-up-the-wall yoga pose.

            I’ve had braces on my teeth for four months now, and I’ve been acutely aware of different ways I hold tension in my jaw and mouth.

            Clenching teeth and holding tension in the jaw can lead to discomforts like headaches, neck and shoulder tightness, and TMJ.

            Here are some tips to help relax the jaw.

            Tongue to Roof of Mouth

            I learned this in yoga. Gently allow the tip of your tongue to float up to the roof of your mouth. Your jaw should naturally drop and relax. You can try this any time you notice that you are clenching your teeth or furrowing your brow.

            Acu Point: HOKU

            This is one of the best overall stress-relieving points. Holding this point on the top of the hand can help with relieving so many discomforts–insomnia, headaches, constipation, shoulder and neck tension–that could be causing or exacerbated by tension in the jaw. Read on.

            Bedtime Jaw Squeeze

            If you wake up with soreness in your jaw and teeth, try this simple sqeeze before going to sleep. Sit up straight, relax your shoulders and arms, and take a nice deep breath. Now gently press your palms on the sides of your face by your jaw. Clench your teeth and you can feel a muscle bulge; that’s where you want to place your palms. Relax your jaw–try the Tongue to Roof of Mouth explained above–and hold you palms firmly but comfortably on your jaws while you take five deep breaths, in and out. Release your hands, relax your shoulders, and take five more deep breaths. Repeat the squeeze and relaxing two more times.

            (Certain medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or chronic pain, may contribute to sleep problems. Please seek the advice of a qualified health care provider for questions about a medical condition.)

            Boy, was I thankful for having learned to be a better breather when I was under the dentist’s drill, the other day.  I felt some pain, but mostly fear and anxiety about this new experience of getting a filling.

            Whenever I teach a class on acupressure,  I tell my students, “Your breath is your friend.”  So when you hold a point, take a few deep breaths.  Even if you’re not holding a point, take a few deep breaths.  Deep breaths help with relaxation.

            And what I learned on the dentist’s chair is that I was able to access my calming breath, because I had done it before, in many ways.  Practicing acupressure points; giving wellness sessions; receiving bodywork; meditating; in my yoga practice.  So, hooray for all that attention to breath.

            I went to my regular yoga class this morning, and their was a substitute teacher. His training and style is different from my teacher’s (which is Anusara), so we did a lot more vinyasa* flows than we do in my teacher’s classes. This means that we moved from asana (pose) to asana more quickly than I am used to.

            Both my body and mind resisted, but somewhere between downward dog and cobra pose, I thought, “Hey, this is more of that go with the flow stuff.” So, while my teacher is away for a few weeks next month, I think I’ll seek out some more “flowy” classes, to give me some more chances to bring flow and flexibility into my life.

            I was happy to see how this initially trying experienced turned out to be a gift for my yoga practice, and my life off the mat, too.

            * Definition of vinyasa (source: About.com):

            Breath-synchronized movement. When used to describe a style of yoga, Vinyasa means that poses will flow from one to another in conjunction with the breath. Vinyasa in also used as a noun to describe the series of poses that are done between Downward Facing Dogs as part of a Sun Salutation sequence.

            I’m feeling some anxiety about changes–real, imagined and expected–in my life now. I came across this article in the Yoga Journal, by meditation teacher Philip Moffit, where he talks about change and intention: The Dharma of Life Changes. Since intention is a key word in my own work with clients and with myself, I was curious to see what the author had to say.

            I was especially drawn to these questions that Phillip Moffit proposes:

            Diligently applying mindfulness allows you to answer three basic questions:

            1. What are your real motives?
            2. What are the possible effects of any change?
            3. Is the manner in which you plan to go about change skillful?”

            These are seemingly simple questions, but how simple is it to “diligently apply mindfulness”? I find my mind wandering easily to worries and planning, so I remind myself of the benefits of spending a few minutes to do a self-acu mini meditation.

            Whatever movement in your life that you are dealing with or working on bringing to fruition–managing your weight, improving your life balance, greater financial success, a new job, a growing family–try out these questions. Change is a part of life; it’s nice to have some guidance in how to navigate through those times.

            In the last minutes of 2006, I was in a car accident. We were just about to cross the Oakland Bay Bridge to go home after a warm and lovely New Year’s Eve dinner, and the car I was driving was hit by a truck.

            Fortunately, no one was injured. The man who hit us was calm and friendly, which helped calm my startled nerves, and I trust that the insurance matters will all work out alright. When the clock struck 2007, we were still on the side of the road, but had a great view of the fireworks display across the Bay.

            Nevertheless, my spirit has been a bit off-kilter today, the first day of 2007. Worried about the repair requirements, wary about driving, rattled that the transition to the new year was accompanied by such a jolt. However, I remind myself of the healthy intention I set for myself yesterday, before the accident.

            That is, to practice some yoga and meditation every morning, even if only for 15 minutes. I ALWAYS feel better when I do that. I know this supports all aspects of my life.

            And this morning, even though I was feeling a bit tentative and sorry for myself, and my neck and shoulder were a bit uncomfortable–from the accident? from stress and worry?–I did my practice. I felt better afterward, in body and spirit, and I believe it allowed me to enjoy the visits with good friends through the day as much as I have. My morning practice also probably helped to recognize my “off-kilter” state, and just let it be, rather than getting more worried about that.

            So, I invite you to consider setting a healthy intention for yourself.

            • Not a goal, which sets up a specific expectation. Here’s a familiar example: I must diet and lose x pounds by y-date.
            • But a guiding principle that helps you with what to do in every moment. It might look like this: My intention is to pay attention to when I am actually hungry, and eat food that is nutritious and delicious, enough to satisfy my hunger, and no more.

            When you pay attention to the joyful or peaceful and restful moments in your life, what healthy intentions can you set?

            We’re on the homestretch before Christmas. Even if you’re not actively participating in the shopping/party rush, as my friend told me today, “it’s in the air.”

            So for the rest of the week, I want to share some natural wellness tips that are easy and simple, but also very effective.

            We’ll start with yoga. I am not a yoga teacher, but I study Anusara Yoga and apply my learnings with my clients and students. I like the Yoga Journal for its articles and online resources. The following description of “legs-up-the-wall” pose and the photo are from The Yoga Journal. legsupthewall

            Viparita Karani: Legs-up-the-wall pose (click for detailed directions)

            This pose is very calming, and I recommend it to my wellness clients who are suffering from insomnia, often from a “busy mind” that has a difficult time slowing down. Even if you don’t have the props suggested in the Yoga Journal article, five minutes with your legs up as part of your nightly before-sleep ritual can help your sleep. (Please read contraindications below.)

            A modification to the pose, if your hamstrings are tight or it’s uncomfortable to keep your legs up, is to bend your knees and put your rest lower legs on the seat of a chair, or on your bed. The goal is to relax and quiet the mind; not to stretch the hamstrings.

            Contraindications for this pose from the Yoga Journal:

            “Many teachers maintain that Viparita Karani is an inversion, and as such should be avoided during menstruation. Others though recommend the pose even during menstruation. Check with your teacher before performing this pose during menstruation. As with any inversion Viparita Karani should be avoided if you have serious eye problems, such as glaucoma. With serious neck or back problems only perform this pose with the supervision of an experienced teacher. If your feet begin to tingle during this pose, bend your knees, touch your soles together, and slide the outer edges of your feet down the wall, bringing your heels close to your pelvis”