As a yoga instructor, teaching asana as well as overseeing Mysore groups, one thing I see over and over again is a person losing connection to their feet. It’s obvious. It’s also very hard to avoid when you are inside the practice. However, in making the effort to stay connected to your feet, as much as you can, you approach the true intention of practice.
Think about it--how incredible your feet are. They actually comprise the strongest most reliable musculature in your body. They must be able to respond, on demand, anytime, in an instant. As you begin any yoga class or self practice, in Tadasana, you are invited to make that first observation within, as they subtly yet definitely respond to subtle shifts in weight in the upper regions of your body.
The cerebellum of our brains is a place from where all of our automatic movement is orchestrated. This movement—walking, running, responding to stimulation with coordinated movement in all parts of the body—is miraculous to consider. The absolutely beautiful level of coordination that takes place without us even thinking about it.
That is, until we are injured.
Injury brings us to realize that if just one, tiny part of the body is out of balance enough, we are forced to put our conscious mind on it. But why wait for that? This is when starting from the ground (feet!) up starts to make sense.
The practice of yoga is not about developing strength and flexibility so much as it is first and foremost building our vocabulary of communication between our brains and the rest of our bodies until an increasingly sophisticated level of conversation is achieved.
Flexibility and strength are side effects of this process!
When in each asana you draw your attention to your feet, you start to also draw your awareness to a massive, pulsating being that is your mother and the mother of all beings—animate and inanimate—on this planet.
The power and presence of this being is at once your own. You are not separate from it. And you are invited to honor each step, each interaction, as much as we can, with this power. This identification with it. This is really when practice comes to life. You see you are simply plugging yourself into your own birthright, like one plugs their computer into a socket for energy--the potential of that machine can be accessed in a creative capacity.
For example, and for starters: Tadasana—ground the feet, close the eyes, feel the weight gently teeter across the four corners of your base. This is all happening between the cerebellum (back brain) and the bottoms of the feet all day long. But when you attend to it, you actually feel the way your feet constantly balance you--a tiny surface area balancing so much weight and movement! You consciously realize that you are of the Earth, who is jealous to let you go to far away from her, with each move, whenever you draw your attention back again and again to your feet.
You were born in a body, for a reason. Some of us don’t like this at first. I know I didn’t. Through eating disorders, different drugs of choice and escapist activities as well as becoming tyrannical about how my body should function, I never wanted a relationship with my body so much as to dominate it. Until I started to practice mindful yoga.
Even in the early years of daily ashtanga practice, I was still in a patriarchal, dogmatic domination mode, even if it was infused with good intentions and an actual step in a more conscious direction. By pushing through pain, expecting outcomes, letting the ego drive my actions, I stayed locked in the dysfunction of muting my body. Injury after injury, goal met after achievement after Instagram shot, I pushed.
Until one day, it all just caught up and a deep-seated, sick feeling took over my right psoas, liver area and hip flexor. Still, today, I sit nursing it, after almost a year. This was not an injury, it was a full-on resignation letter by the right side of my body.
I slept and my hands curled up, indicating severe depletion, the acupuncturists told me. My liver was so exhausted, my poor body was just tired. And I began to listen to it. I began to slow down.
And as I did, I found my best friend to be my feet. I followed them to the sea, to stand in the sand. I listened to them on the mat, as they told me stories of power and presence I had never imagined.
Every pose, from each and every move in the sun salutations, started to make more and more sense. This combined with the changing instructions of my yoga teacher—who insisted on connecting, grounding and finding the power in our legs with each standing and seated move (starting with the feet!)—really helped me come down, into my body.
Knowledge vs. Wisdom
Through the process of embodiment, and the continued practice of consciously connecting down the body through our feet, many new experiences arise.
There’s just something about standing in your space, inside of your own energetic presence, that will change your life. Your body is absolutely present. To be with it, and to acknowledge it as one and the same as the Earth herself, is truly a gift.
A sense of respect washes over me when I practice. I am not separate, from anything. And my respect extends through and everywhere around me. I belong. You belong.
Your feet are waiting to show you this. And this is when you will start to experience the difference between all the data that runs through your mind and the wisdom of all of the experience stored in your body.
It must be experienced.
Practical Ways to Find Your Feet, Consistently
1. Slow down—start by slowing down to 95 percent of your normal speed in asana practice. Then 90 percent. Take time, find your foundation, breath an extra breath to find it, take your time.
2. Consciously ground the knuckle of your big toe and connect with all four corners of your feet with each movement in asana, and allow this consciousness to expand out to daily activities on your feet.
3. Invest in a good yoga mat—one that allows your feet to connect with it but also the floor and Earth beneath. Feel this out. The guide linked helps you read more deeply what is out there before you experiment with a purchase. Too much grip might hold your feet and encourage you to tune them out a bit, you want your legs involved, they link your pelvis to your spine to your brain to your feet!
4. Slow down, again. This cannot be emphasized enough. You have more time than you think. The difference between five seconds and ten seconds and whether or not you keep up with class is worth you coming into your own space, consciously.
5. Explore reflexology. Look up charts and give it to yourself or your partner, and ask to receive it, regularly. It works, and it's powerful for stress relief and grounding when done regularly.
6. Acknowledge and allow any feelings that may come up as you embody yourself through this deliberate approach. They will. They may even try to sabotage your efforts as you find some days you blaze through practice. But you will miss your feet; they always call you back. And you will find your real home when you more and more often stand consciously for yourself.