“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein

Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Balance Opposites in the Foot and Ankle

I think that one of the keys to a unified theory lies in the name Hatha—sun/moon and balancing opposites. Here’s a tip on balancing them for the foot and ankle.

First, the Anatomy . . .

peroneous longus and brevis in downward dog
Peroneus longus (and brevis in light blue).
The peroneus longus originates from the head and upper two thirds of the fibula. It then runs down the outside of the lower leg and under the foot to insert onto the medial cuneiform and base of the first metatarsal at the inside of the foot arch. It acts to evert the foot, plantar flex the ankle, and support the transverse arch of the foot. The peroneus brevis originates from the lower half of the outside of the fibula and inserts onto the base of the fifth metatarsal (on the outer edge of the foot). It acts to evert the ankle (and assists in plantar flexing the ankle).

tibialis posterior in downward dog
Tibialis posterior.
The tibialis posterior originates from the back of the upper tibia and fibula and also from the interosseous membrane that spans the two bones.  It wraps around the inside of the ankle behind the medial malleolus to the undersurface of the foot to insert onto the navicular, cuneiforms, cuboid. A fibrous expansion extends its insertion onto the bases of the second, third, and fourth metatarsals. Think “the midfoot” and use the image for reference. The tibialis posterior inverts (supinates) the foot and assists in plantar flexion of the ankle. It supports the transverse and longitudinal arches and is considered to be a key stabilizing muscle of the lower leg (by virtue of spanning between the length of the tibia and fibula).


tibialis posterior and peroneous longus and brevis insertions
Tibialis posterior, peroneus longus, and brevis insertions (underfoot).
Here are the Cues . . .

After you have engaged the tibiali anterior to release the gastroc/soleus muscles and lower the heels towards the floor (as described in a previous post), gently engage the peroneus longus and brevis by pressing the ball of the foot into the mat. Then activate the tibialis posterior to distribute the weight across the foot to the outer edge. Place the fleshy parts of the toes onto the mat. I will sometimes  engage the peroneii before I draw the heels to the floor. Then I activate the tibiali anterior to bring the heels down. I finish up with the tibialis posterior to spread the weight across the bottoms of the feet and dynamize the arches. Feel how this stabilizes the feet and ankles.

Remember about portability of techniques between asanas. Once you get a feeling for this in Dog Pose, try it in Trikonasana and other standing poses.

Check back for the next post where I’ll illustrate how to move this balancing of forces up through the knees and into the hips to strengthen the muscles of the thighs and align the knees. Be sure to visit us on Facebook for your free poster and e-book!!

Namasté,
Ray and Chris

13 comments:

  1. this one feels a little tricky for me, gonna have to practice it more ;-)

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  2. Thanks Ray, great stuff!!!

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  3. Adan,

    The key is not to try too hard at the beginning. Just go through the motions of what I describe a couple of times and then leave it until the next practice. Give your unconscious brain a chance to process it. Approach all of the cues like this. The more powerful unconscious brain only needs a bit of guidance and is fully capable of refining this.

    Ray

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  4. i'd read that before on your site, but glad you reminded me of it; thanks ray

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  5. My experience is also that it takes quiet some time to get a feeling for the interplay between the different antagonistic forces acting on the ankle. Anterior/posterior (getting the heels down in downward facing dog), medial/lateral (balancing the arches , Intra/extrarotation (aligning the arches).

    I often come back to anatomy books trying to figure out the routes of forces acting on connective tissue. Recently I started to pay some interest to the plantaris and popliteus muscles. The plantaris is not very often mentioned in this context. However when you study it it connects the inside of the heal to the outside of the lower femur. I.e. it connects intrarotation ankle (and mediomotion?) with extrarotation knee. Via ligaments in the knee it is also connected to semimembranous and intrarotation (and mediomotion?) knee. As intra and extrarotation is performed by antagonistic muscle groups a hypothesis could be that the small plantaris with its very long tendon is a mediator for reciprocal inhibition. And if it gets a bit trapped under soleus on its long route it may disturb this signaling action. Such an entrapment could perhaps in some cases put the talus/tibia/femur in a slight constant intrarotation deactivating and weakening the extrarotational muscle groups and cause malalignment e.g. in the pelvis. Of course this is also a one small anatomical actor however visualizing a relaxed plantaris has been beneficial on my part to better balancing the legs.

    Sven

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  6. Hey Sven,

    Thanks for stopping by again. I will do some research on the plantaris and popliteus and then do a post for it. My current approach is to start with the gross movements, such as flex/ext, pron/sup etc. My experience is that, in between practice sessions, the brain then refines the movements by automatically integrating the synergists. I believe what you are suggesting can help take this approach a step further, by then consciously engaging these muscles, as with the prime movers to further refine the poses.
    I have some high level resources from the sports med world and will tap into them and get back to you.
    Much thanks for contributing here.

    Best,

    Ray

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  7. Hi. I'm trying to improve my Dog pose and letting my heels to reach the ground. However, I think my problem is not due to peroneus longus as my ankle can flex correctly when my knees are bent, the problem occurs when I strech them out. As peroneus longus is not connected to the femur, it shouldn't be the stiff muscle I need to focus on. Could you tell me which one it is?

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  8. Hi Yann,

    More likely the gastrocnemius. Check the blog post:
    http://www.dailybandha.com/2011/02/heres-tip-to-help-you-get-heels-down-in.html
    Often engaging the tibialis anterior will help. I go over that in the post. Make sure you are warmed up and try that technique.
    Keep me posted on your progress--thanks for the question too.

    All the Best,

    Ray

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  9. I went through it seams to answer my needs. Thank you and keep doing this very interesting blog !

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  10. Thanks, Yann. Keep me posted on how these tips work for you. All the Best~Ray

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  11. Greetings, Chris and Ray! Searching your site for any mention of yoga for a condition called Foot Drop. I see nothing thus far (yet this post is very interesting) and I love the "under foot" view.

    Your illustrations are always startlingly impressive and have informed my understanding so very much in the last years.

    Any recommendations for yoga practitioners with Foot Drop are greatly appreciated.

    :-)

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  12. I'm loving the 'science bit' of Yoga. Thank you so much for posting. WE WANT MORE!

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