Article originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press (co-authored by Helen Maupin, Candace Propp, Stacy Schroder)
Yoga’s eight limbs or pathways are intended to strengthen our response-ability no matter what situation emerges in our day-to-day living. In essence, this means ensuring the thoughts, words and deeds we put out into the world are of pure intention. In our practice of doing no harm and becoming a responsible person, we must first learn to stand on our own two feet, which in yoga involves finding our centre and staying grounded in that centre even when under duress.
Being centred implies a balancing act. Because humans are complex beings, we are balancing not just our physical essence but our emotional, mental and spiritual aspects as well. With continued practice, standing and balancing on our own two feet cultivates holistic balance, confidence and a sense of security.
Our physical sense of security is further enhanced as a result of doing yoga in bare feet. When we are in direct contact with the solid surface below us, we can more easily gauge our balance while stretching and strengthening our arches, toes and heels. Spreading one’s toes is next to impossible in a pair of shoes but is vital for creating a secure foundation. Sensing our feet on a solid surface (linoleum, hardwood, etc.) rather than carpeting or gym mats helps us to feel where in our bodies we carry our weight and what we need to do to become more balanced, steady and at ease.
The three asanas (poses) illustrated below are especially important for mastering balance and stability. Use the following yoga action in each of the poses.
Action: Begin in Tadasana and shift your weight forward onto your toe mounds, then backward onto the balls of your heels. Rock back and forth between your toe mounds and heels until you are able to equalize your weight into the front and back of the foot.
For more advanced yogis, in addition to the above action, balance the weight of the inner and outer edges of your feet.
Tadasana (Standing Mountain Pose)
As you balance your weight between your toe mounds and heels, sense (from inside) whether your ears, shoulders, outer hips, outer knees and outer ankles are in a straight line. From your point of balance, stand tall in Tadasana, and hold the posture for 10 breaths or 1 minute.
Stand facing the wall and place your hands at shoulder height. Exhale and step your feet back until your body forms a 90-degree angle with arms and legs straight. First, balance your body weight over your feet. Then, balance your body weight between your feet and your hands. Hold the pose for 10 to 20 breaths.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana I (variation)
As you find your balance between the toes and heel of the standing leg, keep the outer hip of the lifted leg releasing toward the floor. Arms and legs are straight. Hold the pose for 5 to10 breaths and repeat the pose to the other side.
For more yoga actions, refer to Creating Space: Yoga Actions for Feet & Ankles.