Pounding the pavement in New York City is an adventure. Everyone walks there. Some people would rather walk thirty blocks than ride the subway. It’s so easy to get swept up in the sea of people, with the sensory-overload of sights, sounds, and smells all around you. It can be overwhelming but staying in tune with our bodies makes it easier to navigate these kinds of obstacle courses. One of the easiest ways to stay connected to our bodies is by focusing on our feet.
Feet are kind of a big deal:
There are 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles, 10 tendons and 107 ligaments in the foot
The soles of your feet contain more sensory nerve ending than per square centimeter than any other part of the body
There are approximately 250,000 sweat glands in your feet
The average person takes 10,000 steps per day
Women are four times more likely to have foot problems than men (due to wearing high heels)
90% of American women wear shoes that are too small for their feet
Walking on hard surfaces takes a major toll on our feet. You can walk for miles in the woods without getting tired but walking around in a mall can be exhausting. The way our feet connect with the ground affects our whole bodies. Being unconscious of our feet can induce any number of alignment issues, pain, and disabilities.
The simple act of walking can be an exercise in mindfulness if we so choose. One simple technique that I use for walking is to stay aware of the four corners of my feet – the big toes, little toes, inner and outer heels. Some other tips for walking mindfully include:
Keep your feet parallel.
Plant the heel and roll through the foot evenly.
Keep a 50/50 weight distribution between your inner and outer heels.
Roll through the foot towards the direction of your second toe. Your big toes will take on more of the weight, but keep your pinkie toes active.
Relax the soles of your feet. Imagine that you’re massaging the ground with each step.
You can also play with finding the balance between the two sides of your feet. Too much weight in the inner arch will cause pronation of the feet (rolling the feet towards one another) and too much weight in the outer arch of the foot will cause supination (rolling the feet away from one another).
It’s always a good idea to conclude a day on your feet with a foot massage. I teach an easy and effective foot massage sequence in my Foundations Training course.
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Cross-training with yoga is a popular discussion topic these days and people will sometimes ask me if I lift weights or do cardio. There are ways to effectively combine Eastern and Western forms of exercise but there are a few common mistakes to avoid.
To be clear, when I’m using the word yoga in this context I’m talking about the physical practice of asana, not the 5,000+ year old tradition. Asana-based yoga classes are the most recent evolution of the 1980’s aerobics fad and most YMCA’s, gyms and health clubs offer a variety of them. Yet many of these businesses do not educate their clientele on how to safely incorporate yoga into their work outs.
Contractive vs. expansive strength training.
Free weight training is designed to build strength by repeatedly contracting the muscle towards the central axis of the body. Yoga poses such as Warrior 2 build strength by holding the posture and lengthening the muscles away from the central axis of the body. Contractive strength training shortens the muscle whereas expansive strengthening promotes a balance of strength and flexibility.
People who practice routine contractive strength training (such as bodybuilders) may have a tough time holding poses like Warrior 2. If you’ve been weightlifting regularly and want to start practicing yoga it can helpful to switch to lighter weights. There are some corporate yoga studios that offer classes that combine light weight training with yoga.
Asana and Cardio.
Any kind of joint impacting exercise should be done BEFORE practicing yoga. Asana opens the joints so it’s counterintuitive to run on a treadmill after practicing yoga. While there are cardio machines like exercise bikes and ellipticals that don’t impact the joints they do tighten the muscles. It’s a good idea to stretch for five minutes before doing cardio and then do an extended yoga practice afterwards.
A good warm up is key.
It’s worth mentioning another potential safety issue that frequently happens in gym settings. Oftentimes members arrive well after a class has started, sometimes as much as a half hour into the class, or else they might leave early. Many instructors don’t say anything as the success of a class is based on attendance numbers, but this can be quite dangerous.
For your safety you should plan on attending a group yoga class from start to finish. You wouldn’t jump on a treadmill and start out at peak speed, nor would you end a weight lifting session without a little stretching. Just like any other system of exercise there is a formula to a yoga class, and this formula is designed to give you optimal results.