The purpose of yoga is not to do handstands. Nor is it to be able to fold yourself into something resembling a contortionist in a travelling circus act... yoga helps you get unstuck. It creates space where once you were stuck.
It balances flexibility with strength and allows you to breathe into the tight knots that have grown through years of stress and misuse of your body. Yoga helps to smoothen the layers of fascia that weaves through your organs, muscle tissues, bones, nerves and ligaments. The Plantar Fascia is the layer of organic matter that connects your heel to your toes. It supports and creates the arch in your foot. If you are flat-footed, your fascia layers are straight and flaccid; if you have a high arch, those layers are concave and more taught.
Repetitive strain on the bottom of your feet; resulting from poor choice of footwear, repetitive actions like running on hard surfaces without adequate padding, practising dance forms like ballet, walking or standing for extended periods on high arched heels can result in the fascia layers being strained and eventually damaged or torn. This results in what is known as Plantar Fasciitis.
This rather painful diagnosis is not as rare as you might imagine. Most people who suffer from plantar fasciitis feel the pinch when they take their first few steps in the morning or after prolonged hours of being seated...
Take this typical example. Jane is a trader at XYS. Jane is in her mid 30s and prides herself for her athleticism. She runs 10kms to work every morning before 7:00am. She then sits at his desk from 7:00am until 17:00pm with fewer than five breaks throughout the day. She’s very busy; a moment away from her desk means she loses a deal. One day, she wakes up, takes a few steps off the bed and feels shooting pain from the base of her foot to her calf muscles. She takes no notice of it, and continues on with her routine for another few months. One day, the pain gets so intense, she goes to an orthopaedic consultant.... Who promptly diagnoses her with... ‘ Plantar Fasciitis ‘. Jane has just joined the millions of adults who then spend money on acupuncture, special insoles, foot rubs, and massage balls and magic creams that claim to cure the problem.
In my years of teaching vinyasa yoga, I have come across runners and recovering dancers who have complained of the dreaded PF; and they all expect me to give them modifications and adjustments to the asanas so they can keep up with the class. My job as their teacher is to make them acknowledge the pain, deal with it and step past it... my job is to make them stronger and help them heal themselves. While the asana practise in itself is no magic cure to this ailment, I have evidence that certain asanas help to heal the strain on the plantar fascia if practised early on.... Repeatedly straining the fascia is akin to ignoring the injury and knowingly hurting the body... you would need a different sort of yogic healing to overcome, I’m afraid.
Here are a few asanas that you can try safely to help seal the injury, protect your foot from further strain and gently coax your muscles and fascia to become unstuck and heal.
Dandasana ( staff pose): BASIC
Sit with your feet against the wall. Dorsi flex your feet such that your toes and heels exert the same amount of pressure on the wall. Feel your sitz bones rooting down on the floor, pelvic muscles are contracted, inner thighs are contracted and are pressing in, knees are extended and quads contracted; imagine you are wearing socks over your knees, visualize pulling those socks up towards your hips. Place your hands on either side of your hips, sit tall, spine is straight and long. Practise shifting the force of the push from your heels to your toes. Be gentle with yourself. If it hurts too much, place a cushion between your feet and the wall and try again. Here you are gently strengthening your fascia and the muscles at the bottom of your feet.
Padahasthasana (hand to feet pose): BASIC
Come to standing on your mat with your feet hips distance apart. Check to make sure that your big toe and heel are in one line; perpendicular to the front of the mat (we do this to protect the knee and even out the weight of your body throughout the base of the feet). Take a deep breath; reach your arms up and overhead to lengthen through the spine. Pivot from the hips and keeping the length in the upper body, plant your hands under your feet; stepping your toes on open palms with the finger pointing in. Pedal your feet a few times, shifting your weight from one leg to another and using your hands to gently cup the underside of your feet. Practise shifting your weight gently from the balls of your feet to your toes. This asana give you extra support through your palms and works to improve your balance by working on shifting stress from your heels to your toes and vice-versa.
Janu Sirsasana ( head to knee pose): BASIC
Just as you did with Dandasana, however this time, away from the wall; sit erect and rooted through your sitz bones with legs extended and quads engaged. Bend your knees and interlace your fingers on the outside of your flexed feet. Then gentle begin to straighten your knees away from you, keeping your fingers locked behind the feet. Visualize your torso folding forward and your head touching your knee.. Work towards that image. If you do not yet have the shoulder flexibility to keep your hands interlaced outside your feet, you may use yoga straps. The focus here is to keep the feet dorsi flexed and work with the extent of your mobility and strength to stretch your calf muscles and your feet. Do not force this stretch; instead use the weight of your torso to melt forward.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog): BASIC
Here is another basic yet loaded asana. It forms the foundation of any yoga practise; yet the number of bad downward facing dogs make me cringe each time I cue it for my students. Many who have plantar fasciitis find this excrutiatingly painful and cannot bring their heels to touch the mat. Well, here are a few modifications. Ensure that your feet are not too wide or too distant from the medial axis of your hips. Feet should either be touching each other or hips distance apart. Work to press your hands into the mat and your hips to the ceiling, creating space in your lumbar spine and easing the pressure on your hip joints. Next, place a blanket roll underneath your feet to help support your arch and press your feet firmly on the roll. Check to make sure that you are not everting or inverting your feet. The planes of your feet are horizontal with equal pressure distributed from big toe to little . Pedal your feet a few time, bend and straighten your knees are few times – all the while maintaining the muscle engagement and bone alignment of your upper body and hands. Practise rising up onto your tiptoes and pressing back onto the blanket roll. Once again, work to your strengths and your present comfort level.
Like the basic examples above, there are several other strengthening and lengthening yoga asanas that can help treat and manage Plantar Fasciitis. One of the key take always from each yoga practise is to acknowledge where you are stuck, where you are weaker and use movement to unglue those parts and in turn strengthen those areas.
Yoga is a continuous journey of self-exploration. Join us - The first step is getting on a mat and finding space to practise.