Photo: Björn Láczay
Your brain has big feet!
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Here’s a sequence that’s a nice complement to last week’s shoulder release
Now that we’ve covered the bio- mechanics of stretching, let’s spend a minute understanding the body structure involved.
When we stretch, too often we think in term of big muscles before small ones – and many times people skip the small ones altogether. The idea that most of our tension and tightness is in the muscles that “do the heavy lifting” can think us into misconceptions about how our bodies work.
First of all, it’s misleading to imagine muscles as a separate from each other. The sheets of muscle and connective tissue we call myofascia are not, in fact, so discrete. Muscle is actually more continuous.
Tom Myers’ book, Anatomy Trains is an invaluable resource should you want to understand how the the headache you are experiencing may have more to do with the shoes you’re wearing than you imagine. This is due to the long run of myofascia Myers names “the superficial back line,” which begins near your eyebrows, flows over top of your head, reaches through your buttocks and legs, across your heel and the arch of your foot to your toes.
Second, one of the first places we want to release tension is our brains.
The body image we discussed yesterday is formed by, among other things, an area of the brain dedicated to integrating sensation (somatosensory cortex) and an area responsible for initiating movement (the motor cortex).
The cortices with the most real estate in the brain are those dedicated to the sensations that offer the highest contribution to making sense of what’s going on in the world around us and which therefore have a higher value for survival.
For this reason over three quarters of sense making area of the brain is devoted to sensation coming from the head and hands, leaving just one quarter for the sensation of the entire rest of the body.
Of the processing area that is left, the feet, including the toes and ankles, occupy one third. Our feet and ankles tell us much more important things about the world than does the trunk of our body.
We can feel much more with our feet than with our ribs. Our feet let our brain know the shape of the landscape we’re in, how fast we’re moving over it, what adjustments we’ll need to make to stay upright. That makes the information originating from stretch receptors in the feet and ankles precious to our nervous systems.
This is why in the shoulder releasing series, instead of beginning at the trunk and working outward, we begin with the fingers and hands and move toward the larger volume muscles. We have much more sensation in our hands and respond more quickly to sensation originating there.
In the nervous system, the sensation of release is significant once we have relaxed the tension in our hands and wrists.
If you have tight hamstrings, you might want to do more than hurdler’s stretch! You’ll want to begin with your toes, feet and ankles.
Stand on a yoga mat.
Start by dragging gently backwards on your toes as you lift up your heel. Take your time. Turn your foot a little both ways on the floor to spread out your toes.
Rock side-to-side on the ball of your foot, then try pressing down on the ball of the foot and dragging backwards very slightly to give a subtle stretch to the arch of your foot.
Next flip your foot over so the top of your toes are on the floor. Put your fingers on the wall, don’t allow your back to arch as you lift your heart up and lengthen the front of your body.
Repeat with left foot, dragging backwards on your toes and making space between them; rocking the ball of your foot and dragging subtly backwards.
Last, flip your foot over and put the tops of your toes on the floor as you lengthen the front of your body, lifting your heart up.
You’re probably familiar with a typical calf stretch, where you step back one foot, reaching its heel toward the floor.
Begin by stepping back deeply into the calf stretch, first with your right foot stepped back.
Then switch and step your left food back.
After the calf stretch, with the left foot still stepped back, allow the left knee to bend Press your right foot into the floor and walk your hands down the wall as you lift your right hip up and back. Your right leg will begin to straighten, but don’t lock the knee.
Be careful not to overstretch at the shoulders. Let your arms be soft with the elbows bent. The main action is the lengthening of the right hip away from the right knee.
You are likely to feel a stretch in your back as you do this. Go slowly and ease into it, doing only what feels good as you walk your hands down the wall, bringing your torso parallel to the floor.
Switch feet now, with the right foot stepped back.
Walk you hands down the wall with your right knee bent, lift your left hip up and back from your left knee as you press your left foot into the floor. Slowly lengthen your left leg as you bring your torso parallel to the floor, elbows soft.
When you’re finished, shake out each leg.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.