Activating The Feet - Beginning The Myofascial Meridians
To support our bodies weight the foot is constructed from a series of arches, the most familiar arch being the medial longitudinal arch. The medial arch has a larger number of small joints, and is thus relatively higher and more elastic than the other arches, gaining additional support through its place in the myofascial spiral lines. The lateral arch, and the transverse arches have more limited movement and a system of locking that gives them greater inherent support.
When the two feet are engaged together both of the medial arches together create a complete dome which is pada bandha. When the feet are properly engaged the energetics of the entire body will change, the feet connect the spine to the flow of the earth. If this arch is lost the base of the tibia collapses in and down. Once the inner ankle drops, this is mirrored up the leg, affecting the inner thigh and groin muscles. This weakness and lessened support then risks wreaking havoc with the sacroiliac joint and lower back, and by continuation everything above. The term 'active feet' is used generally then to refer to engagement of the feet to stimulate both a stable base by engagement of the arch and the reflexive upward movement of prana through the posture.
The anatomical home of pada bandha is the intrinsic foot musculature, musculature solely functioning within the foot that does not cross the ankle. The intrinsic foot musculature provides dynamic support for the whole structure of the foot, both when static and in motion. The medial arch consists of the calcaneus, talus, navicular, cuboid, there cuneiforms and the first 3 metatarsals. Although often perceived as fixed these bones by virtue of their function require a good level of movement in all directions to carry out the tasks of shock absorption and rebounding through the elastic properties of the plantar fascia.
The intrinsic muscles of the foot are arranged in four layers:
1st - abductor hallucis (big toe flexor - often considered the main player in arch support), flexor digitorum brevis & abductor digiti minimi.
2nd - quadratus plantae, lumbricals.
3rd - adductor hallucis transverse, adductor hallucis oblique, flexor hallucis brevis & flexor digiti minimi brevis.
4th - interossei muscles, dorsal and plantar, rest between the metatarsals with additional soft tissue connections and help maintain the arch whilst aiding in flexion & extension, these muscles are particularly responsive to lateral spreading forces.
You can test your intrinsic arch support very simply: stand facing a wall, feet & knees shoulder width apart and knees soft, have your hands resting on the wall so that balance doesn’t affect your result. Lift and spread the toes; this action will use extrinsic musculature to wind the plantar fascia and create a superficial arch, then lower the toes back down whilst maintaining the arch. If there are no problems at this stage lift one leg, and hold for 30 seconds at a time resetting the feet in between sides. If the arch cannot be maintained, without excessive toe grabbing, then this is a sign that there is inhibited functioning in the stability of the foot with the extrinsic structures overly relied upon.
In physiotherapy the “Short Foot Exercise” is generally thought of as the gold standard for strengthening the intrinsic foot musculature as an isolated exercise* however, active attention and utilisation of pada bandha through practice will achieve this also. The intrinsic musculature of the foot is of course not the only factor engaging the feet and inviting reciprocal energy to rise as it interweaves seamlessly with the extrinsic ankle stabilisers and indeed the myofascial meridians, (though particularly the deep core and spiral lines).
The peroneals and the tibialis muscles wrap around the arch of the foot and in front of the ankle. These muscles provide stability across the front of the ankle especially when navigating uneven surfaces. The anterior tibialis further forms a sling with the fibularis longus that plays a role in extrinsically supporting the arch and stabilising the tarsals in movement. This sling forms a portion of the myofascial spiral line (as defined by Thomas Myers) that translates upward moving energy through the body.
The posterior tibialis sits behind the shin, and connects to the inner edges of the arch, this muscle is involved in pointing the foot, and also, turning it inwards. It is the most central of the lower leg musculature and can be argued as playing the most central role in proprioceptive stability of the ankle. This muscle works effectively with deep flexors of the foot, and often through soft tissue connections, will activate directly with the intrinsic foot musculature. This stability then occurs from behind the ankle and works with the calf.
The calf is comprised of two muscles, the soleus and gastrocnemius. The gastrocnemius is the more visible part that ultimately becomes the achilles tendon whilst the soleus sits deeper. A third muscle, the plantaris also sits here and although physically it is a relatively weak muscle, it plays a powerful role in the neurological regulation of tension in achilles tendon. Collectively they support the foot whilst in motion, and stabilise the ankle when the feet are pointed. Feedback form the muscles of the lower leg including the anterior tibialis through autogenic mechanisms (especially the stretch reflex) maintain balance by reflexively measuring ‘sway’ or rotation around the ankle joint. The calves therefore are particularly important in standing balancing postures, and any posture where the knee is at risk of moving beyond the ankle.