Wednesday, July 20, 2011
As an experienced Pilates Instructor I have never seen a human being with perfect feet. Yes, there are aesthetically beautiful feet out there, but upon closer examination something always comes to the forefront in Pilates. As a result of walking around barefoot many years ago, people had more functional, flexible and happier feet. In todayâ??s western world, the fashionable thing for women to do is to dress up in high heels. The higher the heel, the sexier the look, of course. While attending the opera a couple of months ago, I noticed a woman in heels so high that she could not walk in them. She very carefully and slowly made her way around walking on the very tips of her toes. It was comical, to say the least.
Your feet are your foundation upon which you stand. They are a feat of engineering that is quite astounding. A quarter of the bones of the body are in the feetâ??26 in fact, out of the entire 208 bones in the body. To carry the weight of the body, the arch of the foot must be stabilized by strong muscles. These muscles are located in the lower leg and their force travels to the arches along tendons. A hinge joint, the anke acts as a pulley for these tendons reaching from the leg to the foot. In a well balanced foot the Peroneals will be have good tone and flexibility, the foot step will be springy and the foot will transmit movement relatively weightlessly. In addition the arches, which are formed by the peroneals as a child begins to walk, will be sufficiently lifted to do the work required of them. The feet are the foundation of the skeletal system and therefore it is important that they are in balance. If not, compensation occurs in the structures above causing misalignment and eventually pain and suffering.
As we continue to wear shoes all the time, more problems will arise. Muscles of the feet atrophy (weaken) as a result of not being barefoot and therefore lose their ability to do the work required. The arches also collapse as a result, causing a condition known as flat feet. Additionally, the stability, inherent strength, flexibility and resilience of all the structures of the foot are compromised, resulting in stiffness in the ankle joint which translates into a myriad of problems including shin splints, not being able to properly lift the toes and plantar fascities to name a few.
Many exercises in Pilates are excellent for working the muscles of the feet. It could be argued that because Pilates is a whole body exercise system, that practically every exercise in pilates can be an opportunity to work the feet in one way or another. We are going to adress the foot corrector and footwork on the reformer which will go a long way towards happy feet.
The foot corrector is an excellent piece of equipment that addresses many foot problems, including bunions, plantar fascitis, flat feet, hammer toes etc. In addition, the senior population is in grave need of this piece of equipment. Depending on the manufacturer, the springs can be quite heavy or lighter. I use both the Gratz and Peak Foot Correctors in my studio. The Gratzâ?? springs are a bit heavier, and may be too much for some senior clients, and so getting a lighter sprung Peak Foot Corrector may be a good choice for them initially. For a client with foot issues, I often start the pilates session with the Foot Corrector to teach correct alignment of the foot, ankle and lower leg and allow them to feel the benefits of proprioception on the equipment. After working on one foot, I ask the client to stand on the floor and feel the difference between that leg and the other. They often describe feelings of being more grounded, or connected to the earth on the leg just worked. Others describe and lightness or a relaxed feeling all the way up the chain to the hip and lower back. The client can now really â??feelâ?? the floor underneath them and so the transfer of energy from the foot up through the core to the upper body is no longer blocked by tightness and stiffness of the supporting structures of the foot and lower leg.
The second exercise that is excellent for working the feet in Pilates is footwork. The classical Pilates footwork is comprised of four exercises that work all the muscles of the foot and lower leg: Toes, arches, heels, and tendon stretch which works the calves and gives an opportunity to work on ankle mobility. Footwork can be done on the pilates reformer, wunda chair or, for advanced students the mat. The jumpboard can also be used for footwork. An experienced pilates instructor can look at a beginning client on the reformer doing footwork and immediately see what is happening (or not happening) in the body, because the feet are a mirror of whatâ??s going on elsewhere in the body.
Though this article is primarily about the feet, it is important to recognize that in the Pilates System, every exercise is a whole body exercise and, as a result every exercise begins with the engagement of the powerhouse. Therefore, while footwork on the reformer has the feet pressing out and in, the movement quality is tremendously enhanced by initiating from the breath and moving from the core, or inside out to actually do the work. The second benefit of moving in this way, is that the movement of the carriage (reformer) has a better qualityâ??smooth, like butter. Our feet carry us everywhere in life, and oftentimes we donâ??t really take care of or acknowledge them. Embark on a lifetime Pilates journey of healthy, relaxed, happy feet.