What follows is my response to a letter from someone who had difficulty kneeling on a yoga block as shown in the abdominal core lesson of my DVD. I know that when someone raises a question, others are likely wondering the same thing…
Using your legs for biofeedback
Dear "Nancy" (name withheld),
It sounds as though you have significant tensions in your feet and ankles. For the core development lesson, it’s fine for you to do the exploration while seated on a firm chair. The purpose of the kneeling position in the core lesson is for you to distinguish between the sensation of toning your pelvic floor muscles and the sensation of contracting your buttocks. Resting upon your own legs gives you biofeedback: if the weight resting on your legs diminishes, you know your buttocks have contracted. This will prevent you from correctly identifying the pelvic floor/transversus connection.
However, you CAN distinguish these sensations while seated on a chair. You just have to notice any tendency to grip your buttocks muscles (to be more accurate, the gluteals, deep rotators and hamstrings can all be involved). On a chair, the biofeedback is subtler--it's the difference between yielding your weight into the chair seat (not collapsing, though: you have to keep the sitting lesson in mind)--and drawing away from the chair. Tightening your buttocks might feel as if your skin is shrinking, or as if you're trying to avoid fully touching the chair. The deep corset sensation is an interior experience, so gripping the buttocks masks that deeper sensation. You need to yield your body weight, while simultaneously drawing up through the pelvic floor muscles. There's more detail about the distinction between the pelvic floor muscles and the pelvic floor bones here.
Recover your ability to kneel
To gradually work your way into the kneeling position, you can try several things. Start by sitting on a low stool instead of a block. This should decrease the angle at your knees and put less pressure on your ankles. Ifyour ankles are still too
stiff to be comfortable, place a rolled uptowel under each ankle. If that's stilluncomfortable, sit on something a few inches taller. The idea is to prop yourself in your best approximation of the kneeling position, breathe comfortably, and stay there for a minute (work up to 3). The photos show some options for protecting stiff knees and ankles with props.
Then stand and gently bend and straighten your knees and ankles a few times to release them. If you do this every day for several months, you may gradually be able to become comfortable in a deeper kneel. Do less, however, if this causes you any knee pain. As we age, most of us have some degree of osteoarthritis in our joints and you don’t want to aggravate that. Less can often be more. An anti-inflammatory diet may help.
Soft Props for Stiff Toes
The second question is about the part with the tubes under the feet. I have bunions, hammer toes, etc., and when I place the tubes, my toes crisscross. Any help for me?
Several of the people demonstrating the tube work in the video are dancers—with youthful and flexible feet, and even they found standing on the hoses challenging. The goal of that exploration is to help you sense the undersides of your toes. For you, a softer prop would be better. I’m fond of lamb’s wool from the foot counter at your local drugstore. Make a “tube” out of that (photo shows a wool sock rolled lengthwise). Prop your toes apart with wads of the wool. Stand on this arrangement for several minutes—as in the DVD—bending and straightening your knees to load weight into your feet. See whether you can let your toes enjoy being caressed by the wool. When you take your “stuffing” away, notice how your feet feel. Sensing the undersides of the toes is one way to activate toe-off in walking.
About your bunions: here’s a link to my bunion video on YouTube.
Coming!! Online Workshops with Mary!
I am in my early sixties and have always admired how dancers I've met have such a youthful gait.
I’m currently working on a series of online courses that will go deeper into various regions of the body. They'll be designed for anyone interested in refuting the common assumption that posture degrades over time. We don’t have to grow stiffer and more bent as we age! The first class will delve into our feet. I hope to have it up by mid-September. Watch my “Work with Mary” page for updates.
© 2014 Mary Bond