What would your body be like if you never sat in chairs? Like this
Not all injuries are visible.
I was "injured" and didn't even know but because of Ashtanga Yoga I was able to discover it.
Luckily for the last 13 years I've been trying to put my body into certain shapes each morning which at times has worked out fine but then other times not so well. When I couldn't get into the shapes I made the mistake of forcing my body through them and hurt myself even more till I couldn't practice at all.
If you want to know that whole story click here
When I injured myself so bad I couldn't get out of bed I thought of quitting. But instead I asked myself.
Why was I getting hurt but others weren't?
Here is part of what I found out in this post from my email series Strong Foundations (sign up for the email series here)
If you showed up to a yoga class with a cast because you broke your foot then the postures are going to modified and precautions taken to make sure that you don't do more damage than good to your body till it heals right?
Because of the broken foot there are certain movements your body can't do that a healthy natural body could.
But what about tissue adaptations from lifestyle choices of chair sitting and wearing shoes with heels? Is that an injury? They prevent your body from doing natural movements the same way a cast on a broken foot would but the difference is that you can't see it. Unless you have an experienced yoga teacher that you see regularly like in Mysore Style they probably can't either.
I believe there is a lot of people showing up to class "injured" from a western lifestyle with too much technology - heeled shoes and chairs.
How do you know if you have this injury? You can't do a footed squat.
The flat footed squat is not some extraordinary ability or advanced yoga posture. The flat footed squat is a natural human resting position.
Resting….you know the opposite of moving. How do we know it's natural? Because two year old chidren can do it easily with no teaching
If you can't do a flat footed squat then I would classify it as an injury because you don't have a the natural ability of healthy human being.
In India people grew up sitting on floors, using squat toilets and spent time walking barefoot so they have the ability to do a full squat before even walking into a yoga class.
For this reason the flat footed squat is also referred to as the Asian squat.
Out of all the asana's listed in BKS Inyengar’s Light on Yoga he doesn’t mention the basic squat because it is assumed you can do this position when you walk in the door.
Sort of like walking.
Since having the ability to flat foot squat is baseline for a healthy human being I added it to the Pre Primary Series or the Strong Foundations Course which you can sign up for here.
(Let me be clear that it's not a requirement to do yoga. Anyone can do yoga regardless of your physical abilities but this will help you prepare the body for the postures so you can get to the purpose of yoga which is "thinking God".)
It's only necessary to do one yoga practice per day. The purpose of our practice is spiritual but since we use the body for that purpose the rest of your day you can't neglect it.
In the past people would do their practice and live a natural lifestyle.
A natural lifestyle does not include sitting on a chair all day, wearing heels, massive amount of time indoors under artificial light and scanning Instagram.....live an unnatural lifestyle and there is going to be problems.....
Speaking from experience here.
Once I realized the importance of being able to squat I started to work on reclaiming my ability to do a flat footed squat outside of my yoga practice.
The Secret to Mastering the Flat Footed Squat: Pt. 1
1. Increase Your Ability For Ankle Dorsiflexion
Ankle mobility and specifically ankle dorsiflexion is essential in order to be able to do a full flat footed squat.
This movement, where the toes come towards the ankle, gets left out of a modern lifestyle because we don't squat regularly, we don't walk uphill without steps very often and we wear shoes with heels.
When people who haven't been getting their dorsiflexion nutrients in daily life attempt to do an ATG (ass to grass) squat they hit the dreaded ankle wall.
As they descend into the part of squat where the butt goes past 90 degrees towards the heels tight calf muscles cause the squatter to lift their heels, round their backs or then fall backwards.
Restoring your ankle range of motion in dorsiflexion is an essential piece to reclaiming your squat . Below I've listed 4 specific things you can start doing today that will help you .
1. Stop Wearing Heeled Shoes (you guys too)
I’ve already talked a lot about how you should be going barefoot as much as possible in my email series. What causes the biggest negative effects on your ankle mobility is the heel of the shoe.
When you put your foot in any type of shoe that has a heel you are in plantar flexion.
It’s like you are walking slightly downhill all day.
For flat footed squats we want dorsiflexion ability. Walking uphill.
So lose the heels. Just by making this one simple change of moving to shoes with no heel you’ll be moving more naturally. No extra time needed.
Barefoot is always the best option but when I have to wear shoes I like these Merrel Barefoot Running Shoes
I also really love the Vibram 5 Finger Shoes but I do get funny looks and questions a lot so when I want to fit in I go with the Merrels.
2. Stretch Out Your Calf Muscles
Trying to reverse some of the damage I'd done from the years of heeled shoes I started to do different calve stretches. I always prefer to just to live more naturally but when that isn't possible I make extra efforts.
By doing these stretches I also felt how a bent leg or straight leg plus the position of my hips would stretch different parts of my calve. It was really helpful because then in my practice I could adjust accordingly.
You have two main calf muscles that we want to look at here. The Gastronemius and the Soleus.
The Gastronemius is the one that lies up higher on the back of the leg shown in this picture here.
To stretch this part of the leg you keep the legs straight and the hips come forward.
Just the same as if you were in a long (distance between the hands and feet) straight legged down dog with your heels just off the floor so you had to push through them to get down.
The more the hips come forward over the toes the more intense the stretch. When you are at the end range of that movement we want to tell our nervous system that we are safe.
It's not your physical body that's holding you back it's your overprotective nervous system which is a whole other post but let's just say "the body not stiff mind stiff " quote from Guruji is 100% correct.
So how do we tell our body we are safe? One of the ways is to contract the muscle you are stretching. This tells your nervous system that you have control at the end range of movement and everything is ok. For this stretch you can do that by pressing into the ball of the foot. Hold that for few breaths then release and you will sink deeper in the movement.
The Soleus part of the calf lies lower and deeper on the back of the leg and is shown by this picture here.
This one is easy to miss but once you feel it then you can decide if you want to work into or not. Think of the Uttkatasana legs shape, or front leg in Virbhadrasana B.
When you move the knee forward over the toes but keep the hips back this will cause the soleus muscle to lengthen.
Hips have to stay back though. This one is massive.
Especially if you aren’t a floor sitter then you likely aren’t going into this area of movement in daily life. All the knee high props we have prevent it. Below are some of the soleus stretches I use - start the first video at 1:15
3. Add This Into Your Standing Workstation
The other place you can add in some ankle dorsiflexion is in your standing work station. I use a rolled up yoga mat, my Ekaminhale Mysore Rug or you can buy a foam block.
Once you put it there you will find yourself in the position without even realizing it. I also have this ball lying around that I step on and then this rock bed that I use to wake up my feet. This is the best in my opinion since you don’t need any extra time you just create your environment so that it supports the actions you want to take.
4. Walk In Nature
I live next to Jasper National Park in Canada where the forest is right outside my door. One thing you quickly notice is that the ground is anything but flat.
Walking the streets of Vancouver in my 5 finger shoes my feet and ankles were rarely challenged. Concrete, steps and smooth flat surfaces everywhere. All man made which was one of the reasons I used the beach when I first started strengthening my feet and ankles.
In Jasper when I’m walking on the trails my feet and ankles (especially in the 5 finger shoes) are constantly challenged by the terrain. Little and big pebbles are pushing into my feet almost like a foot massage. The slight variances in the trails force my ankles to twist this way and then that way. I noticed right away how the steep inclines put my feet in full dorsiflexion and then declines into plantar flexion. So much movement nutrition for my ankles and feet
If you come out to our retreat center when it opens you can see what I mean since we will be hiking, having fires, going in hot springs, practicing yoga plus a lot more.
In the meantime get outside and onto the trails or any natural terrain you can find. The benefits of walking, hiking or running in nature go far beyond what happens to you physically.
It's a chance to bring space into our lives. Let the thoughts settle and listen to that inner voice that arises within these spaces. That voice of nature that also comes through in your breath in your practice.
To get updates to the post as I learn more on my own journey to reclaiming my squat plus receive part 2 in this series sign up for the Strong Foundations Email Series by clicking here