Healing your heel pain!

If you experience sharp pain in your heels, there’s a fair chance you suffer from Plantar Fasciitis. This article gives you some basic information and guidance, especially relating to yoga as a therapeutic and preventative practice.

Please be aware: yoga is only one part of a multi-faceted holistic approach. You should first consult with a medical practitioner and get proper treatment from a qualified professional.

Anatomical definitions

Fascia are, ‘A thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ’ which are present throughout your body. You can view them as a connective sock wrapped around the internal organs of the body without which we would be sludge and bone.

Your plantar is a broad fascia on the sole of each foot. It connects your toes to your heel and acts like a taughtened bow-string supporting the arches of your feet when you move.

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar Fasciitis is what happens when the fascia enveloping the sole becomes inflamed through stress, injury or illness.

It can be difficult to treat and is prevalent among people over 35-40 but not exclusively. It affects athletes and sports people who place their body under excessive strain.

Common causes

Are you overweight? It’s probably not politically correct to say it but being overweight is a causal factor of Plantar Fasciitis (and for most modern non-communicable diseases which afflict us). If you’re carrying more fat relative to muscle than your body is designed to take, it’s predictable that your feet, back or knees will start to moan. Basically, your body will wear out more quickly. Moreover, normal internal and external body-functioning is impeded so cardiovascular problems, cancer and other illnesses will be likely to arrive earlier than they have to.

It could be genetic or inherited. Your feet arches may be naturally high or low. Your feet may over-pronate inwards or outwards. You could have very strong or weak lower leg muscles – or a combination of all of those things. You could sustain a serious leg or foot injury.

The toxic chemicals which stress pumps into our body also contributes to inflammation.

Practical suggestions for dealing with Plantar Fasciitis

Start by asking yourself: what are the obvious things about your lifestyle, physical condition or mental health which are likely to cause inflammation?

  • Get your weight under control.
  • Eat a sensible balanced diet.
  • Keep moving: have a variety of different activities and interests but don’t overdo it.
  • Measure your waist: for men keep it under 37” and women under 32”. That helps to reduce the risk of diabetes. Take account of your body mass (height, build, muscle/fat ratio).
  • Massage your feet every day and apply a proprietary cream.
  • Practise the activities recommended by your doctor or physio (some of which you will find replicated in yoga).
  • Wear well-fitting supportive shoes. Replace them before they wear out. Shoes may look great but the sole and uppers could have lost their integrity. This is especially important with regard to sports shoes. It’s also good to change shoes daily.
  • Get help for a stressful life.
  • Learn yoga, which will help to coalesce your efforts as well as being a very positive way of improving your personal health, fitness and wellbeing.

How can yoga help?

“To develop a complete mind: Study the art of science; study the science of art. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” – Leonardo DaVinci

How often do you hear your teacher say that everything is connected? This is not hutzpah! Understanding the connectivity principle in yoga helps you to keep inflammation such as Plantar Fasciitis and stress out of reach. It is key to dealing with pain or discomfort.

Don’t practise yoga in a gymnastic way. Everyone is different. Learn to wriggle, flex and move to explore your joints and positioning. There is no perfect posture: don’t make the best the enemy of the good.

Check the pattern and quality of your breathing. Inhalation fuels; exhalation cleans. As in hydraulics, think of the breathing process as being similar to a digger lifting, revolving and shifting earth. Inhalation helps you to lift and elevate your body; exhalation helps you to finish the posture by giving you a fraction more space to move into it.

How we teach at Yoga Mind and Body Club

The Bandha Yoga Codex

I provide a sequence called “The Bandha Yoga Codex” (developed by Ray Long MD. FRCSC. the Founder of Bandha Yoga). It’s a brilliant technique and one you can use in any yoga posture or sequence.

What is a bandha?

A bandha in this context is a supportive contraction or expansion. In lay terms it is a flexing of a tissue or joint to create a bodily ‘valve’ which seals, releases and relaxes a key part of your anatomy associated with a particular posture.

Here’s the sequence of actions in the Codex (taken from Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses by Ray Long):

  1. Define the position of the joints in the pose.
  2. Identify the prime mover muscles that act on the joints to create the pose. Contract these muscles to align and stabilize the skeleton.
  3. Identify the antagonist muscles of the prime movers (an antagonist muscle is one whose action counteracts that of another specified muscle). Stretch these muscles to create flexibility.
  4. Expand the chest.
  5. Create your bandha.

Each of our sessions incorporate the use of massage balls, resistance bands and yoga straps to support and prevent you overworking easily injured joints and muscles. We spend several minutes exercising the feet and other vulnerable parts of the body during the warm-up. If you already have an injury, you can use the straps to facilitate a safer technique.

Our Master Class sessions on Saturday mornings are an ideal forum to which to bring issues such as this. We can then give you the focused tuition you require.

Specific postures (remember to use the codex)

1. Toes Pose

Sit in a kneeling position. Slowly raise your toes with your knees anchored in front of you on the ground. Gently let your weight settle back over your heels and hold this pose for between 2-3 minutes. Don’t be put-off by initial discomfort or difficulty and have a towel handy to prop behind or under the knees.

2. Garland Pose

Squat on the floor with your heels flat on the ground, your feet as close together as you can attain without lifting your heels, and your knees apart. As you exhale, lean forward so your torso moves between your thighs. Then bring your hands together and press your elbows against your inner knees. Hold for a count of 30.

3. Mountain Pose

Stand upright with your feet parallel and your big toes barely touching. Lift the balls of your feet gently, then lower them back down. Rock your body side-to-side, then back-and-forth, coming to a standstill with your weight balanced across your feet.

4. Bound Angle Pose

Sit down and straighten your back. Bend your knees and draw your feet back until the soles touch. For support you can hold the feet with your hands. Pull the feet back gently and gently press your knees down towards the floor. Hold for 1-3 minutes.

5. Prancing Feet Pose

Move into a standing posture. Lift one heel off the ground and roll onto your toes. Rest that foot and repeat with the other. Continue this sequence in a fluid motion.

And finally…

Plantar Fasciitis can be very painful, especially in the mornings. We often find our body is reluctant to move as we drag ourselves out of bed.

I recommend that you practise a few rounds of very gentle sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) every morning and evening to help your body awaken and relax. Remember to massage your feet at the same time and develop your meditation skills: practise, practise, practise. It works!

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