Day 10 - Part 1 with Kent Bond - Roll Yer Feet
I have done massage for eighteen years, and I’ve seen all kinds of feet. When people get old and have spent a lifetime wearing shoes, their feet tend to look pale and compressed and the toes look like five cars trying to squeeze through a tunnel. The whole apparatus reminds me of a broken bird.
It’s so easy to ignore your feet because they are so far away from your face. If you keep them in shoes most of the time, it’s especially easy to ignore your feet because you can’t even see them.
To know your place in the world, to feel grounded on the surface of it, it’s good to have feet that can handle any kind of terrain. Feet that can feel. Feet that can move.
With all this said, I went to my yoga teacher of almost twenty years, Kent Bond, and asked him to give me a lesson on how to open the feet that I could share with you.
I recorded his instructions and then typed them up for you here.
A tennis ball is fine to use, but the surface is very slick. The yoga tune-up balls were especially made for this work. Have the balls on a surface where they won’t slip: pile carpet, a yoga mat, or carpet that has a little bit of a grip to it is fine, too.
You have twenty-six bones in each foot and thirty-two to thirty-six articulations, joints. Generally we’re using about three of them. We’re not using a lot of the mobility that the foot has.
The Chinese say ordinary people breathe through their nose; immortals breathe through their feet. So the whole idea of opening up your feet has to do with the idea of opening up the rest of your body. Whether it’s yoga or tai chi or chi gong, you’re always talking about connecting with the earth. So being able to connect and ground is very, very important. When we begin to open up the foot we begin to open up not only the acupressure points, but of course the reflexology points also.
I like to start with the ball below the mound of the big toe, and I like starting with direct pressure. There’s going to be a lot of people with overt sensitivity on the soles of their feet. That comes from wearing shoes a lot, so then even a tennis ball might be too hard. Get one that is broken in, or if you use any other small ball work in it until it is a little softer.
Direct pressure is a great way to separate the larger bones, the phalanges, in your foot. Let your foot melt into the ball. Take your time. Feel the bones open.
Pinning and spinning is just lifting the front and back of your foot and slowly spinning your foot on the ball. You are loosening the connective tissue and getting blood flow in there. While you do this, any time you move the toes, you are getting a light stretch for the muscles and tendons.
All of this is going to mean more mobility, more freedom of movement, which means more embodiment. All of this stuff should help you live better in your body.
Now you can keep the heel on the ground and moving the foot from side to side so the ball goes across the grain of the muscle (from left to right or right to left instead of up and down). This helps break up adhesions. Use an amount of pressure that feels good. Feel everything. Go slowly. You don’t want get into that shock and awe place that it’s so intense you hold your breath. This isn’t about traumatizing the body. It’s about letting it release.
Next, you can move the foot in the opposite direction: up and down. Stripping the muscles is moving in the direction of the fibers of the muscles (up and down). So we’ve got stripping, cross-fiber, pin and spin, and direct pressure. These are all ways to move and open up the foot.
Slowly move down the foot and repeat the above actions. The more real estate you can cover on the foot, the better. Then of course, you can do the toes. You put ball under your toes, gently moving the ball to stretch and separate each one.
You can do all of this standing in the kitchen every morning with your coffee, taking a few minutes to open your feet. It’s a great way to start the day.
The last one is called skin rolling and this is the one I love the most. You go back to the first position, putting the ball under ball of the big toe, and take support of a wall with one hand. You take the other foot, and using either with the big toe or the heel, start to move the skin around on the underneath foot. It hurts, but in a good way. The movement may be counterintuitive because it's not one we normally do. Pretend you have gum on your top foot and you're trying to scrape it off onto your bottom foot. Think about getting the skin on the bottom foot to move around over the bones. Give yourself the amount of pressure that feels appropriate. Breathe. (The featured photo on this post shows Kent doing this move.)
You do this for a few moments and then step off.
Jill Miller calls this fluffing your feet. It’s amazing how open and tactile they feel when you are done. Leonardo da Vinci said that the foot was the most amazing design element that he had ever found in nature.
And we get to have two of them. There is so much I forget to be grateful for, and my feet definitely make that list. I’d sure know if one were missing.
See you tomorrow.
Kent Bond is the owner of Willow Glen Yoga in San Jose, CA. This fall he will be leading a teacher training course. The line starts here.
(You can look up Jill Miller, the creator of Yoga Tune-up, on You Tube to see ways of using Yoga Tune-up balls to open up the rest of the body. You can find Yoga Tune-up balls on Amazon. Kent uses the smaller ones for the feet. If you go on Amazon, you'll see that Jill Miller also has a book, The Roll Model, that catalogues all the ways you can use the balls to release tension and constriction in the body.)