By Dominika Borovansky Gaines
Specialized GYROTONIC® Master Trainer & Director/Phoenix GYROTONIC ®
Proprioception is our ability to know where we are in space–it is our body’s internal mapping system. This mapping gives us information about our environment, our brain interprets the information, makes a decision about the information and then sends the body a message of how to respond. Proprioception exists to help you survive.
Our joints and nerves play a crucial role in determining the clarity of this map. In this post, we are discussing the feet, their role in this mapping, and exercise and hands-on protocol used by GYROTONIC trainers to bring the feet back to better function.
First, some basic anatomy of the feet. Your feet are comprised of 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles. Essentially 25% of the total number of bones and muscles of the human body are below the ankle. With over 200,000 nerve endings, we are designed for and capable of receiving tremendous amounts of information about our environment through our feet. When well-functioning, this information is translated up the chain to the ankles, knees, hips, through the pelvis, up the spine and finally to the head and brain.
It is my belief that most clients new to GYROTONIC exercise should be guided through the Steps to Progression 1 to build a solid foundation for the expansive work which comes later. In Step 1 preparation for the Hamstring Series we specifically address the function of the metatarsals and glide of the talonavicular and talocalcaneal joints of the ankle with hands-on work to open and align the feet. We traction the calcaneus away from the talus, unjamming a joint that can easily be forced closed or become immobile due to shoe-wearing and/or injury (below left). We mobilize the toes and metatarsal joints and specifically address the cuboid and lateral foot with traction on the fourth and fifth toes, opening the body’s lateral line (below center). Once the foot and ankle are open and well-aligned, we address the energetic “5th Line,” giving sensation to the strength of the calcaneus as a weight-bearing bone and clearing a direct pathway for energy from the sole of the foot up to the pelvis (below right).
Articulation of the ankle joint continues with the addition of plantar flexion (“pointing”) and dorsiflexion (“flexing”). The use of the “hawk foot” to create greater strength in the plantar flexed position takes the “arch and curl” concept all the way through the sole. Continuing to maintain the openness of the talocalcaneal joint when plantar flexing the foot is critical to the health of the heel foot, Achilles tendon, lower calf and soleus. If the heel is drawn too tightly back, the Achilles is shortened and the continual stress may lead to both shortened tendon length and the development of an os trigonum (bone spur) which inhibits this range further, often with great pain. A jammed ankle joint may also shut down the function of the muscles higher up the chain, leading to knee, hip or back issues.
Seated on a stool (and later the bench), we work on the “Z” position. The suction-cup action of the foot with a well-lifted arch is created by pressing into the 5th line of the heel, equally pressing down through the metatarsal arch at the base of the toes, lengthening the toes away and out from the ankle joint, ever so slightly extending the toes, and feeling the soft hollowing at the retinaculum in the front of the ankle joint. Again through gentle hands-on coupled with breathing, we guide the client to feel a bony alignment that includes decompression of the kinetic chain at ankle, knee and hip. This alignment creates an ankle that is well-stabilized: the foot neither pronates nor supinates, and the center line of the leg is true up through the hip. We can begin the process of increasing articulation at the hip joints, strengthening the muscles of the hip through various ranges of motions, and create an awareness of the foot and ankle relationship to the pelvis, sacrum and lower back.
Completing the session with a short weight-bearing sequence (basic twirling) brings this new awareness into everyday motion of weight transfer and gait. With the foot and ankle more receptive to the environment, the brain receives a clearer map of the terrain, and the body is better able to make necessary adjustments without strain. Your client is now ready to meet the remainder of their day with better arch support and clearer heel strike, and if they do their homework, they will be well on their way to creating a better, more functional gait.
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