Today’s routine is the result of a spontaneous session that found its way into my morning practice yesterday. Although a licensed massage therapist who started her bodywork adventures with the study of reflexology, I nonetheless sometimes forget how immediate and profound the results of working with the feet can be. If this Silent Sunday finds you feeling out of sorts in any way, I recommend the following practice: These techniques will roust you from any lethargy or malaise, and promote a strong sense of vitality and centeredness.
Begin with a sequence designed to awaken breath and unfurl the feet and ankles. On all fours, lower your upper body to rest on the forearms (elbows under shoulders, palms flat, forearms parallel to each other): Hips remain directly over knees. Now, bring the forearms to touch each other, and slide the elbows in a bit, so that they are under the center of the chest. The palms are now together, head is slightly cocked up, and the thumbs extend straight up. In this position, begin a gentle rock back and forth: inhale as you shift forward, moving the chest over the hands; exhale to shift back, allowing the hips to move straight back. Maintain this inhale forward, exhale back rhythm for about 30 seconds.
Then, still moving fluidly, forward and back, extend the breaths: Inhale deeply for 8 counts—you will probably rock back and forth about 4-6 times; then exhale long and deep for 12, maintaining a steady back and forth movement, probably 6-8 rocks. Continue for 3 minutes.
From here, press up onto the hands, elbows slightly bent to protect the joint. If your wrists bother you here, fist the hands, or remain on the forearms (in the original forearms shoulder-width apart/palms flat position). Extend the right leg straight back along the ground, ball of the foot on the floor. Begin another forward and back rock, moving through the ankle joint and opening the sole of the foot. Inhale forward, exhale back 12 times (6 rocks in each direction). Bring the right leg in, extend the left leg back, and repeat the same move, pressing through the ball of the foot.
Now, lower onto your belly, knees bent, lower legs hovering and releasing toward the buttocks. If possible, keep the head down, resting on the forehead or chin. Reach back to lightly hold each ankle with its respective hand. (If you can not reach without strain, lift the head slightly, and keep the chin slightly tucked.) With the fingers on the fronts of the ankles, thumbs resting on the heel or Achilles tendon, begin to pulsate the fingers to vibrate the ankles: Continue until the entire foot responds and shakes loosely and easily. It may take up to a minute for the feet to release; once they do, continue the rapid vibrating and shaking for another minute.
From here, release the hands and feet, and shift up onto all fours, and immediately into Downward Dog. In this variation, forego any need to “perfect” the posture; mostly, you want the benefits of the inversion and long spine. In your version, begin to walk the heels up and down, alternating from right to left, for about 30 seconds.
Then, help yourself lower to the floor, and lie on your back. With knees bent, feet flat and hip width apart, place the hands on the mid-thighs. Use the hands to keep the knees still, and begin to supinate and pronate the feet: Inhale as the feet roll to their inner edges; exhale to roll to the outer edges. The entire leg will try to join the back and forth movement; by keeping the knees quiet, the movement emphasizes ankle mobility. Continue for 1 minute.
Now, draw both knees in toward the body. Bring them in just enough, so that you can rest the right hand on the front of the right ankle, and place the left thumb to the right heel. (For some, the opposite hold may feel better: Use the left hand to steady the foot, and the right thumb to create movement.) Use the thumb to vibrate the ankle rapidly; the opposite hand acts a s a ballast to localize the vibration. Ultimately, the entire foot will shake free. Continue for 30-60 seconds, and repeat on the left side.
You may remain on your back for the next bit, or rise to sit: Whichever position you choose, you need to be able to reach the feet without strain.
Once you have a comfortable position, begin by massaging the right heel, fingers on one side, thumb on the other. Use firm, but not deep pressure: Move organically, allowing your innate energies to determine speed and direction of the stroke. Continue for 1 minute, right heel only.
Now, begin to pinch-and-release the right Achilles tendon with the right thumb and index finger: inhale to squeeze, exhale to release. If any tender area arises, pinch firmly with the inhale; hold as you also rub-and-roll with the thumb and finger; then exhale to release. Repeat until you feel a sense of relief.
Next, apply more specific pressure. Bring the thumb tip to the inner ankle bone: palpate around the edges of the roundish malleolus, noting top, bottom, and rims. Mentally divide the bone in half—front half of the circle, and back half: Think two half-moons. With the thumb, begin to exert pressure just behind (i.e., toward the Achilles) the top edge of the posterior (back) half-moon. Inhale to press, exhale to release. Repeat 4-6 times.
Then, move down a bit, still adjacent to the edge of the rear half-moon of the ankle bone. Repeat the pressure technique 4-6 times. Again move down, repeat; and finally, press on the fourth point at the base of the ankle bone.
Each of the above points stimulates Kidney energy. As such, a steady flow of qi (“Life Force”) is released through the meridian: This organ system settles fear and anxiety, and provides a deep sense of calm and connection to the Universe, while increasing physical vitality.
To complete the “trip” around the ankle bone for this practice, apply another round of pressure to Bladder 60 (or, Urinary Bladder–UB– 60). This point lies just behind the top rim of the lateral ankle bone, directly opposite the first point—Kidney 3—practiced above. Because Kidney and Bladder are each others Yin/Yang partners, respectively, the addition of a Bladder point to the primarily Kidney session promotes a profound sense of harmony. The application of pressure to Bladder 60 also can help with headaches and insomnia.
Repeat the entire pressure-point sequence on the left ankle bone. Then, simultaneously bring the middle finger tips to the soles of their respective feet. Press just beneath the center ball of each foot, in a line down from between the 2nd and 3rd toes. Inhale to press, exhale to release: Breathe purposefully, as the exhale will flush out stagnant qi, and make way for fresh energy to fill this “Bubbling Spring” point. It is said that this is the most crucial of all foot points: Life Force emanates from this point, and floods the system with beneficial Yin energy. Continue the pressure-point work until all tenderness and tension has dissipated.
Finally, lie on your back. Begin to flex and extend the feet: Note how these “ankle pumps” move more freely and fully now; you may even feel that the toes are further apart from each other, and more relaxed. Additionally, the foot movement creates a “flossing” of the sciatic nerve, which will help keep back and leg pain at bay. Flex and extend the feet, simultaneously or alternately, 8-12 times. Then release fully into Svasana, and allow the energetic nourishment to flow. Remain in rest for as long as you like.