Introducing the Inner Triad of the Foot
Accessing the deep front line in postures, from the ground up
If you have been doing yoga regularly, you have most likely heard of the "triad of your hand." This is a typical cue for Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog. The idea of the triad is that three points on your palm work to build the structure for your upper limbs and torso to support this inversion, while keeping other areas safe.
The inner triad of the hand is as follows:
The point where the thumb connects to the palm
The point where the index finger connects with the palm
The point where the middle finger connects with the palm
Not for nothing, these points correspond directly with accessing the shoulder girdle for this posture. Our thumb corresponds with the superspinous fossa to coracoid process, our index finger with the acrominoclavicular joint to clavicle, and our middle finger with the humeral joint. Feel free to try this by weighing into each finger individually next time you are in down dog. As teachers, it is important we draw our students' awareness here to help support the posture, encourage Hasta Bandha, and keep the carpal tunnel and pisiform out of harms way. Too much weight on the outer edges of the hands may perpetuate an already present tendency to use the outside edge of the body for support rather than cultivating a "reach through" and strengthening of the inner lines (think shoulder joint stabilization).
Why No Consensus on the Foot?
While most teachers of different lineages have come to an agreement on the triads of the hands, much is still left to the imagination and/or repetition of cues when it comes to the feet. From the knife's edge to the four corners, sometimes we leave our students scratching their heads with feet placement. Cues from Iyengar rely heavily on the big toe mound of the front foot and baby toe side of the back foot. Cues from Baptiste Yoga rely on the knife's edge of the back foot. So how do we encourage similar activation in our feet to support our postures, as we have done with our hands in down dog?
The answer is simple, yet very complex. And possibly not what has been taught in modern yoga.
The Fallacy of the Good Student
I've always been what they call "a good student." I will always do what the teacher says, and my hypermobile body often supports it. It wasn't until I did my advanced-level training in Embodyoga® that I realized how different and unique our bodies are — and how our cueing often reflects only what our teacher's experiences and body hindrances have been (or even what their teacher's experiences have been) and we bypass what is right in front of us.
If we approach our postures as the relationship we have with ourselves, our environment, and one another, it becomes clear that we need to show up fully. Accessing a posture is thus not an actual position of the body, yet a relationship with the prana, or life force energy, as it circulates our being, radiating out and being drawn back in. Embodying a posture then becomes removing the breaks of prana to receive what is already there.
What is A Break in Prana?
A break in prana is when a joint is past it's range of motion, either through hypermobility like myself (locking of the legs, elbows) or moving the body past the point of integration. Integration can be defined as the place where forces are felt throughout the entire body — disintegration being our "Edge" or when we can only feel a posture in one place (i.e. Trikonasana, triangle, and the front hamstring or front hip). This break in prana, done repeatively, may cause injury.
I began yoga with hyper-kyphosis, or what can be called a hunchback. In my thoracic spine, I have a small bit of scoliosis that created a sharp "V" shape every time I folded forward. In my early days, the goal was to touch my toes and bring my torso onto my legs, and I did so whole-heartedly. It wasn't until I met my teacher and learned how modifications to my individual practice could remove the obstacles and help me contain more energy. In short, I've grown an inch in my adult life by focusing on the prana rather than the posture.
Our older cues, mainly the knife's edge of the foot, for some people can create a break in prana by sickling the foot at the ankle joint. A sickle ankle is apparent in students during belly-down backbends and the heels roll out further than the toes. Sickling is also apparent in Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) when the back ankle pulls back and creates a harsh "v" when looking from the heel to the hip rather than a straight line. It is perpetuated by the cue of the knife's edge of the foot and sets those students up for a disintegrated posture... and we haven't even gotten to the hips!
The Deep Front Line Applied to Asana
The deep front line, or better the DFL, is a term used in the bodywork profession that can help animate any posture in yoga. The DFL is the front body support we all have access to that creates space in the body and the spine. Most of us are used to thinking about our spine as the main structure for support in our upright posture.
The DFL shows us that this is not the case, and actually it's harder on the body to rely on our Erectus Spinae to hold the spine upright (along with the superficial backline muscles) than it is for the DFL muscles. They are:
Deep Toe flexors (foot arch to center of foreleg)
Hip Adductors (inner thighs)
Pelvic floor (mula bandha)
Psoas Major & Quadratus Lumborum
Longus colli and Longus Captus
From Healing Arts Continuing Education:
"The Deep Front Line makes up our myofascial 'axial core.' This means that out of all the myofascial merideans, it is the deepest and has the function of maintaining our core alignment and core stability."
The DFL begins at the feet, where the big toe mound (big toe connects with the ball of the foot) creates a "stirrup" to the inner ankle. The simplest expression of this can be found by activating and lifting the arch of the foot. For some, easier said than done. Which is why, I present to you, the Triad of the Foot and the Inner Triad of the Foot.
Finding Your Triad of the Foot
Mr. Iyengar had it right, lift your darn toes! The quickest and easiest way to lift your arch and begin that deep front line is by lifting the toes. Once you lift them, spread them as wide as you can. Keep them lifted, feeling the arch lift as well, and slowly root into your big toe. Naturally, your baby toe side of the foot will remain active from the spreading of the toes, and your ankle will stabilize as it aligns with the heel.
Thus, the Triad of the Foot can be described as:
Activating your arch by
Lifting your toes and spreading them
Rooting into the big toe mound and baby toe mound, namely the ball of the foot
And pressing through the center of the heel
Inner Triad of the Foot
While modern Rolfing and massage therapy may regard the inner ankle as a stronger point of awareness for the DFL, the postures of yoga look not to suppress or sickle the ankles and can find the action of the DFL through those three points:
Big toe mound
Second toe mound
Center of the heel
Learn more about the Deep Front Line: http://healingartsce.com/advancedanatomymyofascialpg4.html