As you know, our hands and feet are essential to our daily movements, interactions, and well-being and the importance of this are not lost in Yoga. This is where the bandhas come into play. The word bandha is translated as “body locks” in Sanskrit and is used in yoga as “the activation and engagement of muscle fibers, in strategic areas in the body, that support in the toning and lifting of the systems of the body against the natural laws of gravity1.” There are three major bandhas: mula, uddiyana, and jalandhar, and two minor ones: hasta and pada (which we will explore today).
As another addition to the Unfolding Yoga: The Foundations series, I thought it would be an excellent idea to explore proper placement and alignment of our hands and feet within our yoga practice. As well look into some great tips on keeping the feet, hands and wrists happy and healthy. Let’s jump in!
The feet hold much significance and deserve particular attention as they are our foundation. They hold up our entire body weight, provide lift, extension, and balance for the body. The foot is made of 26 bones and has three arches: the medial longitudinal arch, lateral longitudinal arch, and the transverse arch2. These arches are important as they provide flexibility, shock absorbency, disbursing the body’s weight along the feet, and the ability to adapt to different surfaces we tend to walk on2. Having proper alignment in your stance is the key to healthy feet and overall body. When there is proper alignment in the feet, there will be proper, neutral alignment right up through to the legs up to the hip joints3.
As mentioned the importance of the feet was not lost on the those who practiced yoga. Not just as a physical symbol but as a metaphorical one. It was once the practice to bow down and kiss the feet of esteemed teachers in reverence. This act was done in “…acknowledgement that the ancient teachings have been stepped down through time on the feet of the learned ones4.” Since our feet is the foundation for many poses in yoga, it makes sense to have a sort of practice to prepare them for movement on the mat. This is where pada bandha and samasthiti come in to keep the feet in good form.
Enter in Pada Bandha and Samasthiti
The ancient peoples who developed yoga realized the importance the arches played in bearing your weight. When anything goes wrong with the foot, the problem can radiate up through the leg towards the hips and back. For example, if the inner arches of your feet sag down, this will affect the legs by weakened thigh muscles and into the lower back causing stiffness and compression2. For many, the feet could be the source for many back aches. Hence the emphasis on taking care of the feet in yoga practice.
Practicing Pada Bandha:
In Sanskrit, pada means foot and bandha (in this case) means “to lift or to catch or to harness4.” The purpose of pada bandha is to activate the arches which support elevation in the knees, inner groin, and aids in the lift of the pelvic floor (which is known as mula bandha). To help activate or to help find “lift” in your feet, roll a tennis ball under your foot. Doing so will stimulate all points of the foot which will release any blockages in the connective tissue, muscles, and ligaments within the foot4, thus bringing back that “spring” or “lift” into your foot. Another great exercise is to stretch the underside of the feet. This can be done by kneeling on the ground with your toes turned under and sit with your weight back on the heels. This will give the feet a fantastic stretch.
Now that we have the feet activated, time to move onto Samasthiti which means equal standing. Broken down sama means upright, straight, equal, level or balanced; sthiti means to stand or stay5. Samasthiti also goes by the name of tadasana also know as mountain pose5. It is one of the first asanas learned in yoga. As the definition mentions, it is a pose of ‘equal standing,’ meaning your weight is spread across both feet equally. This action is also known as pressing into the “four corners of the feet.” Thus making sure your weight isn’t too far forward (weight mostly on the toes), or too far back (mostly on the heels), or too far to one side of the body. Keeping the weight on the outside edges of the feet allows the body to align naturally, avoiding any internal rotation of the thighs thus protecting the sacrum and spine5.
Other than the two techniques mentioned earlier (using a tennis ball and stretching out the backs of the feet), below is an excellent way to really feel the activation of your arches and to practice pada bandha and samasthiti.
Engaging your feet in pada bandha and samasthiti:
Δ The challenge here is maintaining this awakening of the feet (pada bandha) while releasing the toes back on the floor.
The wrist and hands may not seem as important as the feet; however, they do hold importance in our yoga practice. Our hands can act as our foundation in many poses that involve arm balances or inversions. Therefore the placement and alignment of our hands and wrist are just as important as the feet in standing postures. The practice of hasta bandha allows the yogi to set their hands up to take on the weight of the body in a safe way, protecting the wrist from injury.
The action of hasta bandha is to “root down through the pads and mounds of the thumb and fingers, and energetically draw/suction upwards through the center of the palms, creating a lift upwards through the hands, wrists and lower arms.1”
Engaging the hands in Hasta Bandha:
∇ Emphasize pressing the index and thumb pads into the mat; it will help to spread the weight over a greater area of the hand.
Some things to keep in mind:
→ Too much wrinkle in the skin on the wrist while in any pose (downward dog for example) indicates that you are applying too much pressure on your joints and should ease up8.
→ When your extremities start turning white, that means there is a blockage or constriction somewhere, and blood isn’t getting to where it needs to go8. Move out of the pose and find what’s causing restriction of blood flow.
→ The surface you choose to practice on can make a difference on your joints. Hard surfaces can be difficult to practice on bare for it can be hard on the knee and wrist joints9. Having cushioning like a yoga mat or two on these surfaces can help in minimizing pain or pressure. Much like the feet, the weight should be distributed evenly between the hands. Not doing so can result in sinking in the wrist.
Quick go-to moves to deal with wrist pain:
Here are some quick exercises I like to do when experiencing any wrist pain:
In the opposite direction: flip the hand, left fingers facing downward, take hold of the palm and press the right thumb into the center of the left hand. Take a few breaths. Repeat both actions on the other side.
I recommend spending at least five minutes going through this sequence of exercises. If you are looking for some more wrist action, give youtube a search as there are some great videos like this one there. However, if you are experiencing severe wrist pain, please do see a doctor about it, you do not want to risk further injury.
All yoga postures start from the ground up, whether it’s on the feet or the hands, we learned we an active and supported foundation. The pada and hasta bandhas provide an excellent way to keep our feet, hands and their respected joints in good shape so they are able to provide us with the stability, strength, and protection needed to prevent future injury.
Hopefully, this post has helped you in becoming more familiar and aware of placement and alignment of your feet and hands within your practice. Let me know if you have any suggestions for what you would like to see in the next installment of the Unfolding Yoga: Exploring the Foundations series.
1 The Bandhas – Preventing yoga injuries – Ekhart Yoga. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2016, from https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/the-bandhas-preventing-yoga-injuries
2 Safe knees and feet in yoga – Ekhart Yoga. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2016, from https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/safe-knees-and-feet-in-yoga
3 5 Ways Your Feet Can Deepen Your Yoga Practice. (2012). Retrieved September 7, 2016, from http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5951/5-Ways-Your-Feet-Can-Deepen-Your-Yoga-Practice.html
4 The Feet. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2016, from http://www.sattvafitness.com/TheFeet.pdf
5 Tadasana. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tadasana
6 Kristoffer, H. (2014). Essential Yoga Cues to Get More from Your Mat Time. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from http://www.shape.com/blogs/working-it-out/essential-yoga-cues-get-more-your-mat-time
7 The Feet & Pada Bandha. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2016, from http://www.markstephensyoga.com/blog/feet-pada-bandha
8 Gudmestad, J. (2016). Hand Positioning Tips To Bear Weight Prevent Wrist Injuries. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from http://www.yogajournal.com/article/poses/hands-down/
9 Protecting Wrists in Downward Facing Dog and Yoga Poses. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2016, from http://www.gaia.com/article/protecting-wrists-downward-facing-dog-and-yoga-poses