Tag Archives: feet

Healing the body with expert hands

Drawing of a left human footI have to apologize for how I left my previous entry hanging ominously on the diagnosis of having idiopathic peripheral neuropathy and my doctors’ seeming inability to determine the cause or prescript a treatment that could relieve my pain. I already knew that I had more options for treatment and even the prospect of  a happy ending.

After I meet with my neurologist, I had already lined up an appointment with Howard Rontal who practices myofascial release therapy. He is a certified Hellerwork practitioner, a  Certified Myoskeletal Therapist, a Certified Structural Integrator SM, and am licensed as a massage therapist by the Board of Chiropractic Examiners, State of Maryland. More importantly, he’s been at this vocation for more than 20 years, and currently teaches around the country.

Drawing of the humna leg musculature
And the foot in intrecately bound to the calves, the knee, and the hip.-- and so on

I had contacted Howard because I wanted to work with an experienced bodyworker who is aware of yoga, comes out of the currents of  structural integrators that include Ida Rolf, Joseph Heller, Moshe FeldenkraisTom Myers and others. It’s safe to say that Howard is not just a massage therapist. I told him that I had multiple problems that included plantar fasciitis, peripheral neuropathy and assorted body tightness. Howard was very honest up front and said that he could not guarantee anything in terms of the neuropathy, but he could certainly help my plantar fasciitis. Another reason that I picked Howard is that he is located about 15 minutes from my house and could treat me in the morning.

I’ve now had six sessions of bodywork, one hour each, with Howard, and the results have been jaw-dropping. As just an initial example, the first two sessions focused exclusively on my feet, ankles and calves. Howard does intense stretches of the plantar ligaments (soles of the feet) that are sheer torture.  In the first session, I could just barely tolerate the pain on my right foot; I could not feel anything on my left foot. It was as if a local anesthetic had been applied to my left foot.  On the second day, I could actually feel the ligaments on my left foot being stretched. By the end of the session, the sensation of relief in my lower legs was overwhelming, but was even more surprising was that it seemed to ripple up my whole body. I could tell that I was in the right hands and was on track to managing the pain and even healing my body.

Over the next four sessions, I found that even working on another part of my body (say, shoulders and neck) could end up relieving the tension in my lower limbs. The pin pricks that had been keeping me from sleep at night are much less intense, and only distract me at times. Other symptoms, like numbness or blunted feeling, do tend to come back gradually between sessions, but each time with less intensity. It might even be a case of new circuits of sensation that I am feeling and interpreting as being symptoms, but are actually a new phenomenon.

The bodywork has also changed my yoga practice as I find that my body is pulsing with more sensory feedback and awareness in muscles that I had not been able to access fully. In one session, Howard dramatically freed up my diaphragm and made my breathing smoother and fuller. The experience has made clear to me that any mature adult (45 or older) who starts doing yoga should also seriously considering using a structural integrator because there are so many issues that have been “baked into the muscles” (bad posture, trauma) over the decades. In the past, I’ve frequently felt as if I’ve been fighting against myself, and now I know I have been struggling against some real resistance.

This treatment has been eye-opening for me, and there are so many lessons in it that I could not possibly give a full account in one sitting. I am going to come back to this facet of my mind-body experience because of its transformative power.

Yoga for the feet

Kira Ryder, a West Coast yoga teacher, is one of the rising lights featured in the “21 Under 40” article in Yoga Journal’s March 2008 issue. She was early to exploit the advantages of video to open a window into practice. She has 40 videos stashed at LuluBandhas’s YouTube Channel. I especially liked her set of six videos on “Opening the Feet” — yes, you heard me right. Six videos, between 4 and 10 minutes each, on loosening up rigid feet. Just what I need. She also has Lulu Vu, which is her online video outlet for full-length classes, home practice shorts, clips from her teacher training and workshops. She also has a ChannelYoga [MLS: domain names are no longer resolving so the URL may have lapsed] which highlight non-instructional videos (some links are broken). Kira’s studio, Lulu bandha’s is in Ojai, CA, near LA. She also has a blog

Achilles’s ankle

You’ve all heard me complain about lack of flexibility in my shoulders, spin, hips, and what not. Well, let me add another — ankles and feet. It’s curious how problems with one area can ripple through the body and affect the whole yoga practice.

And it’s more important than you might think. For instance, when I sit in Hero pose Virasana, all my weight bears down on two points on each limb, the top of my ankle and my knee. The load is not spread along the length of my shin and the whole foot. For that matter, my butt does not reach the floor because there’s a lot of flesh above and below my knees so I stay up pretty high, instead of my butt sitting on the floor. That makes it really uncomfortable to sit for extended time in Hero’s pose — so rule out kneeling for meditation.

Another surprising consequence is that it makes it really hard to balance in Tree pose Vrikshasana (standing on one leg) — or an other one-footed pose, for that matter. My ankle is rigid (one solid block of calcium?) and that means that the micro-adjustments required in balancing are not made — so I try to do them elsewhere, with much less success.

It’s the whole foot from the ankle down to the toes that is extremely stiff. Even my toes don’t seem to have much range of movement. Fortunately for me, my feet are slowly responding.