In 1980, foot, ankle, and lower-leg issues brought me to a Rolfer’s office. A week before, an orthopedist told me that I would have to stop doing what I loved, dancing, if I wanted to live without pain. My first Ten Series enabled a brighter future, and I have been interested in healthy lower-limb function ever since. Throughout my years in private practice, I have benefitted from study with a wide variety of wonderful teachers, authors, and colleagues and my lower-limb function has continued to evolve and actually improve. I remember when Hubert Godard said that often we begin to age by losing proprioception through our feet and ankles. By offering our clients an alternative path to this common progression of aging, we can contribute greatly to the quality of their life experience.
Lines of Inquiry
Therearemanykeylower-limbrelationships that are essential to understand in order to facilitate ease in human uprightness and locomotion; the following list is very brief, but includes some of my current favorite topics for research and exploration:
For all of these relationships, there are many manual techniques for restoring motion and movement exercises to re- pattern coordination. Thus, it is important to develop an ample repertory to address the wide variety of people with issues that walk into our offices. When any of these relationships are missing, dysfunctional, or restricted, motion or stability must be restored for optimal function, or an alternative solution found. For example, in the case of hallux limitus, whereby there is restricted movement available to the first MTP joint, a rocker type of soled shoe may be helpful in providing hip extension and fluidity in G’. But there isn’t one ideal that we can apply to everyone. For example, some people are well suited to ‘barefoot’ or five-finger shoes, while others are not, perhaps for physical reasons or because their worldview doesn’t allow them to be comfortable with this footwear.
However, no matter which techniques you employ or what footwear you recommend, my sense is that what underlies success for clients in sustaining the changes and achieving lasting corrections is reawakening their capacity for sensing and relating to the ground through their feet and ankles. This needs to be a primary embodiment goal. To live in one’s feet and ankles and value them as primary conduits of connection to the earth makes our work more potent, lasting, and transformative. Having a felt sensory experience such that we can relate to and resource the ground allows us to be more adaptable and orientated; stress becomes less debilitating because we have an avenue for support and action. Our ongoing capacity for proprioception in our feet and ankles directly relates to our ease in uprightness and locomotion.
Arriving in Our Feet
How do we help our clients cultivate their ability to move into their feet – arriving, yielding, connecting, being responsive to the ground, transmitting energy and propelling them through space with ease? How do we facilitate an experience that allows for a perceptual, psychobiological shift in meeting and receiving the ground? How do we cultivate a body image that doesn’t stop somewhere above the ground, but includes our relationship with the ground, so that y truly becomes the therapist?
As Rolfers, we need to consider our clients’ relationship with the ground in our body reading or movement analysis. When they stand, do they allow the ground to support them or do they brace elsewhere? Do their feet understand that their primary role is to meet and relate to the ground? What is the quality of the footstep – does it slap the ground – barely disturb it – rush past it? Use your imagination: if you were the ground, how would it feel to have this person walk across you? Would you feel welcomed and included? Perhaps these questions sound ridiculous, but I encourage you to give them a try. By allowing ourselves to ask these types of questions, along with all the technical and biomechanical ones, we may avail ourselves of information that shapes our interactions with clients in new ways, offering depth and potency.
An important place to start is with landing: we need to arrive – actually land during the landing phase of gait so that our joints can unlock and our proprioceptors can awaken and send signals to our brain about necessary adjustments relevant to the terrain.
One of my favorite experiences for the landing phase of gait follows, but first a note on the ‘equipment’ used. Many clients have been taught to roll around on a tennis or lacrosse ball; some do this mindlessly while watching TV or keep one under their desk. Some have been instructed to press hard, use a lacrosse ball, and “work those tight spots out.” These approaches will do nothing toward cultivating a felt sense of feet or renewing one’s relationship with the ground. As an alternative, I recommend the Franklin Textured Ball™ ( see http://bit.ly/2FgFwgA) – the green faceted balls designed by Eric Franklin. (Certainly, there are other options; the criteria is that the object needs to provide some reciprocity in give, have textural interest, and not create discomfort.)
Try this somatic exercise for yourself, or use these instructions to guide a client.
Stand barefoot with one hand lightly holding onto a dresser or something at about waist level for balance. In the beginning, doing this without holding on makes it less effective. It is not intended to be a balance challenge; it is about going deeper into sensation to awaken proprioception.
Stand with feet hip-joint distance apart, and start by guiding awareness to register the sensation of your feet on ground as a baseline: notice what parts of the foot meet the ground, perhaps there are images that come to mind to capture felt experience. Place one foot on the ball with knee bent and keep the other leg with a straight knee and foot on the ground.
Begin with the ball underneath the Chopart joint, slightly anterior to the talus; find a spot between the navicular and cuboid where the ball seems to ‘fit’. Both your heel and forefoot will be off the floor. Steadily increase pressure on the ball until your knee is straight and that side of the body is entirely supported by the ball. The Franklin ball will give, as you see in Figure 1, yet stay sensually interesting because of the facets. You may find yourself progressively shifting more of your weight to the ball side, which is fine. Images are useful, such as: warm melting through the ball, curiosity about the ground underneath the ball, releasing into the ball, or sensing the ball touching you as you touch it. There is very little visible movement – this is a continual state of melting.
To receive full benefit throughout the body, keep your body upright with head aligned, gaze even and soft. Stay for about thirty to sixty seconds. Notice potential shifts in breathing, diaphragm, jaw, and eyes. Make sure you are not blocking the effects by holding the pelvic floor or shoulder girdle. This should not be painful. If it is, perhaps more cushioning is needed in the beginning.
Figure 1: Somatic exercise using the Franklin Textured Ball.
Create increased interest by inquiring about the felt sense of the temperature, shape, and texture of the experience. After thirty to sixty seconds, you can slowly twist a bit to slightly pronate, supinate, evert, and invert the foot on the ball. However, these movements are done with continuous foot melting in relationship to the ball, they are not biomechanical movements that happen above the ball. Spend some time with each movement to notice the effects. This will cultivate the foot’s natural pronation/ supination action and transition across the transverse arch, which is necessary for effective propulsion in gait.
Slowly release from the ball and stand with both feet on the ground – note awareness of sensation and differences. We learn by engagement with experience, which includes comparison; what does this sensation teach you about where your foot started?
You may move the ball to another spot, perhaps towards the lateral arch if the foot is locked in supination and you want to encourage more awareness of the lateral arch. Or in the case of hammertoes, this exercise can be done with the forefoot melting into the ball, phalanges reaching toward ground in plantar flexion; use the opposite foot on top as gentle pressure to increase the tissue adaptability of the extensor tendons. Keep the foot weighted into the ball throughout. If one has diminished or collapsed arches, this promotes resiliency by awakening proprioception and increasing sensory awareness; the small twisting actions are especially beneficial in these cases. Think of enhancing function through learning and awareness. There are no rules, except that this is not a mindless rolling experience or a quick fix. This is an awareness experience with specific parameters to speak to one’s ongoing sense of weight connecting to the ground.
Try (or with a client, guide) walking after completing one foot to notice differences. However if a person’s sacrum alignment is vulnerable, I recommend completing both sides prior to walking.
If you try walking, notice the beneficial effect of this landing exercise on the propulsion phase of gait through the action across the transverse arch along the axis of the first and second rays.
I encourage you to be creative with this exercise once you embody and understand the intention behind it. You can give it as client homework, use aspects in table work and tracking, teach it during a movement group, and, of course, use it for self-care.
Rebecca Carli-Mills holds BA and MFA degrees in dance. She earned certification in Rolf Movement Integration in 1987, became a Certified Rolfer in 1989, and a Certified Advanced Rolfer in 1992. Rebecca graduated from the Pennsylvania Gestalt Center and joined the Rolf Movement faculty of the Rolf Institute® in 1994. Rebecca’s understanding of gravity and human movement potential has been enriched by her studies with Hubert Godard. Additionally, she draws from her interest in the work of Laban/ Bartineff, Sensory Awareness, qi gong, and yoga. Rebecca has a full-time Rolfing® Structural Integration and Rolf Movement practice in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
The Feet – Learning and Landing[:]