The subject of the role of the hands and feet as part of our everyday movement patterns and exercise, poses a continuous enquiry for me. Not only in my personal practice but also moving through life.
I’d like to share some simple enquiries for you to try, along with a few observations and interpretations that my teachers, friends and I have found along the way.
A simple experiential invitation
So let’s begin. I would like you to tune in for a few minutes while standing on the Earth, possibly without shoes and socks, and begin to notice any sensations that arise.
Then place your hands on the Earth, perhaps in a Downward Facing Dog or squatting, kneeling, or sitting with your hands resting on the Earth and again observe what arises.
Now, rest your hands onto the abdominals or the ribs at the front of the body, or perhaps one hand on the breast bone and the other on the lower abdominals and breathe. Notice what happens.
Finally, place one hand on the front of the breast bone and the other hand on the back of the ribs. Inhale and exhale a few times and notice how the spine is being moved by the breath and how your hands connect into the tissues they are touching.
Journal your observations if you wish. These earlier invitations may have given you some deep insights into some of the neural pathways connected to our spine: the core or centre of our body, which are waiting to be revisited or discovered. These pathways may have shown themselves in the form of subtle movements or feelings in the body, energetic shifts or a dropping of the bones into the ground. Possibly you may have just felt very relaxed and connected. Or simply nothing. All are welcome.
Connect with your feet in class with Helen Noakes
How are your feet and hands connected to your body and practice?
…some feedback from friends and students.
For me they both speak the language of deep and many layered connection to, and expression from, the centre of our being and our environment. That relationship transforms and informs on all levels and layers of energy from the physical to the most subtle. – Penny Reeves
The soft sensitive broadening and lengthening of hands and feet invite somatic intelligence to awaken and deepen in all areas of the body. Perhaps most obviously, this is experienced as a spontaneous lengthening of the spine and broadening of the ribcage. Once fully integrated, activating the hands and feet reveals the inherent wholeness of the body both structurally and energetically. – Michelle Walder
My feet (and our hands in inversions) are our connection with Mother Earth and to feel her beneath them is the best experience. Standing well rooted from ‘sole to soul’ allows me – at 5’3 – to feel tall. I love my feet. – Maggie Ridge
I think a part of the magic of rooting through our feet is that some of us don’t normally give any thought to our feet. So when you do, it is new and asks you to concentrate. – Suvi Terho
The feet and hands are the vertical and horizontal meridians of the spine. – Nancy Mendonsa
Pathways to the spine
When you rest your hands or feet, or both, onto the Earth, rather than pushing into the ground, can you visualise the ground meeting you? Now we have set up the conditions to receive the magnetic pull of gravity and levity.
We can keep tuning into our imagination, which is one of our most creative tools. Imagine you are literally floating on the earth when standing. We can imagine our inner body as a myriad of tensegrity (tension and compression with integrity – how we are held together) structures in endless spiralling patterns, suspended in fluid and interconnectedness.
We are moving towards a state of equilibrium to feel maximum space inside ourselves while exerting the minimum of energy. Here we can tune into biotensegrity (all our structural and functional relationships in the body) which can help us drop into our parasympathetic state of relax, release and respond.
Here we can enquire if we respond or react, or have choice or compulsion. Here we have the feeling that any movement in any direction is available to us. Watch the video on Buckminster Fuller in the resources below for more on this.
We may tune into the natural two directional down/up axial extension physically in our spine in response to gravity. We may have the sense of receiving the Earth as well as the Earth receiving us.
More experiments for awakening the hands and feet
- Experiment with lifting your toes or fingers off the ground and notice how it affects your balance, stability and flexibility. The feet and hands awakening and responding to their environment have an effect on balance and equilibrium.
- Try to lengthen the back of your ankles or wrists in any position and notice what feedback and possible length it offers you.
- Stand in mountain pose, breathe and feel. Then try massaging the front of the ankles, and return to the pose and notice any new sensations. This helps you to fine-tune proprioception (the body’s ability to perceive its own position in space). This part of the ankle is full of sensory nerves.
- Touch plays an important role in connecting hands and feet to our inner and outer landscapes. Massaging the feet and hands on a regular basis has many benefits such as moving with increased energy efficiency.
My teacher, Gary Carter, says:
We move with space into space. Space is given to us. Our natural breathing rhythm needs space to respond well… Our joints all correspond together, take away the resistance and there is no need to stretch…We set up the conditions so these natural events can occur in our system. We are uncovering our instincts.
Reflexology and the spine
When I asked friends what came to mind when thinking about the foot/hand connection, Ella Preece reminded me that in reflexology the spine is reflected on both the hands and the feet.
When you look at maps from the reflexology world, you can see how our tissues in the body have a direct correlation to the soles of the feet and palms of hands. Notice where the spine is represented in the diagram, running along the inner edges of the feet. In the hands the spine runs along the outer edges of the thumbs. We are in constant connection via the nervous system with our viscera, our fluid body, water and air pressures, and rhythms or pulses in the body – simultaneously in direct conversation with our environment.
Interesting interpretations and suggestions
Firstly we must remember that there is no separation under the skin. Everything is connected. This became clear to me when I was privileged to dissect, in a lab with Gary Carter and Julian Baker, cadavers who donated themselves to scientific research. I saw and touched with my own hands the miracle of who we are.
The suggestions below are from my own experiences and personal interpretations of teachers I’ve worked with. Therefore, please take what you wish from my words. I sincerely hope that you not only enjoy them but discover some new pathways in your own understanding of how you relate to the world around you.
- Once we feel one joint opening in two directions, (merely a size of a tomato seed) we notice that all the other joints in the body simultaneously respond and open. Magic!
- We could view our joints as mainly fluid in nature, especially if they are synovial joints. Therefore we can tune into the naturally occurring waves and spirals already happening in the body.
- We have between 200,000 and 300,000 sensory receptors in the feet alone. Our hands also have very sensitive ‘antennae’ for receiving information from the environment. There are a total of 17,000 touch receptors and free nerve endings in the palm. These pick up sensations of pressure, movement and vibration.
- You may also have noticed again the magnetic phenomena that exists in the body; the action of gravity and levity. For example, when you ‘grow roots’ into the Earth through your feet, you may simultaneously feel a sliding and gliding upward feeling in the spine and a pulling down of the pelvis and legs. Or you may have noticed this two directional extension occurring in other parts of the body – possibly the neck or the back of the lumbar spine.
- The work of Tom Myers on anatomy trains or myofascial (muscle fascia) connections gives us a lovely basis to see how the soles of the feet are connected to the deep core of the body all the way up to the spine via the tongue. Observe what sensations arise when you look at the diagram of these connections.
- The tongue is a wonderful organ and it can connect us to the soles of the feet and the palms of the hand. If you practice Lion’s breath (Simhasana Pranayama) for instance, you might begin to understand these magical connections.
Awakening the diaphragms and domes in the body
When we allow ourselves to surrender by feeling the Earth meeting us in Downward Facing Dog for example, the diaphragms of the hands and feet awaken. These structures rise in the strongest part of the dome which is the centre. In conjunction with the joints awakening, this action begins to send messages to all the other diaphragms of the body to awaken.
Some of the diaphragms we can experience are:
- Dura Mater – the connective tissue around the brain
- The diaphragm which is the roof of the mouth also under the tongue and possibly around the top of the throat.
- The thoracic diaphragm
- The pelvic diaphragm
- The diaphragms in the hands/palms and the feet/soles
- I also feel there is some kind of ‘dome structure’ supporting our joints and this is for you to discover. Our joints can be seen and felt as organs.
My final invitation would be to try walking barefoot on different surfaces. I write some of this while sitting on a pebble beach in Greece. As much as possible I try to walk barefoot on the pebbles, noticing where I trust and let go, where I’m wobbling and how my balance is affected while I’m navigating the terrain under my feet.
If you don’t have pebbles, maybe you could try walking on the Earth in a forest and compare how it feels to walking on snow or ice! Noticing those differences in sensations and how the body responds deep inside can offer you great insights.
Those insights can be seen as ‘creation in motion’ as John Stirk quotes. So I fully encourage you to be your own inner explorer and enjoy rediscovering the inner ocean that we all carry within us.
May these insights continue to keep you interested in the miracle of what lives beneath the skin and how we as humans are connected not only to ourselves but also to our world and each other. We can enjoy optimal benefits when we connect to the environment around us via our re-awakened hands and feet. We can gain maximum benefit from these simple and profound guidelines.
With love and thanks,
Practice with me, Helen Noakes on EkhartYoga
Gary Carter – my teacher
Julian Baker – Functional fascia
Tom Myers – Anatomy trains
Buckminster Fuller in 3 minutes – video
What is Scaravelli-inspired yoga?