I’ve always loved wearing high heels, a confession you might not expect from a yogi, but there’s just something about slipping into a beautiful pair of shoes that makes me light up. Maybe it’s because high heels are such a refreshing change from the flip-flops and stretchy pants I wear everyday. When I strut down the street in a pair of killer heels, I feel feminine, sexy, and adventurous.
High heels aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. They’re not exactly comfortable, so I get that. And they’re not good for your feet and legs . . . blah, blah, blah. Hey, all I know is that something magical happens when I’m wearing them, and I’ve learned from experience that if something uplifts your spirit and reminds you that anything is possible, it’s good to just go with it. I should’ve prefaced this by saying that I’m only really in heels for an evening out, or a special event, so it’s not like I saunter through my day in stilettos like Claire Underwood. If you wear high heels to work, then flip-flops and stretchy pants are probably your idea of a good time. At the end of the day, what matters is that you’re being honest about your needs and fiercely true to yourself.
There’s a skill to walking in heels, one that my mother tried to impart on me after her years as a model. I used to beg her to try on her shoes. I have a very distinct memory of her teaching me to strut across the wall-to-wall carpeting in her bedroom. Weak arches, ankles, and outer hips will leave you fumbling around like an young colt learning how to walk. You need a lot of strength and stability to sashay down the sidewalk—strengthening the peroneal muscles (the muscles of the lateral leg) and the arches of the feet will stabilize the ankle joints; educating the gluteus medius offers support to the hip joints.
The following (cheeky) sequence is a small snapshot of my own personal practice, which really has little to do with wearing high heels and a lot to do with learning how to stabilize my hyper-mobile joints. It was the motivation behind the sequences on my Gaiam DVD. I’ve found these postures and prop variations to be an invaluable tool in my yoga practice. Thanks to this work, I’ve learned how to lift up out of my joints, stabilize my transitions, and improve my balance. Oh, and by the way, the peak pose in this sequence—the asana we’re working towards—is a hot night out on the town.
Relevés With Block Between Ankles
I love this exercise. I’ve endured some pretty bad ankle sprains in my life, and this prop variation has really strengthened this unstable joint. Place a block between your feet and ankles. Slowly relevé, rising high onto the balls of your feet. Breathe and hold for three breaths, and then slowly lower your heels to the floor. Hug your outer ankles into the block as you lift the inner arches of your feet up. Lengthen your big toes forward as you pull your little toes back into the heel. Ground down evenly across the balls of your feet. Repeat five to ten times. For additional support, rest your fingertips on the wall, a table, or the back of a chair.
Relevés Sans Block
Repeat the exercise above without the block, but concentrating on the memory of the block. You can increase the length of time you stay lifted in relevé. To challenge your balance, move your arms while you’re balancing, raising them up on your inhale, and lowering them back down on your exhale. Observe where you tend to grip as you attempt to hold the balance; relax your face and jaw.
Tadasana / Uttanasana With Strap And Block
Place a block between your upper thighs at the narrowest facet. Make a loop with the belt, as wide as your outer hips, and place it around the middle of your thighs. Pull the tail so the belt is snug around the thighs. Hug the block, initiating the action from your outer upper thighs (hug from the outside-in). Hold that action steadily for three breaths. Relax. Now gently press out into the belt, initiating from the inner upper thighs (pressing from the inside-out). Hold for three breaths. Repeat two times. Now, try to do both actions simultaneously! Optional: Fold forward into Uttanasana and repeat those two opposing actions, first individually, and then simultaneously.
Utkatasana With Strap
Oh, Utkatasana—how I’ve learned to love thee. This exercise helped with that a lot. One of the common issues in this pose is the tendency for the legs to rest on each other. (Who could blame them?) Once again, the strap encourages the legs to abduct (move away from the midline) which engages the muscles of the lateral hip. As you press your inner thighs out into the strap (don’t overdo), focus on sharpening your inner heels and lengthening your big toes forward. Release your inner groins back as you gather your sit bones together. Hold long enough to sense what’s happening (eight to ten breaths) and then slowly rise up to stand.
Vrksasana On A Block
The work of our feet and legs becomes more challenging when we stand on unfamiliar ground. It literally wakes us up and asks us to be present with what’s required to maintain steadiness. Balancing in Tree Pose takes on new meaning when standing on a block! You will feel an immediate connection to your stabilizers.
Step on the block with your left foot and bend the right knee into your chest. Externally-rotate the right thigh at the hip and place your right foot into the inner upper standing thigh. For additional balance, hold onto a table or the back of a chair. Extending the arms wide out to the sides also helps with the balance. Compact your outer hips, recreating the action of hugging the block. Hold for five to ten breaths and carefully step off the block. Repeat on the second side.
Supta Padangusthasana 2 With Bottom Leg Slightly Abducted
Lay on your back and stretch the legs forward on the floor. Place two folded blankets, a bolster, or a golden retriever (!!!) on the floor touching your right outer hip. Bend your right knee into your chest and place a strap around your right foot. Extend the right leg first up to the ceiling, and then slowly out to the side into Supta Padangusthasana 2. Creep your bottom leg out to the left approximately six inches. Focusing your attention on the left thigh and outer hip, recreate the earlier action of pressing your thighs out into the strap; feel how this action firms the outer left hip in towards the midline. Hold for ten to twenty breaths. Slowly lift your right leg back to the ceiling and extend the leg forward into Supta Tadadana. Pause here for a moment before changing sides. Hint: If using a golden retriever, I recommend sitting up and turning to face the other direction because Lord knows they won’t move! You can also position yourself close to a wall, or a piece of furniture (as I’m demonstrating in the photo above), which offers support and feedback to the top leg!
Utthita Hasta Padanagusthasana 2
When I teach this in class, people flee for the bathrooms. It’s a challenging pose that requires balance, strength, and flexibility. Students often place too much emphasis on the lifted leg, but the secret to the pose lies in the standing leg; that’s the star of the show. When the arms and legs are fully integrated into the trunk, it creates a circuit of energy. It’s taken me a long time to fully appreciate the depth of this asana, and I’m continuously surprised by how much it still has to teach me.
Start standing in Tadasana. Bend your right knee into your chest. Place your left hand on your hip. Grab your right big toe by slipping your second and third fingers in between the big toe and second toe, like a flip-flop. Wrap your fingers around the back of your big toe and bring the tips of those two fingers to touch the tip of your thumb. This mudra holds the leg.
Extend your right leg out in front of you, any amount. Prioritize the standing leg; keep it lifted and straight, even if that means you can’t straighten the right leg. As you press your right big toe mound forward into your fingers, pull your fingers back against the big toe mound and draw your right upper arm onto your upper back. Firm your outer hips in. Rise up through the crown of your head.
Slowly reach the right leg out to the right into Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana 2. Continue to work the actions above. Pay special attention to the outer left hip; hug it into the midline and lengthen your torso up, away from your pelvis.
Hold for five breaths. Bring your right leg back to center and slowly release your right foot back to the floor. Take a few moments in Tadasana before changing sides.