Stepping through, tricks and tips.
So you want to learn how to step through your foot from Downward Facing Dog (Ardho Mukha Svanasana) into a low lunge with grace and ease? Fantastic! When I first started practicing more flowing styles of yoga I could not for life of me figure out how people did this without sounding like an elephant. For those of you who know me personally, I wouldn’t say grace is one of my top qualities! 😂 So I have put together some top tips for you that helped me when I was trying to figure it out and a sequence to practice that targets the main muscles groups needed for this elusive foot landing.
1. We can’t change our bones
Whats that prayer again... “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference“? Your personal range of motion given to you by bone length and alignment in joints isn’t something we can change. You can fight yourself as much as you like, follow all these tips and do the core strengthening but if you come up short? Maybe check if you have limitations in mobility at a joint because of structure. It can save you a lot of heartache! It would be rare to fill a class full of yoga students and find everyone to have the exact same joint alighnments and bone length ratio. So what can we do to accommodate ourselves, in thus, discovering new things and listening to our bodies? First, let’s begin where we end.
Put yourself into a low lunge like the picture below. Make sure your toes are inline with your wrists and your ankle is under your knee.
If you can be in this pose with both palms on the mat, space between your thigh and your chest and the ability to role your shoulders back with gaze forward. Then congratulations you have heaps of space! If you look like me in the photo below with my palms on the mat, knee hard into the arm pit, chest collapsed and upperback curled in then let’s look at accommodating by coming up onto the finger tips.
2. Fingers and Toes
Many people will look like me in low lunge, and here is a secret, my palm isnt even on the ground next to my forward foot in this pose! So if I dont even have the space to have my leg bent under my chest like this and palms on the ground, do you think I will be able to step through with my palms on the ground? No. Absolutley not, aint gonna happen. Maybe I have a joint/bone structure thing like mentioned above where my shin bones are longer in ratio to my arms? Maybe my chest is in the way? I could do 100 tiger curls a day and no matter what, my foot is never going to get there when my palms are on the ground. So how do I modify this? Easy peasy I come onto the finger tips. Here is an example of a step through below where I come onto the fingertips as I step down, because trying to do it with palms down is physically impossible for me. You can come onto the finger tips with both hands or just one, you decide how that feels for you. You do not need to lift the leg into 3 legged dog, but this can help with momentum. Also you can practice this step through with the hands on blocks to feel the movement with even more space. Bring a breath into your movement. Inhale and lift the leg, exhale and curl in stepping foot down.
Also, lets look at my feet in this video, I come up very high on the toes. This height with coming up high on the toes gives me so much extra space that I need to be able to curl my knee up into my chest, keep my hips high and round my spine to find the space to step that foot down, maybe gently.
I think there is also a common misconception for the need to step the foot literally between the hands with the toes more inline or past the finger tips. Maybe you want to step this far if you prefer really wide stanced poses like Warrior 2, Warrior 1, ect... but remember where you go from the step forward in a vinyasa class. It it always to one of these forms, if your someone who prefers a shorter stance, then stepping the foot this far foward to the finger tips wont serve you. I aim for toes more inline with wrists in my own personal practice as I find when I come up to standing that is the distance I like my feet apart. The same goes for when coming down from standing back to low lunge and needing to step back to Downward Facing Dog. See how it feels to bring the hands down with the wrists inline with the toes to step back, versus the finger tips with the toes.
3. Strength and Mobility
So I’m not here to say, all you have to do is come on to the fingers and toes and BOOM you have a graceful step through... no way. It takes so much core and hipflexor strength to be able to curl you knee into your chest in a high plank while trying to balance on one set of toes. However, the good news is that alot of Asana we do in a yoga class builds us up for this transition. Follow the sequence below if you want to do a home practice that will focus on these things and primarily target the psoas and deeper core muscles.
As you can see there is alot that goes into the seemingly simple step forward command you hear in your yoga class. I remember when I started practicing I thought I would never be able to gracefully do this quietly and quickly, but then I applied some things to help me modify and I still use these as they have become my practice. That is the whole thing we are trying to do with our yoga practice no matter which style you do, becoming aware of things within the body and then listening and working with them, not against them. Allowing that union of body and mind to flow harmoniously. After all, the meaning of Yoga is to yoke.