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Activating the Arches

Mostly back-lying, knees bent. The “tripod of the foot” lesson, great for improving feet, knees, hips, and more. Learn better awareness and control of the bones and muscles that create the fundamental ground contact structure of the body, and relate it to movements of the ankle, knee (especially the head of the fibula), hip, back, and beyond.

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Before you begin read this for practical tips and your responsibilities, and check out Comfort & Configuration below.

Recorded live in a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM) class, this lesson is copyright Nick Strauss-Klein, for personal use only.

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Tip – Complete the Movement

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Tip 4 – Padding

Study tip: Comfort first! Carpeted floors usually work well, but it’s great to have an extra mat or blanket nearby in case you need a softer surface in some configurations.

Tip 5 – Discomfort

Study tip: If a configuration or movement causes any increase in discomfort, or you feel you just don’t want to do it, don’t! Make it smaller and slower, adapt it, or rest and imagine.

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Tip – Directions are Relative

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Tip – what to wear

Study tip: Wear loose, comfortable clothes that are warm enough for quiet movement. Remove or avoid anything restrictive like belts or glasses.

At the beginning of the lesson when you are invited to be seated you may sit on the floor or on a chair.

The basic movement described as lifting or activating the arch of the foot does not need to be big. If you identify with having high foot arches, you might particularly benefit from making it a very small movement, and in fact bringing extra attention to the letting go of each arch activation, perhaps even adding a slight emphasis to tilting the foot toward the arch when that is introduced.

I sometimes call the fourth toe the “ring toe.” By this I mean an analogy to the ring finger: I’m talking about the toe next to the pinkie toe, not the toe next to the big toe, on which some people place rings.

The metatarsals are the five “palm bones” of your feet. The head of a metatarsal is the joint where it meets the toe it is connected to. The head of the fourth metatarsal is at the base of the fourth toe (the one next to the pinky toe).

For more on why and how we integrate the feet with the whole self and the ground, you may enjoy an interview with Feldenkrais Trainer Jeff Haller on Youtube called Fascinating Feet! Understanding The Foundation Of Our Movement. Topics covered include skeletal support, changing habits, shoes, walking.

This lesson is found in the Better Posture, Walking, and Running lesson collection.

Like most of our lessons, this one can be studied out of context, but you may find additional learning value by approaching it in the order of the collection it’s in.

Another approach to Activating the Arches would be in the context I often teach it as part of my “Organizing the Feet for Balance, Posture, and Power” workshop. In that workshop I usually precede it with a lesson called Breath, Belly, Back, and Hips: Connecting to the Earth, which you can find in our Miscellaneous Lessons collection.

I’ve got a free sample Zoom video class that includes a mini version of that workshop right here.

Both the lesson above and Breath, Belly, Back and Hips appear in our Deep Dive called Supple Feet, Powerful Legs.

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  1. Nevenka Koprivsek on May 13, 2015 at 12:06 am

    This is excellent ATM, I had a broken ankle as well and the tibia kind of fractured in this is wonderful for me. Thanks for sharing. best wishes Nevenka

    • Danny LAUWERS on April 5, 2022 at 8:40 am

      The only bodily “ATM” I know is a gene which provides instructions for making a protein.
      Can you be a bit more explicit?
      THANKS 🙂

      • Nick Strauss-Klein on April 5, 2022 at 4:17 pm

        ATM in Feldenkrais study stands for Awareness Through Movement, the formal name of our verbally-led modality. Learn more here:

        A lot of Feldenkrais regulars say “I did an ATM,” shorthand for studying an ATM lesson.

        I loved and learned a lot from your list of other ATM acronyms. Forgive me for editing it out for the sake of brevity in these comments!

  2. Nina on November 20, 2016 at 11:52 am

    :-)))))) Thank you!

  3. Linda Flanders on October 17, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    You are so wonderfully generous with your knowledge Nick. Well done!

  4. ilona fried on October 21, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    Since I need to build up my arches, I have repeated this lesson many times, and each time I hear or discover something “new”. You infuse a lot of details and opportunities for learning into this and other lessons, which is one reason I never get tired of them.

    • Danny LAUWERS on April 5, 2022 at 8:41 am

      Nick is a wonderful teacher 🙂

  5. Kate Major on March 30, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    I have done this lesson about 3 times. I think it is one of my favorites. This time, I had to sit back down on a chair shortly after completing the lesson…usually I like to walk around a bit and gaze into the expanded world…but something needed attention at my desk. In sitting, I felt myself more relaxed mentally but also a very, very clear sense of my sits bones; like they were the 4th metatarsals, supporting me. More secure base, better alignment in spine. Many thanks.

  6. Julie on June 1, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    So … the answer to the “quiz” … is the cartilage on the inside of my heel? : )

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on June 7, 2019 at 8:52 am

      I could tell you but it might spoil the fun for others…. [Actually, I replied to Julie privately with the answer.]

  7. Yael Karo on July 11, 2019 at 6:57 am

    Thank you for your wonderful fresh way of leading the lesson into us and connecting it to everyday life. It helped me equalizing the feet

  8. Gail Fishman on August 15, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    This is one of my favorite lessons to find my body, and how all the parts are connected and can integrate in a beautiful, soothing and graceful way. This lesson makes me feel whole and Nick’s guidance is so loving and clear, Thank you Nick

  9. Michael Thompson on August 21, 2019 at 4:00 am

    Wonderful, surprising and reinvigorating even on the third listen. Thanks so much Nick ! (From Brisbane Australia)

  10. Eran on August 31, 2019 at 8:41 am

    I really enjoyed this lesson. Gave me a whole new perspective on balance and standing. Thank you!

  11. vanessa on September 9, 2019 at 9:30 am

    LOVE THIS!! my feet are awake!!

  12. Bueno on December 9, 2019 at 6:16 pm

    This is my current favorite lesson to teach students (and for me to do!) Last time I taught it, a student commented that he didn’t feel like himself after the lesson… he felt like Cary Grant!

  13. Jennifer Ostermann on March 1, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Hello! I haven’t done this lesson yet – wondering, does this lesson involve lifting the pelvis? Thanks!

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on March 1, 2020 at 3:09 pm

      Yes, it uses a classic ATM structure called “spine like a chain” as a refrain and a way to sense what the reorganizing explorations of the feet, knees, and hips are changing. Spine like a chain lessons use a back-lying, knees bent configuration, lifting the pelvis into the air then slowly lowering the spine “link by link.”

  14. Amneris Bustos on March 23, 2020 at 8:31 am

    Thanks Nick for this wonderful website, it was a great treasure that I found searching for exercises for my nephew, I have been doing feldenkrais for many years, but I’ve living in Santa Marta Colombia since 2017, so this is something big for me. I just finish this class and it is outstanding, congratulations for your work and thanks again for sharing it with the world.

  15. Liana Elena Romulo on December 1, 2020 at 4:54 am

    What a great class! It helped me get my hamstrings and buttocks activated.

  16. Miriam Orwin on December 14, 2020 at 3:34 am

    Fantastic class – I looked up the 4 metatarsal and I was imagining the correct one! Confusing and interesting – a great lesson to repeat.

  17. Terry Moro on July 22, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks, another great lesson. I noticed that my shoes are a little more worn down on the outsides of my heels so I think that means I am supinating ?

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on July 27, 2021 at 7:31 am

      Hard to say from afar, but arch variability throughout the footstep is the name of the game.

  18. Essie Lenchner on September 14, 2021 at 7:46 am

    When activating the arch, and doing this lesson for the first time, I find I have an internal whole body cringe sensation, leading even to a bit of irritation/frustration if I don’t take breaks. I associate this ‘cringe’ with challenging my nervous system, and it means I’m learning something new. Do you agree with that assessment, or have anything to say about this internal cringe feeling? My sense is that as long as the cringe isn’t too uncomfortable, I can keep going. I think it means I have a lot to learn about sensing my feet.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on September 14, 2021 at 8:21 am

      You may be right about that. It’s helpful to track the trend over the minutes of the lesson: is it getting easier, softer, gentler, more pleasant? If not either this lesson or how you’re doing it is a little too provocative for now; back off more or go on to another lesson. Yes to lots of breaks. Also some folks who have what’s described as a “high arch” benefit from particularly minuscule activations, and actually putting more time and attention into letting the arch down between movements. If that sounds like you, see if that helps and let me know!

  19. Luke on May 17, 2022 at 3:02 am

    Kia ora from ‘down under’ Nick (South Island, NZ)! Any thoughts/comments on cramped calves/toes/arch with this particular ATM? It’s most acute the more my knee is held still. With thanks. ps I have a 10yr old knee injury (blown meniscus/ACL & surgery)….the reason I discovered Feldenkrais (and eventually you), which I’ve been practicing for 3yrs.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on June 20, 2022 at 3:15 pm

      Hello! I dream of getting to NZ one day – great to hear from a listener there. If you’re cramping it’s worth altering whatever you need to since it’s hard to learn anything while cramping. Sounds like letting the knee move more makes things easier? If so do that, even when the lesson requests something else. It might also help to really relax into the floor consciously with the weight of the foot as you roll it very slowly out and in. Thinking about the toes as passive passengers, etc….

  20. c j on November 5, 2022 at 2:00 am

    That was a very nice lesson Nick. Thanks

  21. Fairlie Gibson on March 12, 2023 at 9:48 am

    Thank you, I loved how I gradually lifted lighter and more smoothly in this lesson until it really felt effortless. Being aware of (or using) the base of the fourth toe was a huge insight for me. A question – at one point you ask us not to let the knees point forward. I also found that when I pressed with the standing leg on the lying foot my pelvis lifted into the air (more on one side than the other) should I also inhibit this? I tried doing both – inhibiting and not inhibiting. Movement was much smaller when inhibiting but I felt that was more helpful for getting more movement in the ankle. Is that right?

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on March 13, 2023 at 9:48 am

      I think I hear two questions about two different parts of the lesson, is that right? Re: the second one, follow your comfort and curiosity. There’s learning to be found in both more and less pelvis movement when stepping into the side of the other foot.

      The first question, I think you’re asking about stopping the knees from moving forward/away from you. Near the end, right? In that you’ll find yourself driven up the floor a little bit (sliding up your mat). Let me know if you have a question about that, and thanks for commenting!

  22. Edie Raff on May 17, 2023 at 1:05 pm

    Remarkable! I suffer from neuropathy and was starting to fear/dislike walking because I can’t feel my feet as well as I should. The heightened awareness of the two “tripods” that we stand on – has restored a great deal of my confidence.
    I do this lesson over and over. It’s made a huge difference. Thank you!

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