yoga for the feet

Ahh, the oft forgotten foot! Neglected at the gym, crammed into various styles of unforgiving shoes, hidden under socks or footie pajamas (is that just me?), tramped upon and disrespected daily. Outside of some occasional scrutiny, the feet, ankles and toes might be some of the most under-appreciated and neglected body parts.

Shame on us for not giving our feet undivided attention. ;) Although we can't necessarily have a foot massage every day, we can give credit where credit is due. Take a look at your feet and pay attention to warning signs and how they feel. Irregularities in our feet can indicate a wide array of health problems, many of which can be prevented and resolved through regular yoga practice. In fact, I myself straightened out my high-arch along with its corresponding knee, hip and lower back issues all through yoga practice. You can even ask my chiropractor. :)

Much of our balance, mobility and circulation is enabled through healthy tootsies. Take a look at the following to see how you can have your own foot-focused yoga practice!

Learning to spread and activate the toes can relieve pain, strengthen the foot and improve your yoga practice.

Focus on balance:
When it comes to steady balance and correct overall posture, our natural uninhibited feet know best. Whenever possible and socially acceptable, free your feet from the confines of socks and shoes and allow your soles to connect with the ground. Every time we use our unsupported feet for balance, we are strengthening, stretching and stabilizing the entire surface of the foot as well as the ankle and shin. Be careful if you're relying on shoe insoles to correct a foot imbalance; they often only serve as a crutch.

Practicing balance poses will help you become more aware of the surface of your foot. Your balance will suffer if your foot is not grounded on the mat. Think of poses practiced on one foot such as Tree pose or asanas such as Crescent Lunge or Garland where we might balance on both feet.

Fan out the toes:
You may have heard your yoga instructor cue you to "spread the toes wide," which helps to open the surface area of the foot and connect all 4 corners into the mat. It's a conscious way to expand and relax the foot in standing asanas. But after years of neglect and unforgiving shoes, many students aren't actually able to lift and spread the toes. So, to work on the opening toes, you can try wearing those dorky toe shoes, or you can work on them manually with your fingers. 

Manual toe stretching
Without forcing it, try to slip one finger between each toe in your favorite seated posture (maybe Easy Seated or Stacked Fire Log pose). It definitely feels weird, as it's not something we normally do in daily life, but with time, the surrounding muscles will loosen making way for a more healthy foot and toe base. It also won't feel so creepy after a while.

Roll the ankles: 
Stiff ankles can be a source of contention on and off the mat. Take some time to really warm-up and loosen the ankles, rolling loosely in one direction and the other. Working on the ankles will allow you to move deeper into many beneficial ankle/foot poses such as Downward Facing Dog and all of the Warrior series.

Massage the feet:
If you've ever received or given yourself a foot massage, you may notice that some spots are terribly ticklish, uncomfortable or even painful. While many people enjoy having their feet massaged, others find it so uncomfortable and irritating that it's not even feasible. Those people need it the most. Even if your foot doesn't normally hurt, hating foot massage is a red flag for muscle imbalances. Barring serious injury, if it feels sensitive and tight, gentle massage will help increase blood flow to that area and loosen and relax the surrounding muscles.

If you're not feeling a deep release from massaging your foot with your fingers, try standing up and gently rolling (one foot at a time, please) the sole of your foot across a tennis ball. Tennis balls provide just the right amount of cushion and support for all sorts of massage and it's a great way to knead out the foot. Over time, your feet will not be as sensitive.

During your next yoga practice, focus on your feet as an intention for your practice. You might be surprised what you discover!