One of the first things we learned in yoga teacher training was the feet are our foundation. When we have problems in our ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders or neck, look at the feet first. We were taught to have students lift and spread their toes in tadasana as a way of stretching and strengthening the muscles of the feet.
But, there is so much more to know. Of all the bones and muscles in our body, 25% of them live in our feet and the feet are meant to be very mobile. It is estimated that 1 out of 4 people have problems with their feet – bunions, hammertoes, plantar fasciitis along with other aches and pains. I’ve been working on my left big toe joint for a while after it went wonky from wearing thong slip ons (before I knew better) and these stretches help a ton. Problems with the foot often trickle up the body – many, many people have problems with knees, hips, spine, shoulders and neck that originate in the feet.
Where do the problems come from? Footwear for one: We wear shoes with heels. By putting our feet in shoes with heels, from running shoes to stilettos, we throw the body out of alignment. Shoes with heels and stiff soles mean that the 26 bones, 100 muscles and 33 joints aren’t moving and footwear like flipflops that don’t attach to the foot force our toes to grip to keep them on. In addition, we sit too much, we stand wrong and we don’t walk enough. I wrote about overall alignment in this post, but let’s look at what you can do to start to make your feet happier!
If you have foot problems, a great place to start is just spend time walking barefoot in your house or out in your yard as I wrote about here. Here are some items to have on hand to help your foot health. There are things you can buy though you can also use what you likely already have in your house just as effectively.
Pictured from left to right:
half foam roller/rolled up towel
yoga therapy ball/tennis ball
my happy feet socks/foam pedicure inserts
Just standing with your feet aligned to a straight edge and lifting the toes is a great beginning (remember to keep your weight backed up over the hips so you aren’t leaning forward). Click on the link above to remind yourself of what aligned standing is so you can find that before you spread and lift your toes.
We need to spread the toes because the toe boxes of shoes are often too narrow. If you look at your feet and see your big toe moving toward the little toe (a bunion is the extreme example of this) you need to get those tootsies spread out! To help your toes get used to spreading out, you can put spreaders between them – just ones from a drugstore to start, for a few minutes at a time. You could work up to wearing something like the my happy feet socks overnight to bed. They do make a big difference. I was surprised at how good my feet and hips felt after sleeping in them. Again, you work up to being able to sleep in them over night.
Stepping the ball of your foot onto the foam roller or towel, let your heel drop to the floor. Again, keep your weight backed up over your hips so you are stacked vertically. Once you have done this for a while you can step your other foot forward – but only do that when it doesn’t make you hinge forward too. You can do this at a standing work station, while standing at the stove or while watching tv. Get creative about fitting it into your life!
On the ball:
Using your tennis ball (start there, the yoga therapy balls give more resistance), place it under the ball of your foot and bring your heel to the floor. You can apply as much pressure as you can withstand (no points for agony either). Work from the big toe side, out to the little toe side pressing the foot down against the ball. Then move the ball back to mid-foot. Go as far as you can until you need to lift your heel off the ground. I do this one while I dry my hair every morning.
Reclining big toe pose:
Be sure in this pose to keep the hamstring (back of the leg) of the leg that is on the ground, on the floor. Keep the strap around the ball of the foot and be sure to keep the leg in the air straight – which means it may be closer to the ground than your nose. This is one of my top 10 poses and you can read more about it in this post.
I don’t really know what the name of this pose is, or if it has a name, but we called it Stiletto Asana in my teacher training and it stuck with me. Basically you are turning your toes under and sitting back. It may be way too sensational to start with putting your full weight on your heels so keep your hands on the ground and ease back to find a place that feels ok.
Integrating these into your daily life along with getting your feet out of shoes will make a big difference!