Consider your feet. It’s not often we do unless they are aching after a long day or from flaring bunions in too tight shoes. Yet these small appendages act as the base of support for our body. They are our connection to the earth and in yoga the first foundation we build upon to create stability and balance. As a yoga instructor I have seen all shapes and sizes of feet, and one thing I’ve witnessed is how disconnected people are from their foundation. With age comes a curling of the toes, a narrowing along the width of the instep, the inevitable inward collapse of the ankles or one foot turning right as if intending to move the body away from where it is headed. All of this makes the process of standing, walking, or even sitting on ones heels more and more of a challenge.
We cushion our feet in padded shoes with thick soles and special inserts. When asked to stand barefoot on the yoga mat the beginning student feels exposed and uncomfortable as if revealing a hidden part of his or herself. Without a fancy pedicure our feet may not look pretty, until a glance around the room shows one foot pretty much looks like another. Stability is the key to a safe yoga practice and this comes from how our feet are grounded in the postures. But stability in a yoga practice is only preparation for creating stability in one’s life. By learning to ground ones feet properly you can stand erect with confidence and maintain your balance, even when challenged.
Taking the time each day to work on your feet can be healing for your entire body and mind. Actually, there are classes and workshops that focus primarily on improving the flexibility, strength and steadiness of the feet. There are wooden massage rollers, and knobbly balls to stand on and moan in ecstasy. There is foot reflexology and special shoes to align the feet, which are all well and good, but I have found the simple act of consistent practice to be what has changed my painful, bunion wide feet to a long and broad foundation on which to move through life.
Becoming aware of how you stand on your feet can be a revelation in itself. According to Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy, “The practice of standing postures in general, and tadasana (Mountain pose) in particular is one of the best ways to restore the natural aliveness, strength, and adaptability of the feet.” The following variations on Mountain pose (tadasana) can be done without support, but feel free to use a wall or sit on a firm chair to practice these effective and beneficial feet savers.
Next: 10 Exercises to help your feet
1. Take off your shoes and stand with your feet aligned forward, a hands-width apart, and your weight evenly distributed across the ball of each foot and from the inner to the outer heal.
2. Lengthen your feet from the base of the big toe to the inner heel and from the base of the little toe to the outer heel.
3. Stretch your toes open away from each other and let them rest lightly on the floor.
4. Just let yourself experience the connection you are making to your feet and to the earth.
5. Place your hands on your hips and begin to shift your weight from one foot to the other lifting the right heel and as it lowers lift the left.
6. Simple walking in place helps to strengthen and stretch the foot and Achilles tendon, while strengthening the calf muscles.
7. Come back to tadasana by grounding the four corners of your feet.
8. Pressing into the earth lift your heels slowly and roll up onto the ball of your feet. Then slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat this movement 5 times.
9. On the last lift stay and balance on the ball of your feet for the count of 5, then lower to the floor. You can repeat this 5 times as well.
10. Complete by returning to tadasana and standing quietly before moving on with your day.