When in our yoga teacher training, we talk to our trainees about working from the ground up when assisting students during yoga. We teach this with one specific truth in mind - our ability to move with ease begins with a solid foundation at the ground level. It all begins with the feet.
People see images of foot binding and are appalled that such practices exist - but don’t realize that we are in that practice on a daily basis with the shoes that we wear in modern fashion.
Not everybody is ready to transition to a barefoot or barefoot footwear lifestyle, so we can use practices on (and off) the mat to improve our foot health. Not unlike the poses in your yoga practice, when you are moving around in your day to day life, if you have instability in your feet, your entire body is affected - ankles, knees, hips are all impacted and affect the way you walk. Over time, these movements become habitual and increase likelihood of pain and discomfort.
If you wear shoes daily, a few things you should keep in mind:
Most modern shoes have a heel which:
Mimic walking on a ramp - increasing pressure on the ball of the foot and increases calf tightness
Excess pressure on the knees
Low back is moved forward causing the hips and spine out of alignment
Chest is pushed forward
This heel phenomenon is not just the incredibly high heels that are often associated with women. This includes the more subtle heel in running shoes and even mens’ dress shoes. Between the heels and the bound feet, its no wonder we are living in pain!
Try these three (3) exercises to increase your foot strength and overall health.
1. Calf Stretches + Raises over a block - standing with your fingertips at the wall for added balance hang your heels over the edge of the yoga block. Drop the heels below the block and then lift high onto your toes slowly and controlled.
Bonus: hold a lacrosse ball between your heels and squeeze at the top of the calf raise!
2. Toega - Yoga for your toes. Practice lifting your big toe without the other toes, then lift the little toes (together) without lifting the big toe.
Bonus: keep your big toe reaching away from the little toes toward the inside of the foot.
3. Use a lacrosse ball to roll your feet 1 minute in both vertical and horizontal directions. Avoid the heel and focus primarily on the fleshy parts of the foot.
Bonus: repeat daily twice a day (like when you brush your teeth) - research shows 2 minutes daily makes all the difference
After a while, you may get curious about wearing barefoot footwear or exercising without the extra padding that inhibits the feet to build strength. Start with what works and commit to learning more about impacting your foundation - your feet.
Written by Clair Thomas