Our poor feet pay the price—in the form of pain, inflammation and misalignments—for our habit of wearing high-heeled, pointy-toed, stylish-but-not-sensible shoes. But certain yoga postures can help feet feel and function better.
According to Roger Cole, PhD, a psychobiologist and Iyengar yoga teacher in Del Mar, California, “The greatest thing yoga can do for foot health is to help restore normal ‘foot posture.’ That means equal weight on the inner and outer foot…arches lifted…toes spread apart evenly…and usually feet pointing straight ahead.” The four poses below can help you achieve this correct foot posture.
Why “foot yoga” works: The following three standing poses challenge your ability to keep weight equally distributed on the “four corners” of the foot—the ball of the big toe, ball of the little toe, inner heel and outer heel. Each pose makes the weight distribution uneven in one way or another, Dr. Cole explained, so the act of bringing the feet back to neutral strengthens certain muscles and stretches others, while also training your nervous system to “find center” with your feet. The fourth pose is a kneeling posture. It stretches the top of the foot while temporarily taking tension off the inflammation-prone plantar fascia (a band of tissue that runs the length of the sole).
Check with your doctor before beginning, as not all yoga poses are appropriate for all people. Dr. Cole suggested that you start by holding the standing poses for five to 15 seconds per side, working your way up to 30 seconds per side…start by holding the kneeling pose for 10 to 30 seconds, gradually increasing to one minute. For best results, practice daily.
The basic instructions below will get you started. Be sure to incorporate Dr. Cole’s foot-focus how-tos. For more detailed instructions and photos of each pose, click the demo links—they take you to the Web site of one of my favorite yoga resources, YogaJournal.com. Poses to try…
Vrksasana (Tree pose). Stand on right foot, right knee straight. Bend left knee and place sole of left foot on inner right thigh, so toes point down and left knee points out to side. Raise arms straight overhead and hold pose. Repeat on other side. Foot focus: Concentrate on keeping weight evenly distributed among all four corners of the supporting foot. This strengthens the calf and shin muscles that balance the foot and stretches the plantar fascia, Dr. Cole said. Demo: YogaJournal.com/poses/496.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended side angle pose). Stand with feet spread about three-and-a-half feet apart, right toes turned a little to the left and left toes facing sideways at a 90-degree angle. Bend left knee until knee is directly above ankle. Lean to left side by bending at left hip, placing left forearm on thigh or placing left hand on floor. Extend right arm diagonally overhead. Keeping torso facing forward (not turned toward floor), hold pose. Repeat on other side. Foot focus: Press outer edge of back foot down into floor before you start going into the pose…keep it there throughout. Also, as you bend front leg, do not allow weight to shift to inner edge of that foot—keep knee aligned over ankle. Demo: YogaJournal.com/poses/749.
Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1 pose). Stand with left foot about three-and-a-half feet in front of right foot, toes facing forward. Now turn right foot outward so toes are on a 30-degree angle. Bend left knee, bit by bit, directly toward left foot. Keep hips facing forward. Raise arms straight overhead and hold pose. Repeat on other side. Foot focus: Before bending front knee, press outer corner of back heel firmly into floor. Keeping that part of heel down, slowly begin to bend front knee. When outer corner of back heel begins to lift, press it firmly back into floor and don’t bend front knee any further—you have gone as far as you should. This pose strengthens key muscles that lift the arch of the foot, while also stretching some of the muscles whose tightness can flatten the arch, Dr. Cole explained. Demo: YogaJournal.com/poses/1708.
Virasana (Hero pose). Kneel with tops of feet on floor. Keep knees close to each another but not touching…spread feet apart slightly wider than hip width. Place a prop (such as a yoga block or thick book) on floor between ankles, then lower pelvis so hips are supported by the prop. Foot focus: Keep thighs parallel and feet pointing backward in line with shins. If the stretch at the top of the ankles is too intense, Dr. Cole suggested supporting the ankles by draping them over a rolled blanket. Demo: YogaJournal.com/poses/490.