They hold us up… They help us move from here to there…. They are our foundation…However they are often overlooked and under cared for…. they are our feet.
Physically, perhaps we overlook them because they are some distance away from our eye lines, (out of sight out of mind?) or perhaps we just take them for granted; but the truth of the matter is, our feet take a beating. High heels, tight or ill fitting shoes, the activities we partake in, often these things (and more) are not “foot friendly.” Unfortunately, the realization of the importance of our feet often doesn’t happen until we experience an injury, and for anyone who has had this experience, it is usually far beyond inconvenient and painful. Whether it be a broken bone, a strained muscle, or the like, foot injuries (and I will include the ankle as well in this category) are not fun.
One of the first problems we can address when it comes to the feet is how they are housed most of the time, particularly in a colder climate. They are jammed into boots for many months, and shoes for the rest of the time. Rarely are they given an opportunity to breathe, because we are not a barefoot society, yet, the feet and the toes need an opportunity to be freed from the shackles of shoes from time to time. When we come to yoga, the feet are given this opportunity to breathe – we can spread the toes and really feel the earth beneath us. However, even though when we are barefoot the toes are no longer constrained, what often happens is the feet do not know how to respond to this new state of being. They may need a little help to become completely ‘free.’
One of the most effective (and personal favourites of mine) is to use a tennis ball to roll under the feet. Standing with your hand at a wall or chair for support, you take a tennis ball and literally roll the ball underneath each foot, one at a time, for a minute or two. Explore all of the areas on the sole of the foot. Once you release the foot, you may feel that the foot is more relaxed and grounded.
Finding space between the toes
For those of you who have ever had a pedicure, there is often a little foam piece that the esthetician will place between the toes to keep them separate when it comes to polish time. One of the reasons these are necessary is because our toes tend to want to stick together, literally! Since we spend most of our time in shoes, with our toes being forced towards one another, staying apart is often not our toes natural state of being. Finding some space between the toes is another action that we often look for in yoga. Find a comfortable place to sit so that your feet are within reach. Using your fingers, weave your fingers through your toes, allowing the toes to breathe and find some space. Once each toes has been separated, maybe add some movement, perhaps by flexing and pointing the feet a bit. Hold this position for a minute or two and then switch to the other side.
Stretch Out Those Ankles and Calves
When we discuss the feet, it is difficult to not include some chat about the ankles and calves – I will refer to them as very close cousins to the feet 🙂 Finding a wall space, take the ball of your foot up the wall keeping the heel onto the floor. At the same time, step the other foot back about 3 feet Then slowly, keeping both legs straight, begin to fold forward towards the wall. This action will help to open up the ankle space as well as the calf (fun fact, it is often thought that keeping our achilles healthy will help to stave off cold and flu symptoms)! Then do the other side as well. This pose may also help to give the shins a nice stretch as well.
Point Flex Roll… Repeat!
Sometimes opening up the feet and ankles can be as simple as pointing the toes, flexing the feet, and maybe giving the ankles a roll. Again finding a comfortable way to sit, allow yourself to point and flex the feet a few times, then moving to some ankle circles – make sure to circle in both directions. Once you have worked with one foot, move to the other foot and do the same actions. Although these movements seem simple, many of us have a lot of built up tension in the ankles and feet so when we begin they may feel quite uncomfortable. Do as many as you can and remember, the more you practice the easier it gets.
“The Human Foot is a Masterpiece of Engineering and a Work of Art” (Leonardo da Vinci)