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If the body is a temple, then surely the feet make up the foundation. But unlike the foundation of a stone temple, the feet must be flexible and adaptable. If the foot weakens, the whole body will feel it. Though often overlooked, the feet must be balanced and powerful to support the movements of the legs, spine, arms and head.
A person’s footprint can tell a lot about the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis and back. One way to assess your feet is to look at the soles of your shoes. Where do they wear down – on the inside arch or the outer sole? Do you strike with your heel or the ball of your foot primarily?
Hatha yoga instructors often encourage students to boost their inner arches, creating a rainbow of space between the foot bones and the floor. Standing poses are great for creating good space and bolstering foot stability. Strong feet energize the legs, which is why Iyengar, Ashtanga and Bikram yoga all begin with standing poses.
One of the common foot issues we see in yoga practitioners is called “flat feet,” where the arches are diminished. People with fallen arches suffer from a Domino effect of issues -- inner ankle weakness, inner groin collapse, and lower back compression. These students may need to work a little harder to awaken the feet and lift the arches in standing poses.
It helps to imagine you are lifting energy upward in the same way you would lift the pelvis during Kegel exercises practiced during pregnancy. You will need to extend the foot, stretching out the muscles and connective tissues that hold the 26 foot bones in place. Think of your foot as a triangle, anchored by the big toe pad, the little toe pad and the heel. These stretches will give you more elasticity in the feet and help propel your body whichever way you’d like to pose.
Keep in mind that the type of footwear you regularly employ will have a profound effect on your ability to lift your arches up to the heavens as well. Torturing your feet with cowboy boots, ballet slippers, ski boots, high heels or rock climbing cleats will restrict blood flow, cramp the muscles and compact the bones of your feet. Instead, you want a show with a spacious toe box, firm arch support and comfortable cushioning for the sole. At home, you should spend some time barefoot to let the feet unwind. You can practice spreading your toes and lifting your arches while brushing your teeth or waiting for your bagel to toast.
Stepping on a tennis ball can restore proper tone to the underside of your feet and stretch the arch. To stretch the top of the foot, try the Hero Pose. Once your feet are warmed up, you’ll find that your poses are improved tenfold. During your poses, release the strain in your body from the feet through the calves, hamstrings and up the spine to the skull.
Many of us have lost connection with our feet. We may dislike the way they look or hide them in socks and shoes from morning until night. Maybe we don’t like our feet being touched. These feelings can create insecurity that undermines our daily lives, not to mention our yoga practice. Often, yoga beginners are not aware what profound difference healthy feet can make to one’s sense of stability, power and poise. Freeing our feet from these shackles gives us energy, ambition and fluidity.
Understanding yourself and the mechanics of the feet is the first step to establishing a solid foundation in your yoga practice. So spend some time pampering your feet, getting to know the secrets that they can reveal about your inner chakra, and befriend a podiatrist who can offer you the tools you need to put your feet first. The next time you perform yoga, try to pay special attention to your feet and where your weight is centered.
For more information, visit HealingFeet.com/blog