I rarely pay attention to my feet, except when I am practicing yoga. On the mat, they are naked and exposed, and attention is frequently drawn to them. Most people tend to neglect their own feet or appreciate what they do for them each and every day, so I like to encourage my students to give them a little love once in a while.
Generally, I ask students to slide the fingers of one hand in between each of their toes on one foot, so its toe, finger, toe, finger, etc. For some, this is a challenge, since those toes are so used to being smushed together in shoes, and this stretches them apart (if you have exceedingly thick fingers, this is an added challenge). Just widening the toes brings greater attention to each, and from there, I have them squeeze as though they are juicing a lemon, which opens the toes back towards the tops of the feet. I always encourage them to give themselves a mini-foot rub, and it’s not uncommon to hear lots of “oohs” and other happy moan sounds. (In a perfect world, someone would be doing this for us whilst we recline on a bed of pillows, but let’s not get too demanding.) In our fast-paced world, it’s easy to forget how far a little self-love can go, so it’s sometimes nice to be reminded of it.
From there, I have students stretch out their feet; either from standing, just come up on the ball of one foot and press the ankle forward, or in down dog, staying on the balls of the feet while lifting the heels high in the air. Your feet have many bones, joints, and muscles in them, and they work hard for you, so it is natural that they need to be stretched and worked out as well. Students who work on their feet all day tend to find that their feet strain very hard in one-legged balancing poses, so much so that they can’t stay in the pose not because of instability, but because their feet are strained.
Another great thing to do, if you can, is to walk barefoot on the sand, or even in soft grass. Freeing your foot from the confines of a shoe allows it to bend more fully with each stride, giving each muscle the opportunity to stretch and strengthen.
By paying a little extra attention to the feet, making sure they too have an opportunity to stretch and open, your yoga practice will improve and be more complete. In addition, you’ll find that it has long-lasting benefits to your overall well-being, and may relieve or prevent common foot ailments such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, and fallen arches. Anyone suffering from foot pain knows how unpleasant and limiting it can be, so these simple steps (you can do them at your desk or on the couch) will help keep your feet happy and healthy!