Exercises for Strong and Flexible Feet
It’s easy to take our feet for granted. Especially when our feet are the place furthest from our head – a place most of us generally operate from.
Of course, then we go and abuse them. These – the most sensitive parts of our body – and we shove them into stiff and unnatural containers for the better part of our day. No wonder they get stiff and hurt.
But do some major hiking … take up dancing or running … or break a toe in yoga, exiting pincha or in a jump back … and all of a sudden, those tootsies have your attention. Good! I’m glad you’re here. It’s high time your feet got some love.
TRY :: Sit on your mat, as in dandasana, bring the balls of your feet together, and observe. How evenly spread are they? Does one have a tendency to move away from the other? Look at your toes – can you spread them without apart, side to side, without overly flexing? Let this be as much an exercise in observation as concentration.
I actually did this a few months ago and was shocked how different my left and right are. My left had a strong tendency to turn out so it actually took some real effort on my part to keep the balls of both feet together. This is the foot that turns out in my drop backs and also the one that hurts when I’ve been hiking.
As I continued to sit, my left big toe started to quiver. This shouldn’t be terribly strenuous, mind you – but try telling that to my left big toe. Also, isolating my toes and moving them took crazy amounts of concentration. And even when I focused, I wasn’t always successful. I nearly broke a sweat just trying to make that connection.
Since then, I’ve been doing the following foot exercises – including that little game of concentration above. And while I am not positive how much stronger and more flexible my feet have become, by just bringing more attention and awareness to this part of my body – my legs certainly have!
Give it a try for a month and let me know how these work out for you:
Six Easy Ways to Take Care of Your Feet
1. Defining Positions
Many of us were never taught how to properly point our foot. But it’s a skill very worth developing if you’d like to save your shoulders in arm balancing and your hamstrings in more intense forward folds. Plus, it’s pretty. 😉
From dandasana, with balls of feet together:
- Flex feet for 30 secs. Really push those heels forward and pull the tops of feet back strongly.
- Floint for 30 secs. Push through the balls of feet and pull the heel in and up, into the leg. Really spread the toes.
- Point for 30 secs. From that floint position, change nothing except now, finish it off by really pointing those toes.
2. Building Arches
From samastithi, with balls of feet together:
- Inhale to the balls of your feet, pulling the heels in and up. Go as high as you can.
- Exhale, slowly lowering your heels while keeping that lift to your arches. Make this action as long as your exhale.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
Here’s something you can do right in practice – jump. We are told to jump our feet apart for padangusthasana, and again for the trikonasanas and parsvakonasanas. Honestly, there are so many times in primary series the cue is to jump, you have to believe it wasn’t by accident.
Remember how to do it?
- Bend your knees and drop your weight into your heels.
- Push off the ground dynamically, flointing the feet in the air. Properly done, your feet will roll from heel to toe.
- Land on the balls of your feet, knees slightly bent, and roll back down to your heels as your legs straighten.
A great place to try this is right in your sun salutations – jumping forward. Remember, the key is to also land with the balls of your feet together! (So hard!)
4. Ballet Raises
Ashtanga isn’t the only discipline that has counted positions. Ballet is another. The first position a dancer learns is heels together and toes pointed away. And often the first step is a relevé (raise) – to help build the strength in the feet and the legs necessary for jumping.
- Begin in first position – heels together, toes turn out.
- Lift your heels – keeping toes flat and relaxed.
- Return to first position – legs straight.
5. Sole Soothing
Self massage is really quite lovely and no part of you is easier or more deserving than your feet.
- Beginning with the bottom of your feet, use your thumbs to massage from your arch towards your toes. Continue for however long you like. I use a bit of shea butter with a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil.
- Moving to the top of your feet, using thumbs again, massage between tendons, towards toes.
If you sit at a desk during the day, take along a tennis ball with you to work. Slip off your shoes from time to time, and slowly roll your foot from side to side, then up and down, letting the ball cross your arch. Roll each direction a minute or two before switching feet.
6. Walk Barefoot
Walking barefoot is especially good for your feet. And if you can, walk on sand – not rocks!
Bottom line, find more ways to take care of your tootsies. Treat yourself to a pedicure or have a soak with some epsom salts. And whatever you do, pay attention to your feet when you practice! So no more broken toes in pincha!
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