Yoga for the Feet
by Pam Werner
The foot is an amazing, yet complicated part of the body. Our
feet are our body's foundation as well as the tools of our mobility.
The importance of the feet is commonly forgotten or unknown.
The purpose of this paper is to explain the importance of feet,
common foot problems in our culture, basic anatomy of the foot
and yoga poses that benefit the feet.
Why Feet Are So Important
Our feet are our connection to the Earth; they are
our roots to the Earth. A solid connection with the earth helps
to keep us grounded which helps to balance the whole body. It
is important to pay close attention to our feet and care for
them properly to keep our connection to the earth clear and strong.
As our feet are our connection to the Earth, they are also our
body's foundation. Just as a foundation of a building must be
level and stable to support the structure above, the feet must
be balanced and sturdy to support the legs, spine, arms and head.
If your base is tilted or collapsed, a reflection of this will
appear up through the body as misalignments. It is also important
to note that our feet are not static as a foundation of a building.
Our feet have the added complexity of being mobile with the necessity
of being flexible and strong.
The first chakra (muladhara chakra) represents our grounding and
connection with the Earth. The feet and legs play a vital role
in balancing the first chakra because first chakra nadis flow
from the tailbone down the legs into the feet.
Not only do our feet create our foundation, our feet and toes
are essential elements in body movement. They bear and propel
weight of the body during walking and running. They help maintain
balance during changes of body positions. The function of the
toes, especially the big toe, is to help us balance and to propel
us forward during movement. Feet create mobility and supply us
The body lines up over the feet, when a foot goes out of alignment
the ankle, knee, pelvis and back follow. Analyzing the way we
stand, walk, run and sit helps determine the cause of misalignment,
which is most likely the culprit of pain. Finding and correcting
the misalignment usually relieves the pain.
Our feet are often neglected and abused by wearing uncomfortable
or improperly fitted shoes and rarely walking barefoot. Walking
barefoot utilizes the foot muscles, which strengthens them as
well as helps recreate and maintain healthy arches. It also allows
the feet to be free, spread, and get fresh air.
Our body reflects everything we do with our feet. If our feet
are tight and clenched, our whole body mirrors this tension.
When our feet are tired, our whole body is tired. When our feet
are out of alignment, our whole body is out of alignment. Our
feet are also mirrors of our general health. Signs of diabetes,
arthritis, circulatory, and neurological diseases often appear
first in the feet.
Many foot problems are due to the fact that our society tends
not to maintain muscle tone in the feet. By wearing shoes most
of our lives our feet cannot move freely. By not allowing the
feet to move freely or walk barefoot, the muscles and connective
tissue of the feet weaken, the feet flatten (arches fall), ankles
weaken, and other foot problems occur such as bunions, hammer
toes, and claw toes. Bad shoes and lack of exercise weaken our
feet which not only affects our bodies health it also weakens
our connection to the earth.
The alignment of our feet and the distribution of weight through
them will affect the position, function and flow of energy through
our knees, hips, back and shoulders.
Constrictive footwear limits the blood flowing in and out of the
feet and cramps the bones of the feet together, resulting in
compacted and clenched musculature not just in the foot, but
also in the entire body. Confining footwear includes high heels,
cowboy boots, ski boots, cleats, ballet point shoes, rock-climbing
shoes and other poorly designed shoes.
Proper foot care is essential to healthy feet and overall health
of the body. Integrating basic foot care into your daily routine
can be very rewarding.
Some easy foot care tips for happy feet:
- Stay hydrated; drink plenty of water daily.
- Give yourself a daily foot massage working through any knots
or tension held in the feet.
- Applying lotion or oil to your feet to keep the skin moist
In modern society it is customary to cover our feet
by placing them in restrictive shoes. Feet are not considered
an attractive part of our bodies. By covering our feet continually,
we do not notice them as much as uncovered body parts. For example,
our hands are not normally covered; we tend to notice immediately
when we get a hangnail or our fingernails need to be cut. On
the other hand, we rarely see our bare feet, and don't necessarily
notice when we have an ingrown toenail or our toenails need to
be cut until they become painful.
Common foot problems include flat feet, bunions, hammertoes and
claw toes. Lack of muscle tone in the feet and improperly fitted
shoes are the major causes of these conditions. All of these
common foot problems are preventable and reversible with close
attention and care for the feet.
A bunion is a bump caused by an enlarged bone at the medial base
of the big toe when the joint angles inward toward the other
toes. Improperly fitted shoes can cause and aggravate bunions.
Hammertoes occur when the first joint of the toe is overly bent.
Claw toes occur when the second joint of the toe is overly bent.
Both of these conditions are caused by improperly fitted shoes
and chronic tension held in the feet.
Feet can also be the root cause of leg, pelvis and back problems.
A fallen arch, or flat foot, can cause knee, hip, back and shoulder
misalignment and pain. Adult bad posture and back pain can be
traced back to lack of muscle tone or misalignment in the feet.
The primary purpose of shoes is to protect your feet and prevent
injury, but in order to do that, shoes must fit well. Poorly
fitted shoes, shoes that are too narrow, too short or too large
can cause discomfort, injury and even permanent deformity. Shoes
that don't fit properly are the source of many foot problems.
The higher the heel, the worse the problems tend to be. If one
has foot problems, it is important to look at the cause, which
is most likely to be shoes.
The height of a shoe heel makes a dramatic difference in the pressure
that occurs on the bottom of the foot. As heel height increases,
the pressure under the ball of the foot increases, placing greater
pressure on the forefoot as it is forced into the point. Elevating
the heel causes the body to be more out of alignment. With a
neutral heel height, the body is properly aligned using the weight-bearing
bones and muscles.
Other causes of foot problems include standing on hard surfaces
or sitting for long periods restricts the supply of fresh oxygenated
blood to the legs and feet. Restricting fresh blood to the feet
along with lack of exercise and poor circulation to the lower
extremities can cause aching, swelling and other foot problems.
- One in six people in the US have foot problems.
- Nine out of ten women are wearing shoes that are too small
for their feet.
- Women are nine times more likely to develop a foot problem
because of improper fitting shoes than men.
- Eighty percent of all foot problems occur in women.
- Two-thirds of foot problems can be attributed to shoes.
- At one time or another, 85% of Americans have foot problems
serious enough to require professional attention.
Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 muscles (intrinsic
and extrinsic), 31 joints and over 100 ligaments. The feet contain
a quarter of all the bones of the body (52 bones in a pair of
feet), suggesting that the feet are extremely important components
of the body.
The heel is composed of the calcaneus and talus which articulate
with the tibia and fibula to form the ankle joint. The midfoot
is composed of five tarsal bones, each uniquely shaped and fit
together to create the instep. The forefoot is formed by metatarsals
and phalanges creating the toes.
The foot contains two kinds of muscles, intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic muscles are short muscles that run between the foot
bones, while extrinsic muscles are leg muscles that extend into
the feet and control movement of the feet.
There are 250,000 sweat glands in each pair of feet that release
nearly a cup of moisture every day. There are more sweat glands
per inch of our feet than anywhere else in the body, and their
function is to keep the skin moist and supple.
The foot has several types of movement:
- Dorsiflexion, flex the foot (drawing the toes up towards
- Plantar Flexion, point the toes
- Inversion adduction of the foot (turning the foot in)
- Eversion abduction of the foot (turning the foot out)
The structural alignment of bones, ligaments and tendons in the
foot results in three arches. The arches are crucial in giving
the foot flexibility, absorbing shock, distributing the weight
of the body and adapting the shape of the sole of the foot to
the surfaces it encounters while walking.
The medial longitudinal arch runs the length of the instep along
the big toe side of the foot. This arch is formed primarily by
five bones (calcaneus, talus, navicular, medial cuneiform, and
metatarsal I), four ligaments (talocalcaneal, calcaneonavicular
and small ligaments joining the cuneiform to navicular and metatarsal),
and four muscles (abductor hallucis, tibialis posterior, peronius
longus, and flexor hallucis longus). This arch does not touch
the ground and is involved mainly in weight-bearing tasks.
Unlike the medial longitudinal arch, the lateral longitudinal
arch does contact the ground. The lateral longitudinal arch runs
the length of the pinky side of the foot. The lateral arch is
involved in propulsion and is formed primarily by three bones
(calcaneus, cuboid, metatarsal V), three ligaments (short plantar
ligament, long plantar ligament, and plantar aponeurosis), and
two muscles (peroneus brevis, peronius longus).
The transverse arch runs from the lateral to the medial side of
the foot just behind the ball of the foot. Its muscular support
comes primarily from adductor hallucis, peroneus longus, tibialis
postierior, and the interossei.
The Achilles tendon runs from the calf muscle down to the back
of the heel. The Achilles tendon makes it possible to rise up
on your toes, run and jump. The plantar fascia connects to the
Achilles tendon at the base of the heel. The plantar fascia is
a band of connective fibrous tissue that runs from the heel to
the ball of the foot involved in forming the foot's arch. The
plantar fascia aids in support and stabilization of the foot
during walking. As you begin a step the heel lifts up and the
plantar fascia tightens to form the curve of the arch and provides
a strong push off with the toes. Toe sitting or rolling a golf
or tennis ball under the foot are two ways to stretch and break
up tension held in the plantar fascia.
Yoga Poses for the Feet
Proper alignment of the feet in all yoga poses is
an important component in maintaining good foot health as well
as energetically grounding to the earth. Proper alignment of
the feet includes grounding though the four corners of the feet
(the big toe mound, the baby toe mound, the inner heel and the
outer heel), lifting the arches, and equally distributing weight
between each foot. Lifting the toes towards the sky while standing
helps to activate the foot muscles, lift the arches and ground
through the four corners of the feet.
Yoga poses increase muscle tone and stretch foot muscles and connective
tissue. Creating and maintaining muscle tone in the feet will
improve overall foot health. Bringing flexibility and strength
to the feet, toes and ankles can lead to overall better health
and alignment for the body. By creating proper foot alignment,
the rest of the body is able come into alignment. Our body reflects
everything we do with our feet, therefore if our feet are in
proper alignment our bodies come into proper alignment.
Any pose that strengthens the lower leg muscles and feet will
help improve foot problems as well as increase circulation, reduce
leg cramping, help reduce swollen ankles, and create stability
in the body. Listed below are a number of specific yoga poses
that benefit the feet.
Virasana is an important pose for foot health. It stretches
the top of the foot and ankle while toning the sole of the
foot. This pose is very therapeutic for flat feet as strengthening
the muscles in the feet helps recreate the arches. Virasana
also, over time, reconstructs the alignment of the tarsal
bones by having pressure on the tops of the feet and allowing
the toes to spread.
Vajrasana has many of the same benefits of Virasana as it
helps to recreate or maintain healthy arches, increase flexibility
in the ankle as well as reconstruct the alignment of the
Baddha Konasana-Cobbler Pose
Baddha Konasana is a great pose for feet. While in Baddha
Konasana pressing the four corners of the feet together and
drawing the toes away from each other strengthens the foot
muscles and activates the arches.
Squat with Toe Stretch (knees on floor)
Kneeling with the toes tucked under is a great way to stretch
the bottom of the feet. This can be a very intense stretch
for beginners as it breaks up tension in the sole of the
Squat (knees up, heels on floor)
Squatting with the knees up strengthens the muscles of the
feet, toes and lower legs which help the overall health of
Adho Mukha Svanasana-Downward Facing Dog
Adho Mukha Svanasana is another great pose for the feet. The
feet muscles are working as your arches lift, while stretching
the soles of the feet. By lengthening the plantar muscles
and fascia the downward extension of the heel to the floor
will develop with time.
All Standing Poses
It is important to pay attention to the foot alignment and
muscle tone in all yoga poses, especially during standing
poses when the feet are not only the foundation of the pose,
but also the connection to the earth grounding us energetically.
Standing poses emphasize establishing a firm base of support
through the legs so the spine can be relaxed, light, and
free. To create proper foot alignment, evenly distribute
your weight between the big toe mound, the baby toe mound,
the inner heel and the outer heel. Allow the toes to spread
forming a firm foundation and complete support system for
your body to maintain health as well as create good posture
and a firm foundation for all yoga poses.
Viparita Karani-Legs up the wall
Legs up the wall will restore energy and oxygen to the legs
and feet as it allows blood and lymph fluid that has pooled
in the feet and ankles throughout the day to flow back into
More advanced feet strengtheners and stretches:
- Rolling over toes from Adho Mukha Svanasana to Urdva Mukha
- Big toe hold in Padangusthasana, Utthita Hasta Padangustahasana,
Supta Padangustahasna, Pascimottanasana, and Upavista Konasana.
Holding the big toes with the index finger, second finger
and thumb pressing with the big toe while pulling with the
fingers works the feet muscles.
Other exercises for the feet
Listed below are a few other exercises for the feet to help wake
up the feet, allow them to come alive and become more responsive
to the more challenging yoga poses involving foot action. These
are also a gentle way to work through some of the years of tension
held in the feet.
Toe strengtheners can increase flexibility, muscle tone and
control of the toes. From standing, drawing the big toe up
and pressing the four little toes down. Draw the four little
toes up while pressing the big toe down. Draw the big toe
and baby toe up as you press the three middle toes down.
Draw the three middle toes up while pressing the big toe
and baby toe down. Singling out each toe to act as individual
entities can be extremely challenging and frustrating.
Point and Flex Foot
From Dandasana, point the toes away from the body and flex
the foot by drawing the toes towards the body. This creates
mobility in the ankle as well as strengthening the muscles
of the feet and ankle.
Slowly take the ankle in circles in both directions clockwise
and counter-clockwise. This can be done from sitting in a
chair, seated on the floor or standing. This action stretches
and strengthens the foot and ankle muscles while maintaining
mobility in the ankle and foot joints.
Interlace Fingers between Toes
From a seated position, interlace your fingers between your
toes. This stretches the muscles of the toes and allows them
to spread. This action can be very challenging for some people
due to confining shoes.
Tennis ball roll
Roll the entire sole of the foot on a tennis ball. This helps
to warm up the feet as well as breaking up any tension being
held in the feet. This exercise also accesses many important
pressure points on the sole of the foot. The gentle pressure
on the muscles and connective tissue can relieve tension
and regain fluidity.
Picking up marbles with your toes
By using your toes to pick up marbles not only strengthens
the foot muscles but also promotes the use of using toes
as individual entities as opposed to a group.
Feet love walks, rubs, movement and attention. Give
your feet the appreciation they deserve and your body will be
happy and healthy. Strengthening and stretching the foot and
lower leg muscles along with wearing properly fitted shoes will
maintain muscle tone in the feet and prevent future foot problems
from occurring. It will also begin to reduce current foot problems.
By practicing yoga poses that strengthen and stretch the muscles,
joints and connective tissue of the foot and ankle, your foot
health, posture and overall health will improve. Your body reflects
the health of your feet; therefore happy, healthy feet result
in a happy, healthy body. Treat your feet well and your body
will appreciate you.
The Doctor's Sore Foot Book. Daniel M McGann, DPM and LR Robinson,
Fixing Your Feet: Preventive Maintenance and Treatments for Foot
Problems of Runners, Hikers, and Adventure Racers. John Vonhof,
Anatomy of Movement. Blandine Calais-Germain, 1993.
Trail Guide to the Body. Andrew Beil, 1997.
From the Ground Up. Yoga Journal. November 2001 issue 163. Tias
The Visual Dictionary of the Human Body. Houghton Mifflin Distributor.