We often treat our feet so poorly. We wander barefoot, we stay on them for ten hours a day without a break, we run on them and jump on them. They support us as we work to support our families and pursue life’s joys. The average adult takes between 8,000 and 10,000 steps per day!
Feet are the foundation of our lives. In fact, it’s estimated that in our lives we surround the world four to five times (approximately 185,000 km). That’s no joke!
Maybe your feet are feeling the effects of woeful abuse and need healing. Maybe you simply recognize that your neglected feet may need a little TLC. Either way, this article will show you how to use yoga to support healthy ankles and feet.
What Your Feet Are Made Of
Did you know that over a quarter of all the bones in our bodies are in the feet?
That means that when these bones are out of alignment, so is the rest of your body.
The foot is made up of muscles, tendons, bones, joints, and soft tissues. All of these components help the foot carry out its important functions in the body. The foot can be broken down into 3 sections: the forefoot, the midfoot, and the hindfoot.
The forefoot is made up of the toes (also called phalanges) and the 5 longer bones that attach to the toes, known as the metatarsals.
The midfoot consists of the bones that form the arch of the foot, called the cuneiform bones. The pyramid-like bone structure acts as a shock absorber for the foot.
The hindfoot consists of the heel and ankle. The heel bone, the calcaneus, is the largest bone in the foot! The ankle bone, the talus, has the important role of supporting the large leg bones.
This brings us to the ankle, a critical hinge joint that works with the feet to allow us to walk smoothly without incident. The ankle joint supports 1.5 times your body weight when you walk and up to 8 times your body weight when you run!
The ankle joint consists of three bones, the talus, the tibia, and the fibula. The tibia is the shinbone, and the fibula is the small bone of the lower leg. Carpenters and architects use a similar design to that of the ankle joint to build strong, stable furniture, bridges, homes, and skyscrapers!
The 20 Muscles Of The Foot
The foot also consists of 20 muscles. That’s a large amount of muscles for such a small spot in the body! These muscles hold the bones of the forefoot, midfoot, and hindfoot in place. Their expansion and contraction create movement in the foot.
There are 5 main muscles in the foot. The first is the anterior tibial, which allows the foot to move upward. The posterior tibial supports the foot’s arch. The extensors raise the toes to allow you to step forward. The flexors stabilize the toes against the ground. Lastly, the peroneal tibial controls movement on the outside of the ankle.
There are other tendons, ligaments, and smaller muscles in the foot that allow the foot to curl and lift the toes, among other things. The most well-known tendon is probably the Achilles tendon, which extends from the calf to the heel. The Achilles facilitates raising the body on the toes, running, jumping, and walking.
The plantar fascia is the largest ligament in the foot, forming the arch of the sole from heel to toe. The plantar fascia stretches and contracts to curve or flatten the arch, balancing and strengthening the foot to allow walking to take place.
As for the ankle, most of its motion is caused by the strong muscles of the lower legs. Contraction of these muscles causes the necessary ankle movement to allow us to walk, run, jump, and do yoga.
How Our Feet Support Us
The feet need to be strong and stable to support our entire body as we stand upright. But the foot also must be flexible to support activities requiring motion and balance such as running, jumping, and walking.
The duties of the feet include padding, keeping balance, creating motion, and grounding. They support our weight, serve as a shock absorber, act as a lever to propel the legs forward, and maintain balance by adjusting and grounding the body to uneven surfaces.
There are two theories of balancing weight on the feet. The 3-point theory states that you connect with the big toe, little toe and heel. For example, in mountain pose (where you stand on top of the mat) you connect to those three points to feel thoroughly grounded and balanced. Some believe in a 4-point theory, that you connect with the big toe, little toe and both sides of the heel for balance and stability.
If you suffer from common foot problems
According to foot.com, women experience foot problems 4 times more often than men. It’s also important to note that your feet mirror your general health. Conditions including osteoarthritis, diabetes, and nerve and circulatory disorders show their initial symptoms in the feet. So foot problems can be a first sign of more serious medical issues.
Chinese Foot reflexology asserts that our whole body is represented in the feet. Just take your partner’s feet and look at them from below. When you bring both feet together, they represent the right and the left side of your partner’s body. In the big toes you will find the head, below the second and third toe you will find the eyes, and so on. Interestingly enough, when ever I have an upset stomach or stress, it helps to press the respective reflexology points.
Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. Over 2 million Americans seek treatment for plantar fasciitis (heel pain) each year! It occurs when the plantar fascia, the ligament that connects the heel to the toes, gets strained. When it is strained, it can become weak, irritated, swollen, or inflamed.
Straining of the plantar fascia is more likely to occur when your feet roll inward when you walk, you have high arches or flat feet, you are overweight, you run or stand for long periods of time, you wear ill-fitting shoes, or you have tight Achilles tendons. You may have plantar fasciitis if you have foot pain after sitting for a long time or when you first get out of bed in the morning.
Another common foot problem is bunions. A bunion is a crooked big-toe joint that sticks out at the base of the toe, forcing it to turn in. They can be extremely painful, caused by heredity, arthritis, narrow shoes, congenital deformities, or trauma. Often, a bunion forms after years of abnormal motion and pressure on the joint. The toes become super tight and the body wants to regain its balance by adding an extra bone spur. But instead of surgery, there are some great stretches you can do.
Over-supination and over-pronation frequently occur in the feet as well. Over-supination occurs when the foot leans to the outside, reducing the shock-absorbing capacity for the feet. Over-pronation occurs when the arch of the foot collapses, causing the foot to roll inward excessively. This causes uneven weight distribution and is one of the most common foot issues. A balanced foot, one that neither over-supinates nor excessively pronates, lifts the arch up and grounds through the toes.
Tight calves or shortened calf muscles can also create pain in the feet. All the parts of our bodies are interconnected. So when your tight or shortened calf muscles can’t do their job properly, other muscles and joints have to work harder. This creates an imbalance that can have a ripple effect of pain from the low back to the toes. If you are a runner, make sure you watch out for this and stretch your calves regularly.
Our lifestyles affect the health of our feet and ankles
Foot pain can be related to lifestyle, including ill-fitting shoes and frequent high-impact exercise, in addition to being caused by medical conditions. In fact, 75% of Americans will experience foot problems at one time or another in their lives.
High heels in particular can cause foot deformation and pain. This type of shoe puts forward pressure on your toes, which can lead to hammer toes, bunions, and ingrown toenails. They can also create more serious injuries including tendonitis from pressure constantly going to the front of the foot, the thinning of the foot’s natural cushioning, and ankle sprains or twists.
Sprained ankles are common regardless of whether you wear high heels or not because for most of us, the ligaments at our outer ankles are quite weak. Those who over-supinate are also more prone to spraining their ankles.
Learn how to stand properly here:
Obesity can also cause foot pain and deformation. Our bodies are designed to carry a certain amount of weight, and excess can have negative effects on the feet. According to a study published by Arthritis Care Research, increasing fat mass in the body is “strongly associated with foot pain and disability.” Obesity places extra stress and pressure on the joints and feet, which can lead to gait alterations and plantar fasciitis.
Interestingly, people who have headaches sometimes have tight or flat feet. Tight or flat feet set off a chain reaction through the muscles and joints of the body, creating poor posture. According to Dr. Mark Weatherall, a neurologist at the Princess Mary Migraine Clinic at Charing Cross Hospital, poor posture is linked to approximately 1 in 4 severe headaches.
You can look at the soles of your shoes to understand the way you walk. For example, more wear on the instep side of your shoe heels can indicate that you over-pronate. Pronounced wear on the outer side of your shoes can reveal over-supination.
Yoga can help heal and strengthen your feet and ankles
Holistic podiatrist Robert Kornfield told Yoga Journal that he recommends yoga to all of his patients. “When you treat foot problems with yoga,” he continued, “you end up treating back pain, hip pain, all kinds of structural problems. Not only does it stretch out the muscles and lead to a greater range of motion, but it helps heal the root issue of inflammation as well.”
Use the poses below to stretch and heal your overworked feet and ankles. Notice how the poses for the feet have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the body!
Pose #1: Staff Pose (Dandasana)
Sit on the floor with your legs outstretched in front of you. Try to straighten and lengthen through the spine. If you’d like to check your alignment, simply sit against a wall. And if the backs of your thighs, the so-called hamstrings, are weak, just sit on a yoga block or a big pillow. That makes it easier!
In staff pose, point, flex, rotate, and stretch the toes. You can also fan the toes with your fingers. This will give your feet and toes a good stretch!
Pose #2: Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana)
To come into thunderbolt pose, begin by standing on all fours. Bring the heels together and slowly rest your buttocks on the heels. In this variation of the thunderbolt pose, tuck the toes under and slowly bring more and more weight onto the heels. Do you feel discomfort in the toes? Absolutely.
If you’re a runner, this pose should feel particularly good, as runners typically have very stiff toes. If you have arthritis in the knees or other knee problems, make sure you pad the shins and buttocks with a blanket or folded mat.
Pose #3: Hero Pose (Virasana)
To enter hero pose, kneel on the floor with thighs perpendicular to the floor and knees touching. Feet should be slightly wider than the hips with the tops of the feet on the mat, big toes slightly angled in toward each other. Then slowly sit down between the feet. If this is difficult for you, you can place the buttocks on a block or thick folded blanket underneath you.
Hero pose stretches the top of the foot and elongates the arch while lengthening the plantar muscles on the sole of the foot, which, when contracted, can become inflamed, leading to plantar fasciitis
Learn different variations of how to do vajrasana, understand the difference between thunderbolt pose and hero pose, and learn all this in under 5 minutes HERE!
Pose #4: Downward-Facing Dog
From tabletop pose, tuck the toes and begin to lift the hips. As you lift the hips, slowly straighten the arms and legs. Make sure your palms are pressed firmly into the mat with the fingers spread wide. Try to press your heels down to the mat. You should feel a good stretch in the backs of the legs and the back.
This pose can also give the feet a good stretch. In downward dog, lift the arches of your feet as high as possible, then extend the heels toward the floor. This works the plantar fascia. At first it may be very difficult, but if you keep practicing it will begin to feel great!
Walking is the best exercise for your feet! It contributes to your general health by improving circulation and weight control without putting undue force or pressure on the feet. Take five or ten minutes for a short walk outside. Make sure you focus on the breath to calm the mind as you walk and roll over the toes. Try to take off your shoes from time to time. This helps you stay grounded and connected.
Want more? Then join me for a simple workout for feet and toes.
The average adult takes between 8,000 and 10,000 steps per day! But we treat our feet so poorly. Foot pain can be related to lifestyle, including ill-fitting shoes and frequent high-impact exercise, in addition to being caused by medical conditions. Yoga can help you stretch and heal your overworked feet and ankles.
Wishing you amazing feet!
If you are in pain, the best therapy for your shoulders is to decompress. Gentle stretches and breathing techniques may help you relax and decompress your feet.
Have you had issues with ankle sprains? Wouldn’t it be great to have more confidence? Wouldn’t you want to wake up your sleepy feet and do the things you did before?
I do personalized healthy yoga. Let me help you with a healthy yoga sequence customized to you! Click here for your online quiz. What do you have to lose except your pain?
Info about Me
I’m Chi. I’ve always been passionate about healing and empowerment.
I work as a catalyst for personal transformation. I help you explore the best version of yourself, and yoga is a fantastic tool to accomplish that goal. I am a certified yoga therapist and a classically trained jazz vocalist, and I hold a Ph.D. in Communications. I look forward to practicing with you!
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Institute for Preventive Foot Health. Obesity: Consequences for Foot Health. http://www.ipfh.org/health-care-professionals/obesity-consequences-for-foot-health. [Accessed March 2018]
Mutz, Phil. 9 Parts Of Your Feet That Can Help Reduce Pain And Improve Your Health. https://www.littlethings.com/simple-foot-reflexology. [Accessed March 2018]
Tse, Holly. The Amazing Secrets Revealed by Your Feet: What Sensitive Points Say About Your Health. http://www.chinesefootreflexology.com/the-amazing-secrets-revealed-by-your-feetwhat-sensitive-points-say-about-your-health/. [Accessed March 2018]