Whole Living Daily

Focus on Your Feet: Yoga On and Off the Mat

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As a yoga teacher, I sometimes go on toe patrol during class. A crunched up set of toes might seem like a tiny detail, but it’s not. Even a little clenching of the toes in standing poses can prevent full access to the ball of the foot, a critical part of our foundation. And, without a steady foundation, the rest of our alignment is compromised.

Try it:

Stand in tadasana (mountain pose) and clench your toes. See how you lose the ability to best root down through the front of the foot.

Each foot has a four-cornered foundation. On the mat, we seek to consciously distribute the weight between the inner and outer heel and the inner and outer ball of the foot. (Note: the foot can also be referred to as a three-pointed foundation: inner and outer ball of the foot and the center heel.) Fanning out through the toes and subsequently the metatarsal bones and associated muscles is a highly efficient way to better connect with these sturdy points. Only when this foundation is established, can we most readily engage the leg muscles, especially the quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and the soleus (inner ankle muscle), which assist in lifting the arch of the foot.

This week, challenge yourself on the mat by paying greater attention to your feet in all standing postures. Honestly assess when you are crunching up the toes and actively relax them. You can even fan out and re-root through the sole of each foot. See how this improves your overall alignment.

I also recently resumed regular foot stretches off the mat. I was stretching out my toes a couple of weeks ago and noticed that my left pinky toe doesn’t spread out as well as the right. After two weeks of regularly stretching out and curling in my toes, that little left toe is catching up. I also find these exercises help with the wonderful transition into sandals as summer comes.

These exercises are very casual! You can stretch your toes out while sitting at your desk or lying down on your bed. Try to breathe in fully as you stretch the toes in and smoothly exhale as your curl them up. Take about 10 rounds. You can also hold the stretches for a few breaths.

While we won’t turn into prehensile creatures, these exercises will help maintain healthy flexibility in your feet, essential for a firm foundation.

Yoga brings stability and calm into every discipline of Sophie Herbert's life. She is an alignment focused yoga teacher (and perpetual student), life coach, and a Whole Living contributing editor. She graduated from the Cooper Union School of Art, where she nurtured her passion for documentary photography. It was during this time that she began her disciplined and diverse study of yoga in New York, Paris, and India.

Sophie has lived, studied, and volunteered extensively in India. She feels grateful to still visit and work regularly with the Deenabandhu Children's Home in Chamarajanagar, Karnataka. In November of 2010, she became an ambassador for Yoga Gives Back www.yogagivesback.org, a grass-roots nonprofit that helps destitute women and girls in India build more sustainable lives. Sophie has also shared her knowledge of yoga at the Prana Yoga Center in Astana, Kazakhstan. Currently, she teaches at the Park Slope Yoga Center www.parkslopeyoga.com and Prema Yoga www.premayogabrooklyn.com in Brooklyn, Sangha House www.sanghahousenyc.com in Manhattan, and privately. She is in the midst of her life coach certification and taking on clients at a reduced rate. Sophie is also an avid cook.

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