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You know that your yoga practice is good for your whole body — head to toe. That’s especially true for areas of the body that are easy to neglect off your mat.  Even though you stand on them every day, your feet are probably underappreciated.  Even if you take care of them on the outside with comfortable shoes and adorn them with pedicures, your feet need more work than you might think.  They affect the alignment of every part of your body above them — bigger, vital joints like knees and hips — and are one of the most complex bony structures you have.

Like any part of your body, your feet have muscles and tendons that need stretching and strengthening.  The Western habit of spending very little time barefoot can weaken them, especially if you wear constrictive or ill-fitting shoes.  Fortunately, your yoga practice is a great place to work your feet.

For many students — you might have been one of them — in yoga is a learning experience in and of itself.  Maybe you were surprised at how much harder it is to balance when you don’t have a gym shoe holding your foot in place — or maybe your ankles felt like jelly.  The flexibility of your feet and ankles makes them articulate enough to roll from point to flex and handle the lateral movement of twisting and turning accompanies daily life.

The best — but not often the easiest — way to get back in touch with what your lower extremities can do is simply to think about them as you practice.  Often, it’s so tempting to focus on where your arms and legs are going that you lose awareness of your hands and feet.  So, as you go through your next class, think about using your feet in each position — where they are, what their path is to the next pose, how they affect the rest of your body and whether you are properly aligned over them (not rolling in or out or back on your heels).

Here are some poses to try:

 

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Benefits:  This simple standing pose allows you to concentrate on what it feels like to have your feet aligned on the ground, and provides a foundation for more challenging foot positions.

How to do it: Stand with your big toes touching and your feet slightly turned in.  Engage your inner legs from your arch to your hip.  Feel all four “corners” of your feet (inside and outside of your toes and heels) in contact with the mat.  Allow yourself to shift your weight until you find that point — you may favor one foot or have your weight too far forward or back.  Once you find that balance point, remain in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.

Virasana (Hero Pose)

Benefits:  This pose stretches the arches of your feet and lengthens the front of your ankles.

How to do it:  Kneel on your mat with your knees touching, lower legs wider than your thighs.  On an exhale, begin to sit down.  Use your hands to move your calves to the side and sit down between your legs.  Place a folded blanket under your buttocks if you need to.  Remain in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, working to stay longer as you grow in the pose, up to about five minutes.  Release.

Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)

Benefits:  This pose is a combination of Dolphin Pose and Child's Pose.  It opens your heart, stretches and lengthens your spine, stretches your shoulders, and most importantly, offers a beautiful, yet unforced, stretch to the bottoms of the feet.

How it's done:  Begin on all fours.  Curl your toes under.  Bring your forearms to the ground and activate your back by spreading your shoulders.  Move your hands forward, stretching them in front of you, fingers spread wide.  Your head can rest face down on the floor, relaxing your neck.  Push your hips back toward your heels, over your knees.  Stay in the pose for up to 5 minutes - fully relaxing, focused on breathing and stretching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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