When most people think of yoga, they probably think it’s all about having a flexible spine, for asana practice at least. The poor old feet get forgotten.
Ask a Chiropractor or an Osteopath and they’ll probably tell you that spinal health begins with your feet.
So it stands to reason (pun intended) that your feet are going to be pretty important in how you practice yoga, especially with its emphasis on the spine. Your feet provide the foundation (pun again) for all standing postures, not only balancing ones.
Here’s why and how you should be paying attention to your feet, and not just in Forward Folds when you hope to get your head up close and personal with your toes.
1. Feet are Abused
Let’s face it, unless you are a full-time yoga teacher, chances are your feet are contained in shoes most of the time. And possibly very uncomfortable shoes.
So give your feet some love by really noticing how you stand, without the restriction of shoes. If you wear heels a lot, then postures like Chair Pose (Utkatasana) where you stand high up on your toes and lower down into a chair position will be challenging, but really good for your feet, as it stretches the muscles and ligaments around the metatarsals.
2. Feet Ground You
Of course your feet ground you, but think of this energetically as well as physically. Your feet provide stability and are the foundation of your posture.
Energetically, they represent the root chakra (Muladahra) and your sense of being in touch with the earth and everyday life -- they literally ground you like the roots of a tree. It’s all very well to have your head in the clouds as long as you have your feet firmly planted on the earth.
3. Feet Balance You
But only if you balance your feet.
Skeletally we all tend to be asymmetrical -- one hip may be "out," so an ankle may roll in. Sometimes all we can do is work with this "imbalance" and accept it. But paying attention to how your feet are planted will make a big difference, particularly in balance postures.
Is your weight even, are you toes firmly spread? Doing so will help you feel balanced and secure in the pose.
4. Feet Support You
In standing poses, particularly balancing ones, your feet (or one foot) will carry all your weight. This is where it is important to really to have your feet firmly and evenly planted.
Focus on engaging the muscles of your thighs (hamstrings and quadriceps) and sucking up your kneecaps for joint stability. This will help you to stand, rather than gripping your mat.
5. Watch Your Toes
Your toes will give away the imbalances in your body.
In balance postures the tendency is to curl and grip with your toes to stop your feet rolling in or out. Whenever you feel this gripping, relax the toes but engage the legs, straightening and lifting up out of the knee joint.
Think knees locked, although this may not be appropriate in all postures.
6. Tall Like a Tree
The more firmly you can ground your feet, as if you were really rooting into the earth (a tree’s roots will extend as deep and as wide underground as the branches grow aboveground), then the taller you can grow.
Balance in Tree Pose, and try simultaneously grounding your standing foot (your tree trunk) as you feel a lengthening through the lateral spine. You may even grow an inch or two.
7. Make Like a Mountain
Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, is really a master asana for your standing practice. It is a posture to return to, again and again, and not just as a resting pose, but to keep re-establishing your firm foundations.
Try closing down the eyes and tune in to the way the body tries to balance the cranio-sacral flow of fluid in the spine -- you’ll likely feel a rocking or swaying forward and back until you come to an equilibrium.
The more grounded you are, the easier it will be to find this equilibrium.
Practice with awareness of your feet -- as you stand, step, point, or flex your feet, kick your foot into your hand, and land on your feet from a jump-back or jump forward.
And remember to give your poor old feet some love -- they deserve it.
How do you bring awareness to your feet and find a good foundation during your yoga practice? Share with us in the comments below!