Yoga practitioners typically remove their shoes and socks prior to class, experiencing yoga postures barefoot on the sticky mat without a second thought. Feet are the foundation of standing poses, and we learn to spread the toes and lift the arches so our feet are responsive for balance and stability.
Over time, the flexible agility of the feet we started out with as children begins to disappear. Although for various medical reasons foot protection is indicated when walking, simple seated ankle and foot mobility exercises provided in this article on balance, are available to almost anyone.
For students able to come to the floor, I first learned this foot stretch from my teacher Tias Little. Below I demonstrate two floor options.
Whenever I begin teaching a class of students new to yoga, I provide the recommendation that it is best to practice yoga barefoot. Following that announcement, I often encounter a few deer-in the-headlights expressions from my students. The mere suggestion of exposing their feet to the world triggers emotions from shyness to rebellion. One of my more self-conscious new students remarked: “my toes are so curly!” (She eventually learned to love her feet!)
Toe Separation Exercise-Seated on Chair, Floor, or Standing
This week I taught standing and chair versions of this toe agility exercise demonstrated in the video below by my teacher Jill Miller.
Typically, we keep our feet hidden, encased, and often constricted in shoes and socks the entire day. And more often than not, the fit of our shoes is less than optimal, which can be a recipe for unhealthy foot issues. Discomfort and pain are the result, as well as impaired balance. Plantar fasciitis, described in my previous article is an all too common result of neglecting to care for our feet when they have been working all day for us.
In order to nurture and reclaim the balanced foundation of our body in our feet, we can consciously stretch and strengthen the toes and soles. We will experience toe agility, and the subsequent willingness to fully inhabit our yoga poses through the “sole” of our practice.
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A version of this article originally appeared on https://www.yogatuneup.com.