Yoga for the Feet
By Shabna Cader
When people begin to practise yoga, they often realise they’ve a lost connection with their feet. I was one of them. A year later, I still think that we as humans tend to overlook and disregard just how much our feet do for us on a daily basis, and in turn require some much needed self loving.
One of my personal favourites is engaging in some feet flexes (much like neck flexes to release tension). You could do this either lying on your back, seated or with the feet spread out in front of you. Simply point the toes and flex them towards you.
I’d say you could do this about 10-20 times in one go, but align movement with breath so that you are keeping an awareness throughout all parts of the body. The idea of spreading all toes as wide as possible and then curling them together is also a great way of stimulating the feet muscles and awakening the sensations of the lower half of your body. Notice what the rest of your legs feel like when you do this; are your calf muscles being stretched? Are your thighs engaged? It happens in very subtle nuances so pay attention.
Rotating the ankles clockwise and then counter clockwise is also considered a great yogic move to release some aching and strain. Most often when laying in corpse pose at the end of a practice, a guide will tell you to rotate the ankles and this is simply so that the muscles of the feet relax.
When it comes to creating awareness and rekindling a connection with your beloved feet, the mountain pose or tadasana is like no other. This is where I feel the strongest, and hopefully ones that connection is remade, so would you. There’s something special about standing still at the top of the mat, or wherever you choose to practice really, feet either hip width apart or flush together, arms splayed by your side and chin slightly tucked. This is you in your most natural and best pose. What does it feel like? Are you grounded? Do your feet feel connected to earth? To check on this, simply lift the toes for a moment or two and release. How did that feel? Were you completely grounded through all parts of the feet?
They should, but I think over the years of continuing to wear footwear disrupts that foot to earth connection, which is why I think and mostly engage in leaving my footwear at the entrance to my bedroom and then walk around barefoot most of the time. Try this sometime and see what it feels like to be connected. The ground often feels cool and smooth. Somehow it also makes you feel more in control of each footstep you take, and more stable. There are plenty of scientific reasons why some cultures also still engage in this little tradition by leaving footwear at the entrance of the house and being barefoot throughout their homes.
Other yogic poses like a wide-legged forward fold and even a tree pose can benefit the entire body in a multitude of ways. When the foot feels elastic after some flexes, stretches like these can enable a free flow of energy and sensation up along the length of the spine, continuing till the top of the head. Simple movements have a way of connecting all body parts to one another, and thus create a full body experience, enhancing and benefiting overall health and wellbeing.
Let’s take a goddess pose for example. Being in shakti pose, connecting the root chakra to the earth, also known as mula bandha (root connection) can be further accentuated by establishing a pada bandha (foot to earth connection). You could have your feet splayed outward in this pose, as you drop your pelvic centre just a little above knee length and get settled in. You could give your feet elasticity a little check-in by lifting the heel of one foot for a breath, and then placing it gently back down, only to repeat it on the other foot. Notice how this changes your root to earth connection and sense of balance.
Alternatively, you could come into a downward dog position, toes slightly turned inward and pause for a breath of two. Foot to earth connection, with the entire body once again fully engaged. Keep the hands where they are, ground through the tops of the toes and lift the heels for just a moment or two. On a exhale bring the heels back down. You could repeat this little movement for a few breaths before finally coming back down onto the knees and out of the pose.
Understand and accept that the continual practice of yoga can change the way you feel about your feet and reinstate its connection with earth. Practicing with a foot to earth connection can change the way we feel even about the bare ground we walk on. As you free up your feet and give it some yogic love, also take time to give it some gentle hand to feet massages when time permits. I like coming into a seated meditative pose, and then lifting up one foot to massage it with my fingers. I begin at the toes, work my way towards the arches and then the heels, also the ankles and tops of the feet. Gently place it back down, and repeat the same on the other foot. I would also highly recommend using a lotion or massage oil of your choice to make this little practice of self love all the more worth the while. Your feet will thank you for it!