Anyone who has taken a yoga class knows that the practice is done in bare feet. No shoes, no socks, just feet. Quite often I am asked about this. Besides the obvious, such as not tracking in outside dirt and keeping our mats and practice space clean, there are other vital reasons for taking those shoes off.
These days, I've noticed a lot of commercials for foot products like inserts and specialized shoes. We enclose our feet inside an artificial structure designed to, we're told, make the foot work better or reduce injuries, pain and strain. Sometimes our feet are encased in shoes for the better part of our day — anywhere from eight to 18 hours — when what we really need is to take those shoes off and let our feet do the job for which they were built. Because they're not the most attractive part of our body, we tend to overlook the feet, or misalign their structure by jamming them into narrow-toed shoes or 4-inch heels.
The engineering marvel known as the human foot is composed of 26 bones (including the ankle), 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Without the foot, we couldn't stand, and without the big toe, balance would be nearly impossible. Consider the fact that feet are our shock absorbers and propel us through our world. The incredible mechanics of the foot distribute our weight from heel to toe as we walk or run, and those toes defy gravity, pushing away the ground beneath us to move us onto the next step. In yoga practice, the toes may grip the mat to keep you sturdy, or spread out to keep you balanced.
Here are a few simple things you can do to strengthen muscles, loosen tight ligaments and tendons, and encourage the foot through its range of motion. These exercises may lead you to look at your feet with a new awareness and appreciation, all the while reducing strains that lead to injury or issue.
• Sit on a chair and press the base of the toes into the floor, heels lifted. Hold for five to 10 breaths. Then, curl the toes under so you're on the knuckles, leaning forward just enough to feel the pressure. Hold for five to 10 breaths. Repeat pressing the base of the toes into the floor.
• Sit on a chair or the floor with your right foot perched above your knee. Using the hands, hold each side of your foot and rotate the sole toward the ceiling. Hold for five to 10 breaths. Repeat with the other foot.
• Position your fingers between each toe and press downward and away from the center of the foot. Hold for five to 10 breaths.
• Align the foot's energetic qualities by pressing a thumb into the center of the arch. Hold for five to 10 breaths.
• Place a "dead" tennis ball or rolled towel under the arch of your foot and begin rolling the ball or towel back and forth from heel to toe. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat with other foot.
Diana Reed is a yoga teacher, writer and co-owner of House of Light Yoga in Hernando County. Contact her at houseoflightyoga.net or (352) 610-1083.