By Amit Younger
I have no doubt that many of you will be thinking - “why is it important to exercise the feet???” That is the response I get from most of my clients in the studio when they start taking classes… and the answer to that is quite simple really- would you want to live in a house that has weak foundation? Would you like to drive a car that has one deflated wheel and one that is too inflated? Clearly not!
Our feet are the foundation of our structure and movement. With every step that we take, our feet need to negotiate the ground force with our whole body- muscles, bones, connective tissues and all. Now, we may never stop to think about what our feet need to negotiate thousands of times a day, but if we do take a moment, we realise that our shoes may not be the perfect environment for our feet to be in, that hard concrete floor might not be the best surface to step on… and that uneven surfaces (bumps in the road/ road on a slant/ surfaces that are not flat- human made roads) will require our feet to perform quite an amazing twist to allow us to stay upright. Again- I believe most people are not at all aware of that UNTIL their feet do not perform so well and they end up with a strain or a sprain or any other such “joy”.
I am doing my best to avoid getting technical (anatomical)… and yet I would like you to think for a moment about some of what your feet do every day, all the time; some of which is heavily compromised by footwear… Your feet have to flex back (toes towards shin) with every step- while the foot is swinging in the air- and then gradually lower back to the ground while supporting the weight of the whole body. The feet have to be able to balance the weight of the whole body every time you stand on one leg (with every step you take…)- just watch women walking in high heels to understand this point- watch how with every step there is a little tremble of the foot and ankle while they are trying to keep the whole body balanced. As mentioned earlier- the feet have to twist to negotiate uneven surfaces while keeping the body upright. And also, the feet have to be strong and stable enough to propel our body weight forward with every step (walking, running, jumping) and to support us as we try to reach to something high and lift up “on our toes”. That is quite a lot, isn’t it??
The problem, of course, is that not only we do not spare a moment thinking about our feet, let alone exercising them… but we also “choke” them daily in all kinds of restrictive shoes that stop them from doing their job properly… or we place them in more unstable and challenging environments such as high heels or open sandals… The result of “torturing” our feet this way and of not giving them the right kind of relief and treatment is predictable- very tight and weak feet that do not perform their job properly. And when the foundation is not supporting the rest of the structure, it is only a question of when (not if) cracks will start to appear through the structure… everything from shin, knees and hips to spine, neck and shoulder function will be affected by non performing feet.
SO… what do we do about it?? First of all- do spare a moment thinking about what kind of footwear you are using every single day. Can you treat yourself to better shoes? Can you minimise the time you spend in bad shoes? Can you spend some time walking barefoot? Weather allowing- spend some time walking barefoot on grass, sand or any other natural surface. Be mindful of how your feet spread out to “accept” the surface below and try to be more “expressive” in the way you do it. Becoming more aware of how your feet function will improve their performance.
Secondly- How about some foot massage (check out the first few minutes of this class) or good old soaking your feet in hot water? Releasing the tension that accumulates in the feet will improve their performance immensely. Try rolling your foot on a tennis ball or a spiky ball while standing on the other leg. To make it effective you will have to put weight into it and massage the foot from below through the pressure of the ball. When you find a tight spot- stay there for a couple of deep breaths and try to relax the tension “around” the ball.
Finally- make it a habit to exercise your feet. We have created a short class especially for this purpose that you can find here. If you are not subscribed to yoopod yet, just follow the instructions below that will mobilize and strengthen your feet:
- Sitting on the floor with your legs in front of you- circle your feet around in both directions. Make the circles as big as possible while allowing the legs to move along with the feet. Both directions…
- Point your feet and toes away as if you want to toes to touch the floor and then pull them back as if to touch your knee caps.
- Spread your feet as wide as you can. Sounds weird, right… but you should be able to do that in the same way that you spread your fingers away from each other…
- Sitting in a chair- place a rolled sock under one foot. Spread your toes over the sock and then lift the sock from the ground with your foot. Keep the heel down at all times. Not so easy…
As always- the more you will do it, the more benefits you will gain to your feet and the whole body. If you can spare 5 minutes a day mobilizing and strengthening your feet, you will feel the changes within a few weeks!! But even if you only spare 5 minutes a week on your feet- it is way more than nothing at all… and maybe once in a while you will find a few more minutes to treat yourself to a foot spa/ massage or other such delightful things :)