“Lift your toes to ground down…elevate your arches…don’t allow your foot to roll to the inner edge…” All easily executed actions in standing poses, until it feels like someone is driving a nail through your foot. By and large, we trikonasana, utkatasana,  and tadasana our way through our practice with relatively little thought about the feat (pun intended) of engineering that makes these poses possible: the arch. Moreover, we may be even less aware of the Fibularis Longus and Brevis and Tibialis Anterior and Posterior—the extrinsic muscles of the foot that when healthy keep our arches strong and us upright, but when compromised can leave us painfully hobbled.

Before we explore foot arch anatomy and how these muscles support us, here’s a little primer about the structures we stand on:

The bricks: The heel, or calcaneus, is obvious to us (especially when breaking in new shoes) as are the phalanges, or what we see as our toes. The bones in between look like an intricate 3D puzzle. Moving from heel to toes, the talus sits on top of the calcaneus, between the tibia and fibula (lower leg bones) and is notched in to the base of the tibia much the way a mortice and tenon joint fit together, or the way a nut fits into a wrench. In front of the talus is the cuboid, on the lateral side of the foot, and the navicular, on the medial side. These two bones comprise the apex of the foot’s arch. Continuing toward the toes, the navicular also interfaces with three cuneiforms, which along with the distal portion of the cuboid, connect to the metatarsals and finally the phalanges. The metatarsals and phalanges are numbered 1 through 5, big toe to pinkie toe. All together, these bones comprise the “arch” of your foot. But actually, we have three arches.

The structure: The medial arch runs along the inside of the foot, and is comprised of the calcaneus, talus, navicular, all three cuneiforms and the 1st through 3rd metatarsals.  This is the part of the foot that leaves a blank spot on the pool deck when you get out of the water and walk back to your chaise, leaving fadingl footprints behind. Given the height and the number of small bones and joints in the medial arch, it is designed to be springy, propel us in our gait and absorb shock of vertical forces traveling up through our body. The lateral arch along the outside of the foot includes the calcaneus, cuboid, and 4th and 5th metatarsals. It is limited in height and movement and provides stability, and is the continuous portion (except for people with extremely high arches) in the wet foot print. The ‘half dome’ that spans the two is the transverse arch.

The mortar: In addition to the host of tendons, intrinsic foot flexors, extensors and of course, the plantar fascia (all subjects for later blogs), the Fibularis and Tibialis muscles of the leg play a critical role in keeping our arches healthy and the spring in our step.

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Christine Jablonski

I believe most people who end up in the fitness profession are trying to heal themselves. Fifteen years ago I sought out SPIN to rehabilitate a full knee reconstruction. Ten years ago I started Pilates to help me recover from a horseback riding accident. More recently, as still-young age and old injuries caught up with me, I began a restorative and Kripalu yoga practice. In every instance, with every discipline, I've experienced a moment of “ahhh....I want to make everyone feel this good.” And so began my path toward fitness studio ownership where I could keep my classes small and focused on my client's journeys from injury, through healing, and on to strength. In addition to figuring out how my clients and I could feel even better (as well as look better in our jeans), curiosity about human biomechanics led me to study with Helena Collins of Life in Synergy, Sadie Nardini of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga, and of course, Jill Miller. Combing the knowledge from these tremendous teachers with my strong Pilates background has enabled me to create exceptionally effective programs for my clients, who range from joint replacement patients needing post-physical therapy help to the “uninjured” wanting stronger, better aligned bodies so they can experience life to the fullest.

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Nathania Bron

Throughout the activities in my life it wasn’t until a couple years ago I actually paid more attention to my feet. Realizing that big toe extension is hugely important to the mechanics of everything I do made me need to learn more about what I can do to keep good foot health. I noticed that I had little control of my baby toe and started working on controlling all my toes and learning to exercise my feet. Once I started incorporating more foot mechanic awareness it’s like I had eyes on my feet! Silly yes, but if you do not… Read more »

natalie greene

great and easy read about the foot – love the ball sequence to have students bring awareness to their foundation from the ground up

Amber Green

This is fantastic information! I have been very interested in my feet lately and one foot in particular (falling arch and tibial torsion). Thank you for the simple breakdown of the different arches and their functions.

Tracey Arnold

Thanks for breaking the bones & muscles in our feet Christine. Im definitely going to pay more attention to these. Maybe make the feet the focus of all my practices this week. I love the names of the navicular and talus bones. Tells us a lot.

Daniella B.

In teacher training we have spent a lot of time on building our poses from the ground up, bringing deep attention to our feet and the way we can engage them to support the medial arch, lifting and spreading our toes, and finding balance to create a stable base. I have high medial arches, so I am interested in ways to keep the Fibularis Longus and Brevis and Tibialis Anterior and Posterior strong to support them both on the mat and off.

Elise Gibney

Feet have always been so confusing to me! So many parts make my brain hurt… Thanks for breaking the foot down in a comprehensible and helpful way!


Today while at CVS, I stood on that Dr. Scholls arch support thing. While I don’t believe a pre-made arch support can be truly customized as its advertised, I really like that its offered since real customized arch supports are so expensive and require replacement over time. There is nothing like painful arches to wreck your day. You have to get around, and there’s no avoiding using your feet to do it. There is so much going on in the foot! Thanks for the reminder that it all begins on the ground.

Jessica Greenfield

I have very flat feet and am always trying to remember to lift and spread my toes, since I’ve been told (on many occasions) that this action helps to develop the arches. I never really knew why one thing affected the other though, so really, I was just doing it because my yoga teachers said. This post really helped me to better understand the architecture of the feet and how all of the bones and muscles are related and work together. Who knew we had three arches in our feet?! Thanks for the info!

Gennifer Morris

I love my YTU balls and the feet/ankle sequence. I never realized how much tightness in the feet can translate further upstream.I have learned to appreciate the Arch-tecture and amazed by how we can stand on our feet all day and ignore them unless they are causing us direct pain. Here is to footwork!

Leslie Van Schaack

I love this idea of doing a ‘feet first’ or ground up yoga class – so many of our poses are standing and even during seated poses we do not want our feet to get laxadasical or floppy, but i’ve noticed it is very hard for people to get a sense either of where or how their feet are positioned or how to move them to be correctly positioned. I’m definitely going to share this idea! And what’s great about it is it really doesn’t take long- a couple minutes working on WAKING up the feet can really energize or… Read more »

Debbie Harrell

Taking this deeper look into the structure of the foot — make is more amazing that they support us each day when they receive so little attention. Keeping mobility in the feet and toes is so important. I work with a number of older seniors that are working very hard to regain
mobility in the feet and toes after decades of ignoring them and wearing high heels or ill-fitting shoes. No time like the present to focus on the foundation of your body and learn the true anatomy of the foot. Thanks for the article !

Logan Kemper

Lately in my classes I have begun concentrating on warming up the feet in tadasana: rarely have I ever attended a class truly taught from the ground up, where any attention is given to stretching and warming up the muscles of the foot beyond lifting and separating the toes. I do have students come into “broken toe” pose and sink their weight into their heels as they pull against the mat with their fingers, but I love adding the virasana component. Great idea 🙂

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marianne bateman

Both my practice and my teaching grew tangentially when I began to accept the feet as the true 1st chakra. I became fascinated by this relatively simple concept when Mula Bandha proved to be a notion that neither I ,nor my students, could grasp easily without overdoing it and locking up the pelvis. I always teach from the ground up and encourage students to love and cherish their feet and take care of them too. I start my day with a comfortable propped virasana that releases all of the extensor muscles from knee to phalanges. Then I sit in “broken… Read more »