We generally don’t appreciate our feet until there is a problem, a sentiment captured well in a local foot clinic’s tagline: Get back to not thinking about your feet.
Each foot has 26 bones and 33 joints all held in position by hundreds of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. They carry, balance and pivot our weight, supporting us from point A to point B. Whether we are chasing after a toddler, marching in a protest, or climbing a mountain our feet must hold us up.
Some of us also squeeze our feet into beautiful works of art by following trending shoe styles. Still, our feet keep working for us even when we adorn them with this less-than-optimal footwear.
Our feet are often a body blind spot–highly utilized, yet misunderstood.
Take a moment to remove your shoes, wiggle your toes, and maybe even give yourself a little foot massage.
How we position our feet and distribute our weight has a domino effect on the rest of our bodies when we walk, stand, run, and spend a lot of time sitting at a desk.
Or, maybe it is the other way around: if we cross our legs, hold tension in the pelvis, and have uneven muscle distribution in the torso, how does that impact your feet?
In other words, it’s all connected, but today we will work from the ground up.
Tuning into how I am using my feet has become an easy access point to my own ability to heal myself. Relieving sciatica, halting my bunions, strengthening my arches to ease pressure in my knees have all been accomplished.
And, yes, when I begin to fall back into old habits of over-pronating my feet, pain and discomfort start to come back.
But we can always look down, notice and make a change.
Here are four simple mobility exercises to reconnect to, re-energize and strengthen your feet.
- Take the first step. The biggest thing we can do for our feet takes very little effort: simply notice and appreciate them. This means spending some time with them and giving your full and positive attention. This three-minute stretch will help bring much-needed space to your tarsals while relaxing the joints in your ankle.
- Interlace your fingers in the toes of your opposite foot.
- Wiggle your toes and squeeze them into your fingers.
- Add ankle circles and other creative movements.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
- Roll them out. This is an incredibly satisfying practice, with immediate benefits releasing stuck fascia, bringing in oxygen, and enlivening nerve endings. This may even create an energizing ripple effect throughout your body.
- Stand with one hand on a wall place and place an original size Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball under the sole of one barefoot. Or, if possible, do two feet at the same time (as pictured).
- Squish Squish Squish those therapy balls (like I Love Lucy crushing the grapes).
- Then roll the therapy balls up and down and side-to-side re-stimulating sensation.
- Make sure you do both feet!
- Go ahead and jump (prep). Get access to the potential strength in your feet that, when engaged, will make you feel lighter all over. You have 20+ muscles in your feet, with ten of them being in the what is often referred to as the “main arch,” the medial longitudinal arch in four layers. How do you begin to access their power? For starters, try out this jumping prep exercise.
- Stand with the spine long and your feet parallel, hands against a wall (or tree).
- Inhaling, come up on the balls of your feet, exhaling heels back down, x5
- Then, come up on the balls of your feet and hold for 60 seconds.
- Next, with a blanket rolled up on the floor, place the balls of your feet on the blanket, your heels on the floor.
- Spread toes wide, maintaining a neutral spine, hold this sole opening toe strengthening position for 3 minutes (adding more height to the blanket as needed)
- Structure matters. The Yoga Tune Up® version of Tadasana (aka Mountain or neutral position) energizes this traditional pose, strengthening alignment from the base of your feet to the top of your head.
- Stand with medial sides of your feet together, hip bones facing forward and aligned, arms relaxed at your sides, open across the sternum, chin tucked ever so slightly to elongate your neck.
- Lift your toes off the earth, wiggle them around, place them firmly on the earth, rock back and forth on your feet a little, finding a firm neutral place, noting there are three bones that touch the ground. The lines between these create a structure of arches for your feet, allowing the support of the earth to travel back up into your system, spring-like.
- Line you shins, your knees, your thighs on top of your feet. Keeping a little lift up through your center channel.
- Now, make this a dynamic check-in:
- First, scrape your heels apart on the mat, as if you are tearing the mat apart, without moving your feet or legs
- Next, make the action of pulling your feet together, adducting your inner legs, without moving them
- Finally, the right foot acts as if it is moving forward and the left foot back, without actually moving anything and then switch, left foot forward, right foot back.
- Repeat all of the above a few times, building from your foundation. Each time, pay a little more attention to how each muscle group engages. Proprioception is key, but also consider checking in a mirror as you are doing this — sometimes we are so used to feeling unaligned that when we are truly aligned we feel wonky.
Come back to a neutral position, take a few more deep breaths, then let all effort go.
This pose is practical. You can do it when standing in line, riding the subway, or cooking–wherever and whenever you want to connect to your feet and strengthen your alignment. Practicing this pose gives you the personal intel to intuitively move back into a stance that is most efficient for your body.
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Related Article: Springtime in Your Joints: 5 Ways to Preserve Joint Health with Jill Miller
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This past June I had Big toe fusion surgery. I was in a walking boot until the end of September. My foot gets very soar after walking. Because of the fusion I can’t bend the big toe at all. What kind of exercise do you suggest. I’m 64 years old.
2) This is such a great mini-sequence. I appreciate the addition of active and dynamic exercises between the manual foot massage and the calf raises all in preparation for the peak pose, Tune-Up Tadasana. It’s a really beneficial way to prepare the feet all the way up the spine, for that equipoise we seek after contracting and relaxing all the muscles in the body in Tadasana. Thanks for the active stretch with the balls of the feet on a rolled up blanket. Stretching the toes apart looks like it would bring a sigh of relief to hardworking, tired feet!
Merci pour ces superbes exercices de travail des pieds ! Isabelle
I am passionate about adjusting feet, I need to stabilize my ankles which I tread on too often. Thank you for this article full of information.
Thank you for including exercises to go along with the videos to help us as well. I provide foot reflexology to my clients and am always happy to hear how my touch not only helps the body bring itself back to homeostasis, yet also can help the physical feet and all the chains attached to them up the body. I’m so thrilled to dive deeper into the feet and how movement affects the rest of the body.
I enjoyed these quick and practical ways to increase the mobility and strength of the feet and ankles. Some of these were new to me and I look forward to making them a part of my regular practise, especially after a long hike or trail run!
Recently I was doing some new foot strengthening and stretching exercises, and was kind of shocked how I could barely do the exercises, and how different each foot was as far as mobility, strength, and what I could do – I then started to have flash backs on all the times I’ve hurt my feet – the time the horse stomped on my foot (it was 15 years ago, and the skin is still discolored) , the time I stubbed my toe and then could not wear any shoes except my hiking boots for three months or my toe would go numb (cheaper and more convienent that a cast?), and the time I cut my foot, and the time I twisted my ankle, and the time my toe nail came off from too much hiking, etc…etc…etc…. our feet of course are going to not work as well when they’ve had so much abuse, with minimal care! duh! so that makes me want to get my ankles and feet together becuse, ou know, the foot bone is connected to the shin bone, and then the knee, hip, and so on! people pay more attention to the other parts… but…..
as i age, i experience cramping in my feet, indicating held tension. These exercises, done on a daily basis, will address that tension, and build strength at the same time. Thanks for the excellent recommendations.
I have experienced numbness in my feet for many years. I have used the rolling techniques and other stretching exercises similar to the ones pointed out in this article. Recently, I am experiencing a pain of sorts in the arches and and along the sides of both feet with some tightness in my ankles. I am curious if this could be referred from tight hips?
Les pieds peuvent être oubliés de tous. Et pourtant c’est la base de notre corps. Une routine comme celle-ci prend seulement quelques minutes en plus.
Great article! The feet are our foundation. We should always go and see what happens with our feet!
Thanks for the good tips. I need to take better care of my feet. I had zero awereness into that area before I started rolling. My feet were just a block! I can tell rolling really helped my posture.
Let our feet be free! We often tend to forget to take care of this part of our body. This is what I have been trying to do for the past few weeks.
When i was yong my mother made me roll a bottle on the arch of my feet. It felt great. Now i’m doing it with my tune up balls. I start to put cream and massage my feet too. Our relationship is improving as i get older 🙂
I have recently become obsessed with working on my feet. After struggling with hip pain I am starting to see improvement. I will add some.of these to my practice. TY
I definitely need to bring greater awareness to my feet and ankles. I fractured one of my ankle and required surgery. It’s difficult to feel balanced in my feet with a permanent screw in my ankle. I may have overcompensated as the other ankle feels stiffer. These practices do help to relieve tension. However, I still struggle in sitting seiza.
I definitely need to try working on both feet simultaneously! Thank you for this blog… a little work on the feet makes such a huge difference in the feel of the whole body.
Super merci, j’adore ces mouvements très libérateurs des pieds ,
meilleure vision du pied en toute liberté et les liens de connection avec les genou, bassin, core etc.
Thank you! Feet, the foundation of our whole body scaffolding- so important, and yet we just take them for granted. Thanks for these fun and accessible tips, I look forward to incorporating them into some daily foot care and sharing them with my students.
As a barefoot massage therapist, I can attest to how important foot health is for my work and for my daily life. These are easy and feel so good! What a nice way to treat our feet and our “soles”
This is exactly why I fell in love with therapy balls…relief of plantar fasciitis ?❤️
I started to teach rolling the feet with the YTU balls and toe spreading before every yoga class And I’m astounded by how many people can feel what a difference it makes up the chain, not just in the feet. So so good! Thanks for the article.
Feet matter so much & rolling them seems to strike a chord in every single person!
Love these techniques to nurture the feet!
Thanks so much for the tips! I think you are very right in that our feet get ignored. I work with a lot of triathletes and these will be some great tips to help them stretch out and mobilize their feet before and after workouts. Thanks!
Imagina un rayo de energia que llega del espacio a la tierra donde estas sentado en La postura que vemos en el post ” Seza sentada con cinto” postura similar al parado de cuclillas. ¿cómo puede ayudar en la restauración de la cadera? Respuesta: A través del sistema nervioso y los tejido conectores perifericos que vienen desde los pies, como son los digitales dorsales, arco, metatarsos, esquiotiviales, y sube hasta el illipsoas y diafragma regulando el control somático del cuerpo.
The first time I realized how important my feet were was after I took a 200 hrs training with yogaworks and now with YTU, so thanks for the reminder :). It is amazing how the way we put our feet has a direct impact in our whole body and viceversa. Self massage practices are new to me but I am really looking forward to self massage my feet more often !!
Feet awareness is my personal favorite lately! It feels so different to have that clear sensation of how our feet are positioned in the ground, sustaining us, and having a direct effect on every structure above. I recently learned this YTU version of Tadasana and was amazed for all the muscle activation that we can have in such a simple yet effective way! Thanks for the mobilization and stretches for the feet and the awareness in Tadasana!
Thank you, Pamela. These are really great tips for giving us the best chance for maintaining, and improving the structural integrity of our feet, and so much more! I’m excited to try your blanket trick for sole opening and toe strengthening. And I agree, proprioception is key for so many daily activities we do, let alone just pinpointing how we are feeling in any given moment.
I am in a foot phase currently and your article called to me. Thank you for reminding me just how many bones, joints and muscles, plus the tendons and ligaments that all work together on each foot!
La práctica me aportó consciencia de mis apoyos, poder sentir mis pies libres y al mismo tiempo enraizados , mejoró mi postura ( en todos los niveles) y mi forma de pararme en el la vida. Son excelentes estos ejercicios y tan necesarios!
Gracias ello 🙂
I love my feet! I started to take care of them when i read Earthing by Clinton Over, i began to use more minimalistic shoes, and walk barefoot more regularly. My feet became stronger, but also my legs, my glutes, and my abs. I was impressed of how by strengthening my feet i could affect all the structures above and how more stable i felt in life.
It’s so insightful to read how the foot is a body blind spot – highly utilized, but misunderstood. I completely agree and I appreciate the simple techniques you provide to bring self-care back to this often ignored aspect of our body. I really enjoy rolling out my feet as I do quite a bit of impact on them daily and it’s definitely a helpful practice to keep. Thanks for the additional tips!
Relaxation aside, these are terrific tools for bringing about increased proprioceptive awareness into the lower extremity – serving everything from the most basic activities of daily living to the most complex of asana. Love it.
Active Tadasana makes so much sense. Placing fingers between toes is a fantastic foot exercise. I have also read that simultaneously fingers squeezing toes then toes squeezing fingers is a great muscle strengthening exercise for the tarsals.
It’s amazing the relief and relaxation you feel from self massage of your feet. I really appreciated this when I was pregnant with twins. I also realized the impact on my feet when I went up a shoe size!
I am also flat -footed and rolling out my feet has definitely changed my life!
I am flat footed and have always struggled with running/walking long distances. Rolling my feel out first thing in the morning or before/after a run has been a game changer!
Thank you Pamela, our feet are our foundation and should be treated with love and gratitude!
I really enjoy rolling my feet as I continuously feel them after a long day of walking/jumping around. The stretch with the towel under the toes and the heel on the floor will be added to my feet routine, it looks amazing and I’m sure it feels amazing as well. Thanks for sharing!
Already obsessed with rolling out my feet but love the extra exercises in this post. I will definitely be sharing them with my clients and adding them to my own repertoire to keep improving my own posture and proprioception! Thanks!
Been doing a lot of foot care as of late in my classes. Never thought of using two therapy balls on either foot at the same time. The fourth tip is huge. Going to put that into practice also. Thank you for sharing your creativity
There are people come to my yoga class struggle with standing pose, because not enough exercise, sitting too long which makes them difficult when practice balance pose even simple standing pose, also having a problem with there foot, like a ankle sprain .
There are so many changes after boll rolling, they can standing comfortably. it is so great thing rolling boll before yoga practice.
These steps are simple and take very little time, yet leave a dramatic change in my feet. I just used them as a re-set while getting some YTU homework done. 😉 Thanks!
Fantastic tour of the feet – very practical and complete. Thank you so much for summarizing it all here. Would be fantastic to get even more insight into the early signs of plantar fasciitis and how to work with that as well as how knee problems can be addressed by working with the feet. Thank you!
The feet can transmit major feedback to the rest of the body through all the muscles, joints, and accompanying attachments. In order to get as much data as we can from the ground which will assist our movement patterns, we should take the time to fire up the proprioceptors and tissues in the feet by utilizing Tune Up balls and other helpful methods.
I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for all the tips on how to enliven and revitalize our feet. We always pay attention to the other parts of our body, but tend to forget about our feet – the very things that give us foundation. I’m going to try these for my next foot “workout!”
Just beginning to learn the benefits of using therapy balls on the feet and ankles. Best advice is to tune-in during the day to how you use your feet and allow this to help inform what you need (strengthing arches to ease pressure in knees!).
Love all these exercises for the feet. I couldn’t agree more on stopping bunions from getting worse. Spent 20 years in high heels at work every day and my feet were in bad shape. Started practicing mindfulness towards my feet in yoga and then teaching, added the ball work and presto – much better! Good reminder to give your feet some love every day.
I love rolling my feet and appreciating the complexity of how the affects travel up stream. However, I hadn’t even thought about how what we do “upstream” affects our feet! Even more reason to get those feet out of shoes more often and give them so attention!
I love using the YTU balls on my feet! It’s become a part of my everyday routine because of how great it makes my feet and body feel. A lot of us take our feet for granted – myself included. They usually don’t get the attention they deserve until pain is in the picture. I stand on my feet all day when I’m at work, and not taking the proper care of my feet caught up to me. It was as if a big alarm was going off with all of the pain I was in. Once I switched my routine to minimalist footwear, rolling on YTU balls, massaging, and sitting in Viparita Karani a couple minutes a day, my pain dissolved. I love the calf raises you included! I’ll have to try them out.
Your feet are your foundation. We ask our feet to literally carry the load of the work that we do. It is now part of my class practice to roll or self massage the feet before we begin our practice. It makes a big difference!
This information is practical and useful. So true that the feet are often ignored despite the fact that we require so much of them. The foot rolling routine is spot on and feels SO GOOD!