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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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)
  4. 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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Samantha

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!

Randy

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

jisook park

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.

VERA

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!

Toni Cupal

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!

Doug Wright

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.

Leanne W.

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!”

Liz

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!).

Debbie

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.

Jill D Sansom

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!

Maggie Zaleski

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… Read more »

Lisa Bourque

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!

Annie Siegel

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!