Practice Yoga for Your Feet

Closeup of barefoot woman feet and hands practicing yoga outdoors

Have you ever thought of practicing yoga for your feet? It is easy to overlook our feet, way down there at the bottom of our legs, especially if we have our eyes constantly on what’s ahead! And if they are feeling and working fine, we often don’t give them a second thought. That can all change in the blink of an eye when something goes awry with our feet, even something as seemingly innocuous as a pebble in a shoe.

What Your Feet Can Tell You

Paschimottanasana or seated forward bend yoga pose - holding feet detail.

Yet the reality is that the health of our feet is essential to our overall health and wellbeing, especially as time moves on and we get older. Atul Gawande, MD, points out in his book Being Mortal, that gerontologists, specialists in geriatric medicine, use the ability for a person to observe and care for their own feet as an indication of their likelihood to remain independent and healthy with advancing age. Something as simple as, when we are in our 20s, being able to see the bottom of our feet to look for cuts or splinters can become progressively more challenging for many reasons as time goes on. Even being able to cut our own toenails can be monumental if we have non-foot issues that make it difficult. Think significant knee arthritis or a hip fracture that limits hip movements.

How Your Feet Connect to Everything Else

Woman sitting in lotus position with bare feet, practicing yoga at home.

Personally, I’ve been acutely aware of the importance of healthy feet as roaming foot pains have occasionally surfaced lately related to my newest interest, playing singles tennis. It seems that simply running and stopping for an hour can be surprisingly demanding of the feet, and I have at times had to rest the feet for a few days to allow them to return to pain-free status before hitting the courts again. Oh, and have I mentioned I have inherited my Grandma Lopresto’s big toe bunion on my right foot?

And on a recent visit to see my mom, our first in-person visit since the pandemic began, her challenges with maintaining foot health became clear to me. She has suffered a hip fracture in both hips from falls in the last five years, most recently just over a year ago. As a result, her walking ability has been dramatically impacted, although she is determined to regain it again. This change in ability has resulted in regular swelling of the feet and ankles and limited hip-joint movement. Fortunately for her, she is able to get regular pedicures to keep the feet in better condition than she can do on her own. And I re-enforced the benefits of elevating her legs regularly to address swelling, suggesting a modified Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani) she can do on the couch or in bed.

Serene woman relaxing and practicing Legs--Up-the-Wall Pose on a yoga mat in a cozy house.

Yoga for Your Feet to the Rescue!

Although not a cure-all for all that ails the feet, yoga goes a long way in addressing the overall health of our feet, both maintaining and improving it. The asana practice, done typically in bare feet, helps to keep the nerve sensors of our skin turned on, improving our proprioception (our sense of where our body parts are in space), a great way to reduce the chance of falls.

Yoga practice moves toe, foot, and ankle joints through their healthy range of motion. The poses encourage both flexibility and strength and help maintain good circulation of blood and lymph fluid in and out of the feet. And even our mindfulness practices can have the benefit of tuning us in to the more subtle sensations that are arising in the feet, providing us with the opportunity to respond sooner than later when things start to feel out of balance in our feet. And studies show that yoga is generally beneficial for arthritis, and the feet certainly are affected by that!

Young woman practicing yoga, doing Horse rider exercise, Anjaneyasana Pose, also called Crescent Lunge variation.

For those interested in improving the health of their feet through yoga, especially if new to yoga, the key is finding the right class or teacher to help you on your way. If you are a beginner, look for a class that is specifically for beginners. If you have specific foot issues you want to address, look for a therapeutic yoga class and check-in with the teacher before your first session to discuss your specific issues and goals.

Consider finding a yoga therapist in your area, or one you can work with online to get a more personalized approach to practicing yoga for your feet. Even small strides (sorry, couldn’t be helped!) in taking better care of your feet will go a long way in supporting your long-term wellness goals.

Massaging, Rolling and Spreading: More Yoga for Your Feet

I’m a big fan of foot massage, whether it is self-massage, pedicure, or full body massage. I find it helpful to request the kind of work I’d like the massage person to do for my feet—gentle, moderate, deep.

I also like rolling the soles of the feet, using tennis balls (super inexpensive) or specialized balls. I also use my drumsticks to roll the soles of the feet, to good effect.

Some folks speak highly of using toe spreaders to keep the toes from gradually folding over one another. I do something similar by just threading my fingers between my toes and mobilizing them in different directions gently. Here is my toe mobilization practice:


Reprinted with permission from Baxter

Baxter Bell, MD, has been actively deepening his understanding of the power of yoga since making the stress-reducing move from a career as a busy family doctor to that of a yoga teacher and medical acupuncturist. Baxter is a graduate of the Piedmont Yoga Studio’s 18-month Advanced Studies Program, and served as Director of PYS’s Deep Yoga Program for many years, teaching the Experiential Anatomy, Yoga Technique, and Yoga Methodology portions of that training. He is on faculty for several Yoga Teacher Training and Yoga Therapy Training programs around the country. Baxter is a Certified Yoga Therapist, a level of training denoted by C-IAYT. 

Baxter is involved in the integration of therapeutic applications of yoga with Western medicine and presently serves on the board of the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Baxter teaches public and specialty Back Care yoga classes in Oakland and Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, as well as workshops and retreats around the United States and internationally.

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