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Free Your Feet

in YogaDork Ed

by Tiffany Holmes

I recently asked my students to lift their big toes without moving the rest of their foot. With much consternation, they discovered this to be a more difficult task than they had anticipated. Intrigued? Try it yourself!

Homo sapiens didn’t evolve with shoes on. That meat sack on the bottom of your leg is full of bones and muscles, and is riddled with nerves. Lots of moving parts, which modern humans have shoved inside of what many movement teachers consider “foot prisons” (aka shoes).

Awesome post (slightly edited) by @joerehab 👣 There are a total of 28 bones in the foot (including 2 sesamoid), you multiply that by 2 and you have a total of 56 bones. Knowing that we have 206 bones in the body you can see that’s a big portion 👣 We also have 33 joints and more than a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments in the foot. Our feet are meant to be supple and mobile, adapting to the different environment (flat land, uphill, uneven terrain etc…) through standing, walking and running 👣 The space between the bones of our foot are very important, without sufficient space our foot will loose its suppleness. A compressed foot is not a happy foot. If 27.2% of our bones are not moving while we walk, squat, lunge etc.. in a full body loaded position, something else needs to move upstream and only time will tell when our knees, hips, low back, midback and neck all of a sudden begin to ache and hurt 👣 When we look at the foot of a baby or young child, the toes are nicely splayed out. This foot is optimal for balance and walking. In certain parts of the world where people either still go barefoot majority of the time, or barefoot a 100% there foot widen out like a fan from heel to toes. So what happened? 👣 With modern society and fashion(beauty over function), many shoes created are not designed for optimal function. Usually having a heel lift and cramming up the toes in the front. Overtime we become weak footed, loose our suppleness and the shape of our foot changes 👣 Solution? Pick a shoe that doesn’t lift your heel and has a wider forefoot. Take your shoes off and let your feet breathe and go barefoot more often. Challenge your feet by walking on uneven surfaces and different terrains. Mobilize the foot with a lacrosse ball and strengthen them up!!! 👣 #thefootcollective #barefoot #healthyfeet #prehab #rehab #foothealth #strongfeet #education #movement #health #beinformed #bettershoes #ottawa #painfree #balance #yoga #bunions #flatfeet #weakfeet #human

A post shared by The Foot Collective (@thefootcollective) on

As you can see from this post from The Foot Collective, many shoes are not foot-shaped, which can lead to some unfortunately shoe-shaped feet. Pushing your feet into thick-soled shoes also eliminates many of their proprioceptive abilities.

Do you struggle with your squat (Malasana)? Tripping in your tree (Vriksasana)? Lunges a bit wobbly? Start at the base—your feet! I like to teach the following movements to get my students thinking about how their feet move and how that affects other movement. Any of the poses/movements mentioned could be used as a check-in when addressing the feet.

A grippy, pliable therapy ball pressed under your foot is a good way to start spreading out some of the long bones in your feet (your metatarsals). Begin by placing the ball under the ball of your foot, and allow the foot to drape over the ball. Adjust the pressure by putting weight into the foot. It’s a good idea to stand close to a wall for balance.

Next, try to move the ball across the muscle fibers of the foot by dropping one side of the foot toward the ground, then the other.

A stripping movement along the length of the foot not only feels great, but helps to stretch and hydrate the plantar fascia, the thick connective tissue that supports the arch of your foot (among other things).

Working a bit upstream, circle your ankles and feet as if they are connected in one large foot or flipper. Just pretend you’re a mermaid.

Finally, get your toes moving, Barbie style. Point your feet, draw your toes back, draw your feet back, then point again.

Check back in with your toe drill and your chosen pose/movement. What changes do you notice after working on your feet? Imagine the difference regular foot maintenance could make in your practice! Take some time to free your feet. The rest of your body will thank you.


Tiffany Holmes is a technical writer by day, Yoga Tune Up teacher by night. She enjoys helping people learn how to move better and understand how they are put together. You can find her in the great state of Indiana, frightening her students at Studio Seva Yoga or CrossFit Tactical Strength. Midwest is best!

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