There are 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles and more than 100 tendons and ligaments in each foot which work together to provide support, balance and mobility.
Who would have thought ?
Flat foot is the term used when the arch of the feet are collapsed and sole touches the ground when standing.The arches help us with balance and equal weight distribution. Flat feet might seem like a minor issue, but the feet being the foundation on which the weight of the body rests, it can cause a lot of pain in the ankles, hips or even neck in the long run. That being said, some people might not feel any syptoms at all.
Where does Yoga come in?
In Yoga, we give a lot of importance to the feet and how we stand. Most yoga teachers, myself included, spent a lot time teaching the importance of Tadasana and creating a firm foundation with the feet in Tadasana and all standing poses. Working on the feet and the arches in this manner helps to activate and strengthen all parts of the feet.
- Tadasana teaches us equal standing, with emphasis on lifting the arches. Please read on feet position in Tadasana here.
Practice balancing on the mounds of the feet:
- Standing in Tadasan, shift weight onto the mounds of the feet and lift the heel. Stay here for one to three breaths. Then release the heel back to the ground. This can be repeated 5-6 times. Do this slowly and with focus to feel the arches and the muscles of the feet working. You can even try walking on the mounds of the feet with the heels up for a few breaths.
- In tadasana, with the eyes closed, sway your body from side to side gently, shifting weight to the right and then to the left side of the feet. Similarly sway the weight forward to the toe mounds and back into the heel. This movement in all 4 directions will help us understand balanced weight distribution while standing. After moving a few times, come back to equal standing, this time with more awareness of where your body weight is.
Practice Spreading the toes and lifting them one at a time
- There are different variations of “toe lifting” that you can practice. These can be done while sitting on a chair if you are attempting it for the first time.
- Lift just the big toes while holding the other toes down.
- Now try pushing the big toe down while lifting all the other toes up.
- Sounds simple? Not so much. Based on how we walk, one or the other would be difficult for most of us.
- Similarly, spreading the toes might sound easy, but many will struggle with this; especially if you wear tight shoes all the time. Before spreading the toes, first lengthen all toes, push them down the ground, then lift and spread them all equally.
- Practice everyday and you will soon be able to spread those toes.
Practice Mindful walking:
- Practice walking barefoot , on grass if possible. Press the centre of the heel first to the ground, spread the toes and push the big toe and pinky toe mound to the ground with each step you take, activating every part of the feet with each step.
If balancing is an issue:
- People with complete flat feet find balancing very difficult, especially in single leg poses like tree and also lunges. This is where props can help. Try doing the postures with support of a chair, wall or even the doorway. With support, you will be able to work on the Tadasana feet without worrying about losing your balance.
- Try to practice Virasana for around 5 -10 minutes everyday, making sure that the toes point to the back of the mat when sitting.(The feet should not sickle). You can do this while watching television, reading or even stretching. Please refrain from doing Virasana if you have knee pain.
Standing and balancing Postures:
All standing postures, including balancing poses like Tree pose and Warrior 3, when practiced with proper feet alignment, will help support and strengthen the arches of the feet.
Points to remember in all standing Asanas:
- Tadasana feet in every standing posture : Work on spreading the toes evenly, and pushing the centre the heel, the big toe mound and the pinky toe mound firmly to the ground.
- Lengthen the feet and lift the arches. Imagine that you are trying to press a switch with your toes and the switch is slightly in front of you. This will help you find length in the toes. Lifting the arches takes consistent practice, but a simple way to do it is to try lifting just the toes up. Beginners can place a small rolled towel under the inner arches to elevate and support while practicing.
- Take care of the back feet alignment: In standing postures like Warrior 2 and Trikonasan, it is easy to let all the weight fall on the inside of the back foot loosing the arch and creating ankle issues later on. Ensure that you to press the outer edge of the back foot down, at the same time, push the big toe down and lift the inner arches.
Some exercises which can be done at home include:
- Drop a towel flat on the ground and scrunch the towel with the toes.
- Practice spreading the toes regularly when doing yoga – this helps to contract and activate all the muscles in that area.
- To strengthen the arch, you can also try to lift little things from the floor with your toes.
- Avoid wearing high heels.
- A tennis ball can be used to massage under the feet to give relief to sore feet.
As we always say in Yoga, the first step is building awareness, which comes through practice. One word of caution is not to overdo the above exercises. When the pain becomes intense, relax and massage the feet and take it easy.
Hema Laxman, RYT 200
Owner, Flamingo Yoga & Wellness