By Linda Anastasia Ransom and Sharon Story
In Healing Chair Yoga during July, we tended to our feet. Oft-neglected faithful companions that carry us around, our feet serve as our very foundation and connection to the earth. Freed from the boots of winter, over the summer our feet and toes expanded and stretched, breathed and revitalized, and brought us renewed awareness of the relationship between the feet and the health of the whole body. The feet are a powerful energy source. According to Ayurvedic medicine, they contain a plethora of “marma” points, gateway to the connective tissue and the “nadis,” subtle lines that channel energy to every cell of the body. Our feet are an integral part of our balance system. We need sensory awareness and motor control of all the muscles that help our feet turn in and out, flex and extend. What better time to give some foot TLC than as the seasons turn from summer to fall to winter, and our feet – barefoot and free for a few glorious months – are once again confined to our shoes for much of the day.
Improves balance and posture. Strengthens toes, arches, heels, and ankles. Increases flexibility and mobility. Provides a sense of stability and awareness as we walk. Enhances circulation. Promotes confidence. Improves tightness, aches, and pains in our feet. Regular foot stretches may also help prevent plantar fasciitis and arthritis.
For healthy, happy toes and feet, practice each exercise three times daily, once or twice on each side, for approximately thirty seconds. Start by standing with feet hip distance apart, outside edge of the foot parallel to the outside of your mat. Start by noticing your feet. How do you stand? Is your weight evenly distributed, or is it more on the inside or outside, on the heels or the balls? Are your toes relaxed? Stretch all toes wide apart until you can see daylight between them. (For healthy feet and toes, try to lift and spread your toes whenever you can.) Once you have grounded yourself with the feet on the floor, come to a seated position, either on the floor or on a chair. Begin with a Foot Massage.
Cross your foot over your knee. Use your hand to gently massage the entire foot, from the toes to the heel. Then interlace the fingers of the hand with the toes, like you are holding hands with your foot. Slide the base of your little finger into the base of the little toe, your next finger into the base of the next toe, until all your fingers and toes are firmly connected. Spread your fingers as wide apart as you can, taking care to be gentle.
Arch Stretch I
While seated, grasp your toes and gently pull them toward you, in a flexed position, until you feet a stretch in the arch of your foot. Feel the spacious you have created. Hold approximately for ten to thirty seconds.
Next, cycle through Arch Stretch II; Spread Toes; Point, Flex, Floint, Ankle Rolls; and Ball Massage. These exercises may be done sitting or standing.
Arch Stretch II
Place a towel on the floor, grab the towel with your toes, and pull it toward you. Do not move your foot along the floor; use the action of your toes scrunching and lengthening to move the towel. This will bring more mobility and strengthening of your toes. Do this about three times each side.
Lift the toes, spread them as wide as you can, and release. Remember to breathe. Do this a approximately three to five times each side.
Point, Flex, Floint
Point your feet. Flex your feet. Floint (point your feet but flex your toes) your feet. You will feel the engagement of the front and back muscles of the leg. Do this three to five times each side.
Gently make circles your feet to the right and to the left. Do this five to ten times each side.
Come to standing (or sitting on a chair). Position the feet parallel and hip-width distance apart. Evenly distribute your body’s weight on both feet. Does it feel different after your massage? Think of the sole of each foot as having four roots: (1) at the ball of your foot directly under the big toe; (2) at ball of your foot directly under your pinkie toe; (3) and (4) on the sole of your foot on either side of your heel. Deliberately root each point into the earth. Shifting the weight gently onto one foot, lift the other foot and place a racquetball or tennis ball underneath. It is important to keep the feet parallel, hip-width distance apart, for balance. Begin to roll the ball under the foot, covering the entire sole of the foot, including outside edges, heel, and inside edges. It may feel tingly! Using the weight of the body to produce more intense pressure, begin to work the ball down your foot as follows:
- Position 1: Place the ball below the ball of the foot, where there is a pronounced depression just below the first and second metatarsals. Gently shift weight onto the foot, allowing the toes to relax and perhaps release over the ball. Spend thirty to sixty seconds there exploring the sensation of the ball under the foot and using your body weight to apply more pressure as desired.
- Position 2: Move the ball a little bit toward the heel, slightly above the arch. Follow the same routine. Breathe.
- Position 3: Shift the ball to the arch. Apply weight as feels good to you. This position in particular may produce an intense physical response, so remember to keep breathing and back off if it begins to hurt.
- Position 4: Move the ball to slightly above the heel. Repeat the routine.
- Position 5: Place the ball directly under the heel. Repeat the routine.
Release from that intense work and roll the ball around the entire foot for a massage. Straighten out your leg and let it settle, noticing the differences between the two sides of your body, from your feet all the way up to your neck and shoulders. Repeat on the other foot. Even if you do not go through the full foot regimen each day, five minutes of Foot Massage and Ball Massage will help stimulate the connective tissue via marma points.
Warrior I with Toes at the Wall
Assume Warrior I pose facing the wall. Place your hands on the wall, and square your hips to the wall. Flex the toes of your front foot, bringing them up against the wall. Spread the toes as wide as you can for toe stretches. Hold approximately ten to thirty seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
Toes on Block, Heel Up and Down
Stand facing a wall for support. Place a yoga block on your mat and stand on it with the ball of your foot. Slowly raise and lower your heel, using the hands on the wall for balance. Do three to five times. Switch legs and repeat.
Heel Up and Down Variation
Come back to Warrior I pose facing the wall. Very slowly lift the back heel up and down. Feel the strength of the back leg as the ball of the front foot stays anchored to your mat. Continue doing this three to seven times each side.
We ask a lot of our feet. Show them some love – even five minutes a day – in appreciation. In turn, they will continue to keep us stable, upright, and balanced.