This post was originally published on the Open House Yoga blog.
Our poor feet!
Squeezed into tight, uncomfortable, smelly shoes when all they want is to be free. Forced to totter around on high heels when what they really crave is to feel the earth between their dainty little toes.
The human foot is an incredibly complex structure containing 28 bones, 33 muscles, 31 joints, and over 100 ligaments – in fact the feet contain a quarter of all bones in the body. As a result of this complexity, our feet are incredibly adaptable, with the ability to move in a variety of different ways. They have developed in this way to provide us with stability and balance as we move across uneven terrain - useful when running away from dangerous beasties or hunting prey back in our cave dwelling days.
However, in contemporary life, when we're usually walking on evenly paved surfaces and cramming our feet into the latest in fashion footwear, the adaptability of the foot is seemingly no longer required – in fact you could say that it's somewhat over-engineered. Unfortunately, this leads to a situation where the deep musculature of the foot, which supports the 3 arches of the foot that provide our architectural strength, is not fully utilised and so becomes redundant and weakens. This in turn creates a variety of problems such as flat feet (fallen arches), weak ankles, bunions, hammer toes and claw toes - all of which reduce the strength of our body’s foundation and lead to further misalignment in the legs, hips, spine and head. So ignore those pinkies at your peril!
Practicing yoga postures awakens the four layers of musculature in the soles of our feet and reintroduces movement into the foot, restoring the natural aliveness, strength and adaptability of the feet. Furthermore, it can help to correct a variety of conditions caused by wearing inappropriate and constrictive footwear – such as shortening of the Achilles tendon from wearing high heels (forward bends will stretch the Achilles tendon and the calf muscles attaching to it). Spacing the toes in yoga asana practice also helps to counter the effect of wearing shoes that are too tight (a common cause of bunions), allowing more blood to flow in and out of the feet and releasing the musculature. Ahhh...happy feet.
So do your feet a favour - let them out of their straight jacket, get on the mat and get them wriggling free again. They'll be ever so grateful - and in the long run so will you.