Strengthen This Body Part for a Stronger Practice

How often do you think about your feet?

If you’re young, worrying about your feet may never have even occurred to you. But as you age, having healthy feet is paramount: Pain-free, strong, and flexible feet mean you’re more likely to have good balance and avoid falls. Your genetics might play a role in what you can expect from your feet. The height of your arches and foot problems like bunions are genetic. Talk to your parents about their feet so you know what you may have inherited.

Foot issues are pretty common: Researchers estimate that nearly a third of aging Americans suffer from painful and unsteady feet. With time and age, your feet get wider and flatter and the fat padding on your feet thins out, making your feet more injury-prone. But here’s the good news: You can begin to strengthen your feet now, and your yoga practice is already helping. Many of the poses you do in most every class have therapeutic benefits for your feet—and there are a few moves you can add to your yoga practice that will benefit your foot health even more.

The Best Poses for Strong and Flexible Feet

If your heels don’t touch the ground in Downward Facing Dog, you’re getting a fantastic bottom-of-the-foot stretch every time you practice this pose. If they do, you get the same stretch in Anjayasana (High Lunge Pose) on your back foot. Not only should this stretch feel good and create flexibility, it can relieve the tension that causes plantar fasciitis, a common, painful foot ailment.

Any time you balance in Tree, Eagle, Warrior III, Dancer, or any variation, you’re building foot strength. If you’re fantastic at balance, try making it more challenging by practicing your balance poses on a doubled (or tripled) mat, so the ground is softer and more unstable. The more your foot has to work (that gentle burning sensation is a good sign!), the more you’re increasing its ability to hold you up safely over time.

Any pose that strengthens your glutes, like Chair Pose, Bridge Pose, or lunge poses helps your feet! There’s a clear relationship between strong hips and foot health, and making sure the largest muscle (gluteus maximus) in your body is firing and strong will help you feel lighter on your feet.

Add These to Your Practice: Stretches for Healthy, Happy Feet

Add movement to your supine poses.
Any time you’re on your back in a supine pose—like Happy Baby, Shoulder Stand, or Reclining Hand-to-Toe Posetake a few moments to draw circles with your ankles, clench and release your toes a few times, and point and flex your feet. Our feet lose flexibility as we age, so keeping things mobile is important.

Add heel raises to Mountain Pose or lift your front heel a few times in lunge poses.
The next time you arrive in Mountain Pose, try inhaling to lift your heels and exhaling to lower them. Repeat this five to 10 times and try to stay balanced and steady the whole time. You can also add this to your lunge poses. Not only does lifting your heels stretch your feet, it also strengthens your ankles and calves. Because the muscles in our calves are stabilizing muscles, if they’re weak, the smaller muscles of our feet will have to work harder to create stability.

Add toe lifts in Mountain Pose to keep your toes flexible.
As we age, our toes tend to scrunch up. Encourage mobility and length with this simple exercise. In Mountain Pose, lift all of your toes up and then try to place each toe back on the mat one at a time. This might be surprisingly challenging!

Give yourself a quick foot massage in Easy Pose or Half-Lotus Pose.
Take five minutes at the beginning of your practice to apply pressure to your arches, kneed your heels, and weave your fingers through your toes. Your feet take a lot of pressure; give them some self-care. You might be surprised to find that waking up your feet before you move also makes you feel more steady in challenging poses.

20160219 img 8183

Alexandra DeSiato thinks of yoga as a tool for pregnancy, aging, and injury. Her most common in-class cue is "just squirm around on your mat," which follows from her belief that the best yoga practice is the one that comes from deep self-listening. You can find tips and sequences—and a fresh approach to yoga for healthy aging—at Life...READ MORE