Our feet carry more weight than we realize. Not only do they bear the force of up to seven times our body weight depending on the activity, but they can also signal that something’s wrong in the body. We’ve pulled together a list of our five favorite yoga poses that will not only help keep the aches away but will also help you observe your feet more often for any signs of illness.
A study published in The Physics Fact Book found that the force placed on our feet is anywhere between four and seven times our body weight while running. For a 150-pound runner, that can be up to 525 pounds of force on each foot with each step. If you wear unsupportive flip-flops to the mall or go out clubbing on Friday night in sky-high heels, you’re adding to your feet’s stress.
Reflexologists use the feet to tune into the functions of the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, where reflexology comes from, the feet are divided into zones of the body. These zones, or meridians, correspond to various organs: the spleen, liver, stomach, kidney, bladder and gallbladder. It’s believed that soreness or problems in a particular region indicate an imbalance in the corresponding location in the body. So, if you have chronically sore feet, wear supportive shoes and have sworn off high heels, you might have a larger problem.
Connection between feet and heart health
One of the most important indicators of a healthy heart can be found in your feet. If you have excessive foot pain, it could be a signal of peripheral artery disease (PAD), which is caused by the accumulation of plaque and cholesterol in the arteries that lead to the arms and legs. Your healthcare provider can help rule this out by a simple pulse test in your feet, but it’s definitely something to bring up at your next appointment if you’re concerned about heart disease.
Although PAD indicates a higher risk for heart disease, don’t panic just yet if you’ve just come in for a run and your feet hurt. Chances are, it’s your shoes and not your heart causing the problem. If it persists, though, it could be a sign that something else is wrong.
Another sign that you might have PAD is if the little hairs on your toes suddenly disappear. Purplish toes and thin or shiny skin may also be cause for concern, so pay attention to your feet.
Other conditions foot problems may be signaling
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) isn’t the only health condition that may send warning signals to your feet. Below are a few things to look out for:
- Excessively dry feet could indicate a thyroid problem. If you notice that moisturizer doesn’t help fix your dry, cracked feet, you might want to get your thyroid levels checked.
- Ulcers that won’t heal might be a sign of diabetes. The disease causes poor circulation, and blood flow to your feet might be restricted, inhibiting healing.
- An enlarged, painful big toe is a sign of gout, a type of arthritis caused by too much uric acid. Overeating or indulging in foods high in purine — red meat, alcohol, fish — can raise the levels of uric acid and trigger an attack of gout. If this happens, it’s a good idea to cut back on those rich foods.
- Tiny red lines under your toenails might indicate an infection in your heart. These little lines can also show up under your fingernails and are known as splinter hemorrhages. They happen when tiny blood clots damage the capillaries under your nails. If you have a pacemaker or a chronically suppressed immune system, let your doctor know about these lines ASAP.
- A straight line under your nail might be hidden melanoma, a type of skin cancer that forms on obscure parts of the body.
Yoga poses for your feet
The heel bone is not only the largest bone in the human foot, but it also absorbs the largest amount of shock and weight. Too much pressure on the bone can lead to heel spurs or plantar fasciitis. While some doctors prescribe special splints to help relieve the pressure, others recommend over-the-counter pain medication or steroid shots, both of which have their risks and side effects. To avoid these more drastic measures, use the following yoga poses to stretch and strengthen your feet, ankles and legs.
1. Down dog foot pedal
This easy pose begins in Down Dog, a fundamental yoga pose. Begin on all fours, tuck your toes and lift your hips high to reach your sitz bones toward the ceiling. Drop your head and keep your neck long. “Pedal” your feet one at a time by lifting the heel and bending the knee of one leg and then switching to the other side. Breathe as you move slowly through the pedaling to give your Achilles tendons a good stretch. Repeat ten times on each side.
2. Bound angle pose with foot massage
Who doesn’t love a foot massage? Start this pose while seated. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together 12 to 24 inches in front of you to form the shape of a butterfly. Hold your ankles gently with your hands and bend forward as you exhale. Drop your head, relax and gently massage the bottoms of your feet.
3. Runner’s stretch
Come into a low lunge on your mat with one foot forward. Keep your back toes tucked under and drop your back knee to the mat. Shift your hips back toward your back heel and flex your front foot. Gently lean forward and hinge your torso over your front knee and breathe here for five to ten breaths.
4. Reclining hand-to-big-toe pose with a strap
If you have a yoga strap, this pose is sure to become one of your favorite restorative poses. Lie on your back with your legs extended. You can support your neck with a folded blanket for more support if you’d like. Exhale and bend one knee, drawing it toward your chest. Hug the thigh to your belly and press your other leg against the mat. Open your back up a bit at the shoulder blades and take a breath here. Use this time to place a strap in the arch of your foot, where a stirrup would rest if you were riding a horse. Extend your elevated leg through the back of the heel until the entire leg is fully extended and perpendicular to the floor. Use the strap to help stabilize the pose as you flex your foot or, if you like, gently move your leg toward your outer hip to give your hamstrings a good stretch.
5. Legs up the wall
If you can only do one yoga pose a day, practice legs up the wall. That’s according to scores of yoga instructors who absolutely love the pose for its relaxation and anti-inflammatory benefits. Sit sideways next to the wall and roll down to the ground to lay on one side. Make sure your rear is touching the wall. Lift your legs up the wall as you roll over onto your back and let your arms rest on the ground beside you. Stay in this pose for as long as you’d like.
No matter how you choose to care for your feet, these poses should be part of your daily self-care routine. They’ll keep you in tune with your feet and therefore, your overall health.
Do you have a favorite foot yoga pose?
— Megan Winkler