Running is hard on the feet. The repetitive pounding can lead to injuries and soreness that put a damper on your training. I happen to know this first hand. Two years ago I was sidelined from training by a stress fracture in my foot. My doctor prescribed six weeks in a walking boot, zero running, and a new, more supportive pair of running shoes. I listened to her advice but, once healed, I also added a prescription of my own: yoga. Specifically, yoga that would strengthen and stretch my feet.
These exercises are simple and won’t take up more than a few minutes of your time. It’s easy to add them on at the end of your workout and they feel oh-so-good. I’ve kept them up since my injury and so far, they’ve worked.
During my yoga teacher training, we were given a simple exercise to do throughout our first week. Wherever we went we were to pay close attention to how we were standing. Were we favoring one leg, cocking out a hip, leaning against walls for support even if we didn’t need it? Every time we became conscious of our stance, we were to correct it by standing strongly and tall, grounding down equally through the four corners of each foot and balancing our weight evenly. This sounds much simpler than it is.
For the next few days, pay attention to your tendencies. Notice where your weight naturally shifts, what foot you’re favoring, and what part of your feet you most often drop into, then work to bring yourself back into balance. Knowing where you habitually drop your weight will highlight your habits and which parts of your feet may be stronger than others.
Yogi toe stretch
This pose will stretch and lengthen the bottoms of the feet, an area most of us pay little attention to.
To begin, come to your hands and knees. Curl your toes under, then begin to sit directly on your heels or place a rolled blanket or yoga block on top of your heels. Slowly sit back. Move gently as you drop just a little weight back at a time. Once you’ve reached your edge, place your hands in your lap and stay on your heels for 30 seconds, then release. Be sure to breath deeply and fully. Work toward eventually holding this stretch for 1-2 minutes.
This pose works deeply into the fronts of the feet, knees, and thighs. It can be an intense pose and one you should work into gently.
Come to a kneeling position. Keep your toes untucked behind you. Place a block or folded blanket beneath you and sit down on top of it. This can be a deep first step and may be as far as you go to start. If you feel you can go a little further, begin to walk your hands behind you. Again, stop to access whether you should continue on. If there is any pain in the knees come out of the pose a little. To keep going, lower from your hands to your forearms behind you.
If you aren’t feeling much, remove the block and sit directly between your heels. Move your hands behind you, then come to your forearms. Next lower your back, shoulders and head to the mat and take your hands to your stomach or overhead. This finally pose can be incredibly intense. I strongly suggest working through the first steps before rushing into the final pose. Breathe deeply and fully. Stay here for a minute. To come out, prop yourself back up on your forearms, and then hands, avoid twisting out of this pose.
Your feet are workhorses, especially for runners. So bring some awareness to these often forgotten areas of the body and show them a little love. Use these moves to counterbalance the effects of your training with little time or investment. Your feet will thank you.
Photos and article by Lisa Horvath.
Related: WalkJogRun guide to Yoga for Runners