Few poses strike as much terror into people as toe stretching.
A few years ago I attended an Anatomy Trains course with Tom Myers, one of the leading experts on anatomy; posture and fascia in particular. Part of the course involved body reading – each of us in turn would have to stand up while the other course participants pointed out our flaws. When it got to my turn, I was horrified to hear criticism of my feet – I was rolling on them, my inner arch was flattening and I was losing posture above as a result.
Since then I have become somewhat obsessed with the strength, flexibility and position of my feet. If you do my classes, you might have heard me talk about raising the inner arch and the dynamics of the feet. A lot of postural problems start with the feet. Your feet form the foundation of your body and are intimately linked to the shape of your spine. If your feet are improperly aligned, the rest of the body can be affected. From over-pronation or injury to flat feet, issues with your feet will ultimately impact the joints above them, particularly the knees.
A really easy place to start with the feet involves toe stretching. Toe Sit from Yin Yoga is, at first glance, very simple. However, it is one of the most intense Yin postures, and takes time & patience to enjoy & truly reap the benefits.
It lengthens the plantar fascia, on the soles of the feet. This is the beginning of the superficial back line of fascia, one continuous sheet of connective tissue that runs along the soles of the feet, back of the legs, back of the torso, back of the neck, up over the top of the head, to just above the eyebrows. By releasing the fascia on the soles of your feet, you’re starting to create space and length through the whole back line of fascia. This pose also gives our often-neglected ankles and feet a good stretch. It stimulates all six lower-body meridians – the bladder, kidney, stomach, spleen, gall bladder and liver – which all begin or end in the toes.
How to do it
Start on all fours. Bring your knees & feet together and tuck the toes under.
Slowly walk your hands back towards your knees and take your hips towards your heels. Once your buttocks are resting on your heels, ensure all 10 toes are tucked under – you might need to use your fingers to tuck your little toes under. Try to centre your weight on the balls of your feet, not on your tip-toes.
If this feels intense straightaway, back off by placing a double-folded blanket or a bolster under your knees. This will take some of the pressure off your toes and make the posture if not enjoyable, hopefully manageable!
Rest one hand on top of the other in your lap, and resist the urge to fidget. Relax. Breathe. Soften into the sensations. Notice where you begin to hold tension – let your shoulders melt; allow your jaw to relax. Let your fingers be soft and still.
If you’re new to toe stretching, aim to stay for a minute. Over time, work your way up to three minutes.
Release slowly and tenderly from this intense stretch – take your hands to the floor; slowly walk them forward and un-tuck your toes. Sit back down on your heels.
Take care if you suffer from knee or ankle injuries; or lack of mobility in the feet (for example, due to arthritis). Place a bolster under the knees to decrease the intensity, or avoid the pose entirely. Always remember that discomfort is okay but pain is not.