Yoga for feet, toes and ankles: give your neglected lower limbs some love

You probably don’t pay enough attention to your feet. We’re all guilty of it–even those of us that fit mobility and strength work into our training routine tend to focus on quads and hamstrings, the larger leg muscles. As a runner, your feet probably take a fair bit of abuse, and the smaller muscles there deserve some care and attention.

Not only will your feet feel amazing after these stretches, they’ll also be better equipped to handle the uneven terrain you run over in winter or on trails, providing stability to the rest of your body. Keeping your feet mobile and flexible can be a game changer–healthy, strong feet lead to more efficient, pain-free running.

Legs and feet up a wall
Photo: Unsplash/lucrezia carnelos

Easy ways to target feet and ankles

Try these simple stretches when you’re watching TV, or while sitting at your desk. Get started by rolling your ankles in gentle circles. From a seated position, try lacing your fingers through your toes to clasp your foot, and gently guiding it in circles.

Scrunch your toes up tightly and release, repeating a few times. Finally, place your feet flat on the ground and (without using your hands) stretch your toes out as widely as possible, gripping the ground with them (think of a lizard). Hold for a few seconds, release, and repeat.

Toe squat

Foot yoga toe squat
Photo: Ann Pidcock Yoga

Sitting in a toe squat can be challenging, and you’ll notice immediately if your feet are tight. While you can stay in this pose for several minutes to really give your feet and toes a release, it’s OK to start small at first and release when you need to.

Kneel on the floor with your toes tucked under and heels up. Aim to be on the balls of the feet, not the tippy toes. Reach down and tuck the little toes under if they’re escaping.

Slowly shift your hips back so your butt rests on your heels and you feel a deep stretch. Hold for 30 seconds to two minutes. Focusing on keeping a nice, steady breath can be helpful to make the time pass and lessen the intensity.

To release, shift forward, place your hands on the ground and untuck your toes. If it feels good, tap your feet on the ground as a release.

Modifications

If the feeling in your feet becomes too much, shift forward onto your knees to take the weight off your feet at any point, coming back to the pose when you’re ready. Intensity is fine here (and expected) but if the posture is actually painful, come out.  If having your knees on the ground is uncomfortable, place a folded blanket under them to add more cushioning.

To deepen the stretch, shift your hips further back.

Ankle stretch (also targets the feet)

Yoga ankle stretch
Photo: Jennifer Raye yoga

This pose follows the deep foot stretch perfectly, and you can move right into it, or take a break and come back.

Return to a kneeling position with feet flat on the ground, toes untucked. Bring fingertips to the floor next to your hips or place them on blocks (stacks of books work just fine).

Sit back onto your heels and shift your weight back as you lift your knees off the floor. You’ll start to feel a stretch around your ankles and the tops of your feet.

Modifications

If your feet feel uncomfortable on your mat or the ground, try adding a folded blanket there for cushioning.

To take the stretch deeper, place your hands on your knees and gently pull them toward you.

Tennis ball massage for feet

Try this short, guided tennis ball massage for your feet to help release every inch.