How to Improve Your Posture Through Your Feet

Written by Amy Lynch
Woman walking barefoot on the beach

Image by Samantha / Reshot

A house if built on a solid, well planned foundation, will create a great base for the rest of the structure, and so goes the same with our bodies.

If you have sacral joint pain, stiffness in the lower back and, or, upper back, yes those ailments can be due to stiff muscles and tension, but did you ever think to look down to see if your problem starts beyond the site of the pain? A large number of people may not have pain in their feet, but that could be the source of their problems further up the body. Many studies over the years, including those in the Orthopedic Physical Assessment, state that 80 percent of people have foot problems, whether they feel any effects or not from it, and 80 percent also experience lower back pain at some point in their life. Many chiropractors and experts believe those identical stats, are no coincidence. Proper foot alignment can cause an array of problems including, back pain, sciatica, sacral joint pain, sway back, hip joint pain, posture problems, tightness in the joints and muscles from the legs to the back, disc bulges, knee pain, osteoarthritis, pelvic imbalance, piriformis syndrome and even headaches. And that is not including problems that can occur with the actual feet themselves. How our feet work? In yoga, our feet are very important, like in life, they are the base for many of our poses, specifically standing poses; connecting us to the earth. They have 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. It is divided into three parts, the hind foot, the ankle bone and heel bone; the mid foot, a group of 5 irregular bones in the arch of the foot; and the forefoot, the metatarsals and toes. Our feet move in many ways:

  • Plantar flexion of the ankle, which occurs when you stand on your tiptoes. If you're sitting with your legs out in front of you, plantar flexion of the ankle happens when you point your toes.
  • Dorsiflexion, which occurs when you stand on your heels with the balls of the feet lifted off the floor. If you're sitting, dorsiflexion happens when you push your heels away from you and pull your toes toward you, for example in plank pose.
  • Supination, which takes place when you stand with your weight rolled onto the outer edges of your feet, lifting the arches and the base of the big toe. Non-weight-bearing supination happens when you sit with your legs out in front of you and turn the soles of the feet so they start to face each other, like in wide-angle pose.
  • Pronation, which occurs when you lift the outer edges of your feet as you stand, collapsing your arches. In sitting postures, pronation occurs when you press out through your inner heels and the bases of your big toes.

Correct distribution of weight in our feet will not only give your body optimal postural alignment, but also a great foundation in your yoga practice that not only translates to great standing postures, but other poses where your feet are engaged. But let’s take a moment to look at what can happen with uneven distribution as you walk. According to a 2009 study done by the American Podiatric Medical Association, the average person walks 8,000 to 10,000 steps in one day. That’s a lot of movement on bones, muscles and joints, and especially hard on your body and spine when there is not proper coordination in the body. It has been estimated by a group of chiropractors that about 77 percent of their patients surveyed have mild to moderate over pronation. Because your feet hyperpronate — arches collapse and ankles roll in- they do not properly support your body. Like a house on a bad foundation, your whole body is impacted. Your knees rotate inward, your back sways, making your stomach and buttocks stick out, your shoulders roll forward and your head is forward of your shoulders — the perfect definition of bad posture. You are off balance and it shows, find a candid side view picture of yourself and see if you notice any of these things. You are stressing your body, and over time you are causing physical damage to your muscles, ligaments and joints. So what can you do?

1. Be aware: Take a while to study how you stand, or have your doctor on your next visit look at your legs and their alignment. A yoga therapist, chiropractor or yoga teacher with an extensive background in anatomy and physiology can do this for you as well.

2. Make adjustments: Your body may just need a change in how you walk. For example, if you notice you walk more toward your instep, adjust how you walk on your own. Find that correct distribution of weight and movement in your feet.

3. Build muscle strength and relaxation: If you have fallen arches, those muscles might be weak, work on them with yoga poses specifically targeting those muscles in the lower legs. In turn, some muscles may be too strong, pulling your leg and or pelvis in a certain direction. Work on relaxing those in addition to building strength in your weaker sections.

4. Use traction exercises: Traction, when done manually with a strap or belt, can be a great way to gently work your problem areas back to their most favorable shape, strength or position.

5. Walk barefoot: Our bodies were not designed for modern society. Our feet were made to walk just as they are. Putting them in heels or tennis shoes brings the foot into an un natural shape, no matter how much they are advertised to be good for walking, running or any other activity.

6. Try not to rely on insoles: Many podiatrists and doctors will have customized insoles for shoes made for patients. Although they do make you feel better when you wear your shoes, they usually only mask the problem instead of completely fixing it.

7. Be kind: Treat your feet with kindness. They take you everywhere you need to go and also get you flowing through most of your asana practice. Remember to massage your feet to release tension. Using a hard rubber ball under the soles and moving the foot back and forth works wonders for those tired dogs.

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