Happy Feet

In my last post, I discussed the various ways we abuse our feet with ill-fitting shoes. This time, I want to share my favorite way to improve the health of your feet, even if you insist on stuffing them into pointy high heels. But don’t do that, k?

In every class I teach, we take 3-5 minutes nearly every week to enjoy a foot massage, with help from a tennis ball. A few of my students prefer a deep-tissue massage, if you will, and they use a smaller ball made of hard rubber or even a golf ball.

The purpose of the foot massage is to manipulate the structures and tissues of the foot in various ways that might mimic, at least in part, the myriad ways the foot is naturally designed to move. Our feet are fascinating wonders of architecture. Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. There are also 3 distinct arches: the inner one we all know about; one on the outer (pinky) edge; and the transverse arch that runs across the ball of your foot. (Check them out: I’ll wait. But leave your shoes off.) The feet also provide a great deal of proprioception, which basically means they tell our brains where our body parts are in space and relative to each other. This is kind of important.

So why do we need to manipulate our tootsies with a tennis ball? In a word: shoes. Even shoes that fit well tend to restrict the movement of our feet somewhat, and most shoes provide so much support and protection—both arguably necessary in our modern environments—that the feet become weak and tight. Think about your typical day: even if you walk a lot (yay, you!), it is likely done on flat, level ground while wearing shoes. Some of my favorite yoga teachers have described shoes as “sensory deprivation chambers for our feet” and feet themselves as “off-road vehicles that are never taken off the road”.

So, grab a tennis ball and let’s get started.

  • Start by rolling the ball under your foot in all directions, applying as much pressure as your foot will tolerate. Pay attention to any areas that feel tight or painful. This can be done seated, but standing is best, so you can use your body weight to apply and adjust pressure. This step is about getting familiar with the “landscape” of your foot.
  • Next, position the ball under the “ball” of your foot, leaving your heel firmly on the ground. Bend that knee and press down onto the tennis ball as if you’re pressing on the gas pedal of a car. Then curl your toes around the ball and rock the forefoot slowly from side to side (heel still rooted; pressure still on). See how close you can get the big toe and the pinky toe to the ground on each side to provide maximum ankle movement. You’ll know you’re doing it right if the ball occasionally squirts out from under your foot and flies across the floor. Retrieve and begin again.


  • Finally, position the ball under the foot just in front of the heel (not under the heel). Then step on the ball as if you’re trying to pop it. Shift as much of your body weight onto the ball as your foot will tolerate and hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.


  • Pause before repeating on the other foot. Stand with your weight evenly distributed between both feet, close your eyes and notice how the massaged foot may feel different from its neighbor. Then repeat with the other foot, of course!

Categories: Uncategorized