Leslie's mention at e-sutra of a New York Times article about running shoes and feet has got us talking about yoga and feet. Feet are a big deal in yoga - being the foundation of all the standing poses.
The first yoga workshop I ever did was with Gioia Irwin, who is a student of Dona Holleman. Dona has described what your feet should be like in yoga as "pada bandha". It is almost like your feet are like suction cups. There are three arches in your foot - the large inner arch, a smaller arch on the outside of your foot, and the transverse arch which goes from the ball of the foot over to the pinky side. Anchor your heel and then lengthen your foot, spread your your toes wide and then place the ball of the foot down followed by the toes. If any of the toes are curled in or lying on their sides, straighten them (manually) so all the toenails are looking up. Now try to engage the three arches of the feet. Look at your feet as you do this - are the toes bending at their knuckles? - you don't want that. Are the tendons that go from each toe to the foot bulging up? - you don't want that. Work to engage the pada bandha without straining in the toes. Harder than it sounds. But is is amazing work - Gioia brought before and after pictures of her own feet after working this foe a couple years. They were impressive. Good feet go a long way to good alignment in all the standing poses.
Other good things to do with feet - sit in badha konasana and interlace your toes. Then interlace them the opposite way. Sit in lotus prep pose with one foot resting just beyond the opposite knee, then interlace fingers of one hand with toes and rotate the foot both directions and also move it up and down, pull it towards the body and push it away from the body. In Uttanasana, try to lift each toe independantly - use your hands to hold the other toes down when necessary.
Jill remembers that a big "aha!" moment for her was when she realized that supination and pronation are not limited to walking: "I supinate (and have bunions - the two are often linked), and I had horrible ankle pain in poses like triangle, because I would roll out on the back foot. Planting the inside edge of the foot and drawing up on the arch and outside of the ankle did wonders for me."
And don't forget the power of massage. There are lots of balls out there designed to roll your feet around on like these nubby ones, or some people just use a plain old tennis ball. Aadil Palkhivala uses small diameter (less than 1 inch) wooden balls at his studio that can really pinpoint a specific area on the foot. Also, a good number of yogalilans rave about Yogatoes and have gotten relief from various foot issues by using them.
Apparently, in less shoe obsessed societies the feet are amazingly sensitive and versatile, but we constant shoe-wearers need to work to bring life back into our neglected, misshapen feet.
More about feet from two of my favourite teachers: