Relieve Your Feet: Yoga Practices for Plantar Fasciitis

Editor’s note: The below are intended to be general recommendations for yoga practitioners and teachers. They are not a replacement for the personal advice of a health professional. Yoga teachers should remain within their scope of practice: This means not attempting to diagnose, treat, or offer medical advice to students.

It’s not an uncommon progression of events: One day, you notice pressure or soreness in the heel of your foot. You might find that the discomfort is worse in the morning but that it wanes throughout the day, especially with a little massage, ice, or over-the-counter pain medication. You don’t think too much of it until days or weeks pass and you realize that the intermittent irritation has become an all-day, everyday affair of sharp, stabbing pain. What’s a poor “sole” to do?

Plantar fasciitis, characterized by the unpleasant symptoms just mentioned, is one of the leading causes of foot pain. It occurs when the plantar fascia, thick connective tissue that runs from the heel bone (calcaneus) to the bones at the base of each toe, becomes injured from repetitive strain or excessive load-bearing.

Common Causes and Correlations

The condition is especially common in runners (more so in those who tend to strike with their heel first when striding), in people who stand for long periods of time (because of the constant weight on their feet), and in people with ultra-high or fallen arches (as the plantar fascia plays a key role in supporting the arch of the foot).

People with tight calf and ankle muscles—common in athletes whose sports require running, sprinting, or quick footwork, as well as in high-heel wearers—are also more vulnerable to plantar fasciitis. Shortened muscles in the calf and ankle pull on the heel bone, stretching the plantar fascia, which then tends to remain lengthened, thereby decreasing the amount of load the fascia can comfortably support, making inflammation or micro-tears more likely.

Plantar fasciitis can also stem from imbalances in the hip and gluteus muscles, skeletal misalignments in the pelvis, and weak trunk muscles, which may be a result of injuries or repetitive activities that encourage lopsided actions, such as habitually carrying a child on one hip or shifting more of your weight into one buttock while driving.

Also, during pregnancy and after childbirth, people experience laxity in their ligaments, contributing to the spreading and tilting of the pelvic bones as their body houses and delivers the baby; as bones shift back into place, they may not neatly find their original alignment. Overall, women, more than twice as often as men, report plantar fasciitis. Finally, thanks to the excessive sitting prevalent today, many people have the trifecta of weak glutes and tight hip flexors and hamstrings.

In all of these instances the pelvis may tilt or rotate out of a neutral position. Then, the hips, glutes, low back, and leg muscles attempt to balance any misalignments rather than focus fully on keeping you upright and propelling you forward as you walk, which is what they’re supposed to do. These tasks then tend to get passed off to the muscles and fascia of the calves and feet, which aren’t designed to handle such loads.

In yoga, you may notice your toes digging into the floor or your calves working overtime in balancing postures if your hip, glute, and core muscles are simply not doing their jobs properly. Over time, this can result in calf tightness, foot pronation, and stress on the plantar fascia.

If you experience repetitive bouts of plantar fasciitis, it may be worth consulting a physical therapist or other movement specialist to assess whether imbalances in your pelvis, hips, or glutes are contributing factors.

Finally, all of our connective tissues, including the plantar fascia, lose elasticity as we age. Tight connective tissues are more susceptible to injury, especially if they’re playing a role in supporting our entire upright body!

Yoga and Self-Massage Practices That Can Help

Whether you want to take preventive measures or are currently trying to manage plantar fasciitis, the exercises below can help to strengthen and support your plantar fascia tissue, and may alleviate mild symptoms of plantar fasciitis. As always, check with your healthcare provider first, especially if you think you have plantar fasciitis. Medical conditions such as heel bone spurs or inflammation to the tendon just beneath the plantar fascia can mimic the symptoms of plantar fasciitis, so an accurate diagnosis is necessary to adequately manage your discomfort.

Props: block, tennis ball or massage ball, chair, wall

1. For Your Feet

This exercise can be done whenever you’re just hanging out barefoot: washing dishes, watching TV, brushing your teeth.

Come to standing barefoot in the way that feels most natural to you. Take a look at your feet. What do you notice? For example, do the inner edges of your feet and ankles roll inward (known as pronation) or do you feel more weight on the outer edges of your feet (known as supination)?

Notice the general area of each heel, then the ball of each foot. Do you feel more weight in your heels or in the balls of your feet?

Some of these tendencies, like allowing the inner edges of your feet and ankles to roll inward (pronation), can place a great deal of stress on the plantar fascia by overstretching it. Comparatively, if your feet do not roll inward enough (called excess supination, and common in those with very high arches or tight Achilles tendons), your plantar fascia might remain in a state of contraction. If your feet are in either of these positions often, it leaves the plantar fascia vulnerable to tears or overall loss of strength.

Tadasana (mountain pose) is a simple yet excellent pose for bringing your attention to your feet, especially to the actions of your arches. From standing, align the inner edges of your feet so they’re parallel and approximately hip-width apart. Engage your outer shins and calves, and firm your inner thighs, allowing them to internally rotate, without hyperextending your knees. (If you tend to hyperextend, slightly bend your knees.) Lengthen through the sides of your body as you reach up through the crown of your head. Finally, find your neutral pelvis by checking that your hip points are directed forward and that you are neither thrusting your hips forward or back.

Now, make sure that your shins are parallel to each other as you press down firmly through the outer edges of both feet and big toe mounds, and see if you can focus on maintaining even weight distribution between these two areas. You should feel a slight lift in your arches. As you find yourself standing throughout the day, try to bring this level of awareness and engagement to your feet, especially if you tend to pronate or supinate.

Next, keeping your arches lifted, see if you can scrunch the toes of your right foot and contract your right arch, almost as if you were trying to pick something up with your toes. Hold for a breath or two.

Then relax your toes and lift them away from the floor, while still keeping your outer right heel and right big toe mound firmly rooted into the floor. Notice how far you can lift your toes. See if you can spread them.

Then see if you can place just your pinkie toe down, then your fourth toe, and so on, until just your big toe is lifted. This won’t necessarily be the easiest thing to do; however, it should give you some insight into your big toe mobility! As each subsequent toe lowers, notice if the space between your big toe and the floor decreased, stayed the same, or increased compared with when all five toes were lifted.

Repeat these exercises on the left side.

2. For Your Ankles

Alternatively (or in addition to the above!), you can practice a similar foot and ankle exercise while sitting in a chair. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, and squeeze your toes and arch with your hands for a breath or two. Then spread your toes, and use your right hand to draw your big toe back toward the top of your foot as you try to point the other four toes down toward the sole. Hold for approximately 30 to 45 seconds.

Release, and then interlace the fingers of your left hand with your toes, placing the palm of your hand against the sole of your foot. Press the heel of your left hand firmly against the sole of your right foot. Holding your right heel firmly in your right hand, gently pull the toes into a “point” with your left hand and then push them back toward your ankle. Feel free to do this a few times to get a feel for the action (and it just might feel good for your foot!)

Now, release the toes and let them relax (maybe wiggle them or move your feet around to release any tension you feel). Then, hold on to the same foot in any way that feels comfortable to you and slowly move the ankle in clockwise and counterclockwise circles, stopping anywhere the stretch feels good. Switch feet.

3. For Your Calves

The two major muscles of the calf, the gastrocnemius and soleus, and the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the calcaneus (heel bone), can pull on the plantar fascia if they are inflexible. For these next exercises, have a tennis or massage ball and a yoga block available.

Start in a seated position on the floor with both legs extended and your palms or fingertips pressing into the floor behind you for support (you can point your fingers in any direction that feels comfortable to you). Bend your left knee and place your left foot flat on the floor. Place the ball under your right calf, about halfway between your heel and your knee. Move your right leg forward and back, rolling your entire calf over the ball, and notice any trigger points (sore, tense spots that develop within muscle where fibers of connective tissue are in spasm or are “caught” against one another).

Applying firm, concentrated pressure to these areas may help relax the trigger points and allow the affected muscle to relax and lengthen, so once you find a trigger point, allow your leg to rest there for about 30 seconds as you take steady, even breaths.

For more intensity, you can cross your left calf over your right shin, so the right calf sinks more heavily into the ball. The pressure against the ball should be firm, but not to the extent that it makes you catch your breath or wince in pain. Find one or two more trigger points and repeat. Then switch legs.

Next, place your block lengthwise against a wall on its lowest setting. Standing arm’s distance from the wall and facing it, lift your arms straight out in front of you to shoulder height and place your hands on the wall, keeping them shoulder width apart. Step your right foot onto the block so that the edge meets the middle of your arch. Step your left foot back about a foot or two, keeping the toes pointing forward. Press into your hands, bending your elbows to bring your body closer to the wall, as you drop your right heel toward the floor until you feel a comfortable stretch (your left heel may lift off the floor, and this may deepen the sensation in your right calf as your weight shifts forward). Hold this stretch for seven to 10 breaths.

Next, move the ball of your right foot to the top left corner of the block and allow your right heel to drop toward the floor again (your foot will be at an angle against the block). The gastrocnemius is split in two parts, with half on the medial and half on the lateral side of the calf, and this action targets the medial half. Hold here for seven to 10 breaths.

Return your foot to the center of the block. Then, direct the ball of your right foot to the top right corner of the block and allow your right heel to drop toward the floor again (targeting the lateral half of the gastrocnemius now). Hold here for seven to 10 breaths.

Finally, return your foot to center again. Bend your right knee, and allow the heel to again drop toward the floor. This moves the stretch away from the gastrocnemius and into the deeper soleus muscle. Hold for seven to 10 breaths and then switch sides.

4. For Your Hips, Glutes, and Core

Slow, controlled hip circles allow you to engage your trunk muscles while simultaneously activating your gluteus maximus and medius. This short sequence also adds a hip flexor stretch into the mix.

Start on hands and knees, engaging your core (a). Press firmly into your hands, and, keeping your right knee bent and right foot flexed, lift your right leg until the bottom of the foot is parallel to the ceiling (b). Keep your abdominals drawn in and spine long (avoid collapsing in the low back), and contract your right glute as if you were trying to stamp your foot on the ceiling. Hug your right thigh into the midline: You should feel a contraction where the top of your hamstrings and right glute meet. Hold here for three full breaths.

Keeping your thigh at hip height, take your right knee out and away from your midline, aiming to bring your inner right thigh parallel to the floor (c). Hold for three breaths.

Then bring your right knee back to center, keeping it lifted. Engaging your abdominals, and allowing your back to round, bring your right knee toward the inside of your right elbow (d). Hold for three full breaths.

Finally, place your right foot on the floor inside your right hand, coming into a “90/90” lunge. Bring your torso to vertical, and try to maintain a 90-degree bend in your back knee, rather than extending it. Your hands can dangle by your sides or rest on your right thigh (e). Lift through the crown of your head to create length in your spine and roll the tops of your shoulders up and back to open your chest. Engage your low belly and begin to tilt your pelvis posteriorly (think of trying to point your tailbone toward the floor, or even slightly forward) until you feel a stretch in the front of your left hip. If you’re struggling to feel sensation here, try sliding your left knee back while maintaining the posterior tilt.

Hold here for five breaths, then return to tabletop and complete this mini-flow on the left side.

Make sure your movements remain slow and controlled throughout the exercise. Complete five rounds of the flow on each side for 10 total reps. When you are done, lie down in savasana and extend your arms overhead. Reach through your arms and legs for a full-body stretch and then relax and release, bringing your arms back alongside you.

A final note . . .

As with all exercises, consistency is key. If you’re vulnerable to plantar fasciitis, try incorporating these antidotes into your routine from one to three times a day. Otherwise, feel free to experiment and see if they support your overall foot, leg, and postural health!

About the author:

 Nishita Morris is a health, wellness, and outdoor enthusiast! She completed her graduate (Master of Public Health) and undergraduate (Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion and Behavior; Bachelor of Science in Psychology) education at the University of Georgia. She is also a Certified Health Education Specialist. Her interests include workplace health, the mind-body connection, stress management, and nutrition. In her free time, Nishita enjoys reading, writing, comedy, and doing just about anything outdoors.

Photography: Andrea Killam

My Dragonfly Yoga Retreat Weekend

“Living Outside My Comfort Zone”

What does ” living outside your comfort zone” mean?  As humans we create patterns in our lives, like grooves in the sand.  We habitually use these grooves over and over again because it creates ease. Then one day, you go outside the grooves, and it feels uncomfortable because you have to find new ways to manage the experience. However, it is those new ways which help us grow, and enjoy life more fully. They weave a tapestry of colors and layers that enrich our life, even though it can be uncomfortable.
This past weekend I stepped outside my comfort zone. I traveled to a place I had never been, to spend three days/two nights with people I had never met. A few times I was struck with fleeting pangs of anxiety “this could be really good or not”.  I had to work at letting those thoughts go, and to trust in the process of life. Fortunately, Dragonfly Yoga Barn & Retreats was a divine place, surrounded by the majestic White Mountains of Sandwich, NH. It is owned and run by Declan and Katie O’Connell. The atmosphere was serene and peacefully. You can feel, the dedication and love, which has gone into creating and maintaining a unique place like this.  It is quaint, personnel and warm, just like its owners. It is a real treat.
When I arrived I met my retreat companions for dinner, at the owner’s home, where all of the meals are served. I met a group of ladies who have been meeting there yearly, on the same May Retreat,  for the past nine years! The ladies were open and welcoming. The home was a New England-style farmhouse house with lots of country character and charm. Declan had prepared a healthy, delicious vegetarian meal for dinner, which included carrot& ginger soup, zucchini fritters, roasted beets, arugula salad with feta and local homemade bread.  For dessert, Katie, who is the baker, made homemade biscotti with tips covered in chocolate.
Afterwards a few of us decided to use the hot tub, located on the outside deck of the yoga barn. It was a great way to get to know a few of the ladies.  We all slept in the dormitory-style room. Initially this was the hardest part of the trip, because sleeping with strangers in the same room was…well..uncomfortable. However, it worked out perfectly fine.  I slept on the top bed of a bunk-bed, even though there were bottom bunks available, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.  The rooms were cozy, comfy and clean.  The first night everyone’s sleep was a little off, but that’s to be expected. Everything is different from the grooves you’re used to. The second night, we all slept like a baby.
In the morning there was fresh snacks in the kitchenette, downstairs in the yoga barn lounge room, followed by a wonderful yoga class taught by Katie.  She is a 500-hour certified yoga teacher. Brunch time rolled around, and we were ready for fresh brewed coffee, and another nourishing meal prepared by Declan and Katie, who made fresh scones. Afterwards the women went for a walk, but I stayed in.  My energy was depleted, I needed to recharge. At one point I was in full savasana mode, for a while. It really helped me understand the true restorative nature of this pose. 
The yoga barn was extremely warm with all of the traversing beams, wood ceiling, walls and floors. You are supported by nature, not only from the interior, but always with the visual landscape that surrounds the property.  When I was standing in mountain pose, I could see the tip of the mountain, peaking through the clouds, it reminded me to stand tall in life, while remaining grounded. The yoga barn was a great space that combined spirit, beauty and nature. It had an inspiring dragonfly-design, stained glass window at the front top, where natural light beams in. The energy in the space is peaceful and healing. Katie’s unique collection of Hindu deity statues at the front door, created reverence and sanctity.  It was a wonderful spot to meditate.
The Dragonfly Yoga Barn is the perfect place to recharge and reconnect with yourself and others. It is an intimate setting.  A great place to release (judgement and comfort), to receive (love, peace and healing) and to just be (one with everything and everyone that surrounds you). I was excited about our retreat this fall, however now I am elated
I let go, embraced the weekend, and had an amazing experienceMy life is richer because of the people I met, and through the discovery of a new place. These are the types of memories that stay with us forever, in a positive, magical way.  Live life inspired…it’s the only way.

Wellness Versus Fitness

I think of fitness as the physical aspects of keeping one’s body strong and healthy through active exercise, and good nutrition. Wellness, on the other hand, covers the essential areas of our life, which effects our overall health, because it includes the mind, the body and the spirit.
I have been in this business for almost ten years,  I have seen fit  people, crippled by personal trauma and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. People who suffer from low self-esteem, no matter how great their bodies look, they are not satisfied. I’ve meet people who lack spirituality, therefore making them feel isolated and alone. In one of my workshop,  the speaker asked everyone to anonymously write a question for him, someone wrote how do I like myself?
Being fit is a great endeavor. It’s the goal to take care of your body. It helps optimize your physical health, allowing you to enjoy life. It is essential to overall wellness. However, the same attention we give our bodies, we also need to give our mental and spiritual well-being, because they are integrally connected. A healthy part is necessary to create a healthy whole.
It is work most people don’t like to do. It’s hard to develop clarity, perspective, and dedication to the “whole” self. It takes commitment to make real changes in your thinking and lifestyle, in order to keep the triangle balanced. Nevertheless, it is important work!
Take time to evaluate these  areas of your life and develop a plan. It can be  as simple as outlining three goals in each area.  List three things that would help you feel better. You will create a map. You’d be surprised, even unconsciously, how you will start working in that direction.
Think of your health, your wellness, in broader terms. Connect mind, body and spirit. You will feel more alive, when all of the parts work together to support the whole.

Inspirational People…Meet Gary!

Inspiring People…

I’m excited to add this category to my blog. I believe we are constantly inspiring each other, even if never hear about it.  What inspires me most is the “extra” ordinary.  Every day people who in some way or another through their actions, or how they live their lives are inspirational, yet ordinary. I guess I like to look for the “extra” in the ordinary.  It’s everywhere actually. And while you’re being inspired, you may very well be inspiring someone else.  So don’t be surprised if I approach you and ask to highlight you in my blog.  Why not allow yourself to be inspirational!

Meet Gary!

Gary started practicing yoga at the age of 60.  He started right around the same time I started teaching yoga. Gary will tell you he could hardly touch his toes. As an avid gym goer, he’s routine consisted mainly of strength training activities like boot camps etc.

What I admire about Gary is his courage to try something new, his dedication to whatever he’s doing and his ability to stay focused.  Like many people, he works full time and has family responsibilities, yet he is at the gym five days a week.
He’s the only male in our Zumba class and it doesn’t seem to bother him, even when the guys tease him. Obviously he doesn’t allow others perceptions to define him, which also takes courage.
Six years later Gary does yoga five days a week in conjunction with his cardio and strength training classes.  He’s doing poses like wheel, crow, and headstand, that’s inspiring!
The Quick Chat with Gary:
What’s the best thing about yoga?
“It helps me relax and makes me strong”.
What pose did you think you would never be able to do?
“Headstand or Crow”
What’s your favorite sequence?
 “Chataranga”
What’s your favorite pose?
  “Mountain”
Last words Gary!
“A lot of the guys I work with who are my age, even younger, frequently ask me …how do you do it?  How do you stay so fit? If my wife is around, I have to say it’s my wife’s cooking…lol, if not, I honestly tell them, its yoga.
Double headstand with Gary!

I Can’t Focus.

Recently I was talking with a friend of mine about yoga and how it helped one of my students with her lower back issues. It’s an incredible story and I know she suffers with back pain. I was hoping to inspire her. Half way through our conversation she said, “I can’t focus!…that’s the problem”.

It’s a common problem, especially in this day and age, where we are connected 24-7. It’s no surprise there’s practically a whole generation, with ADD or ADHD. It’s crazy. There are seemingly hundreds of things vying for our attention on a daily basis. One Mindfulness expert said our biggest commodity, in this age, is our attention. I agree.

Just like a yoga practice, focus is something that needs to be practiced. In order to do that, you need to be aware when it’s happening, and then be able to implement techniques that help redirect your mind to the present moment. This is the corner stone of the practice of Mindfulness.

In my yoga classes, I always tell my students “if your mind starts to wonder, redirect your attention back to your breath”.  This is one technique that helps bring your attention back to the present moment. Not only does it redirect your mind, it also brings in large amounts of oxygen into your body, which helps calm your nervous system. It’s a win-win technique and one that is easy to use no matter where you are or what you are doing.

So next time your mind starts to wondering, first, take a moment to notice it’s happening, then take 5 to 10 deep breath focusing on pulling the breath into the lungs, filling the lungs up like a balloon in your chest cavity. Then feel the lungs deflate until there isn’t another breath left, like a deflate balloon. Stay with the breath, no matter how silly you think the exercise is at first.  After a while, with practice, you will start to feel calmer and more centered, which means your focus is strengthening.

There are no quick fixes for anything that truly matters in life, however if you make the decision that you matter, then it’s worth the effort!  Take time to practice focus, it will change your life…for the better.