Stretch Yourself -- Five Yoga Poses To Prevent Aching Feet

Yoga coach Gwen Lawrence returns with five targeted yoga poses designed to keep athletes in the game. This month, the focus is on great poses to ease painful foot issues.

Weekend warriors and hardcore professionals all experience pain and problems with their feet at some point. And, let's face it: If your feet hurt, there is little exercise you can do until they feel better.

Strains and sprains, aches and pains, callouses and bruises are the foot's way of calling out to you, so listen! Don't take the abuse your feet sustain for granted. Take time to learn some precautionary practices to avoid pain.

The goal of the poses I will outline below is to make the whole foot more supple and able to recover faster. The poses are user-friendly and don't require equipment to perform them, but, as always, consult a doctor before you begin this or any new exercise program.

1. Hero's Pose (toes tucked and untucked)

This pose is a workhorse; it can help ease so many issues. For the feet, it opens the ankles, toes and plantar fascia (the underneath, meaty part of the foot). The toes-tucked position is shown above.

Keys to the pose:

*An important note to this pose is to make sure your heels are pointing straight up to the sky, it is easy to ease off the big toe, but don't. That puts undo stress on the knee joint.

*Hold each pose for two minutes and watch the feet unlock on the first day.

*This pose can be dicey in the beginning for many, but stay strong and hang in there.

2. Finger Threading

This isn't a very common position or yoga move, but it's highly effective for stretching between the toes and deep in to the muscles of the feet.

Keys to the pose:

*Take your left foot in your right hand and thread each finger between each toe. Move the fingers through the toes until, ultimately, the base of your fingers are all the way to the base of the toes (Whatever you do, do not skip that baby toe!).

*Hold for two to three minutes. Release the fingers and feel the instant relief and space in between your toes.

*This pose done regularly is a great way to avert arch pain and stiffness.

3. Downward Dog

This is of the best poses to open the back of the leg, like the calves and Achilles tendons. The great thing about this is you are positioned so perfectly you can actually stare at your feet and make sure they're nice and square to the floor, opening the muscles evenly.

Keys to the pose:

*I recommend many down dogs per practice, but as a stand-alone pose to stretch, hold it for one to three minutes to really make change.

*Make sure your hands are shoulder width apart hands flat.

*It is more important to have a flat back rather than forcing the legs straight. Eventually the hamstrings will cooperate.

4. Squat

Besides being a great deep-hip opener, doing a squat as deep as you can, with your feet flat, will be a great go-to, to open up your calves and Achilles tendon. The wonderful thing about this position is that gravity will take you down and ease you in with time. If it is too difficult in the beginning, use a wall and slide down the wall as far as you can until one day you can step away and not use it anymore.

Keys to the pose:

*It is important to position your arms as I have shown above so that you make sure your knee tracks over your toes and does not knock in. Always protect the knee and try the best you can to have a flat back.

*Also, tune in and feel that the outer edge of the foot is as plugged into the floor as the inner edge, and hold one to three minutes.

*The goal is to be here with a flat back, hands at heart center and feet flat on the floor.

5. Toe balance

The importance of toe balance is to build strength and flexibility. You can do this by holding toes balance for one to three minutes. You will definitely feel the muscles working.

Keys to the pose:

*If your knees allow, sit all the way down on the heels and hold the core tight for balance (the bonus here is that core work) while squeezing the thighs together.

*If the knees are too tight, roll up a towel and place it behind the knees so you do not have to go as deep. In time, your back will be tall and straight and your hands will be at the center of your chest.

*If it is too difficult to balance in the beginning, then have your arms outstretched like you're walking a tightrope, as shown above.

Gwen Lawrence owns Power Yoga for Sports and works with athletes in Professional basketball, football, baseball, hockey soccer as well as Olympians and collegiate champions. Follow her on twitter & Instagram @gwenlawrence and www.gwenlawrence.com.