There's a Hidden Danger in Barefoot Yoga

Yoga is an incredible sport. It induces calm, improves balance and flexibility, and is a great form of cross-training for dedicated runners. Unfortunately, there's one thing about yoga that isn't as great for your body: doing your practice in bare feet. 

Traditionally, yoga poses are always performed without shoes, allowing your feet to become truly grounded. When you go barefoot, how

Yoga done with protective foot gear can still be ohm-mazing!

ever, and perform one legged poses like tree pose, the entire weight of your body is being held up solely by the small, intrinsic muscles of your feet.

 And, to make matters worse, the small amount of fat padding the bottom of those feet is your only cushion against the impact of that weight. 

As you go through a barefoot yoga session, those small muscles will contract and bear down on your fat cushions. If you put too much force into each move, you may well experience mid-Yoga foot pain, something that's sure to disrupt your Zen.

Stop the Studio Pain
So what can you do if you your feet start hurting during your practice?

If your feet start hurting during a yoga workout (or during any other kind of barefoot workout, like barre or pilates) the first key to feeling better is to stop. Right away. Don’t worry about what your fellow athletes will think—as soon as you feel exercise-related pain, immediately cease the activity you’re doing.

Next, sit down (if the class is crowded, you may need to step outside) and begin stretching and massaging your foot or any other part of your body that’s hurting. (See below for stretching suggestions.)

Once you’ve stretched and massaged your feet, check in with your body. If the pain is gone, feel free to return to class. If, however, you’re still feeling discomfort, it’s probably best to roll up your mat and try again another day.

Stretches to Help Ease Foot Pain
Barefoot workouts should be supported with proper foot stretchesWhile applying gentle pressure to massage your feet, you could also try these three stretches:

Sit with your right leg extended and place your left foot against your right inner thigh. Bending forward, hook your right thumb around your pinky toe and your left thumb around your big toe, while wrapping all your fingers around your sole (feel free to bend your knee if this feels too tight, but keeping the leg straight will provide you with a great hamstring stretch!) Pull your hands back to flex your foot, gently pressing your thumbs away from each other to separate the toes. Hold the position while using your fingers to massage the bottom of your foot. Repeat this stretch twice on each foot.
 
 
Preventing Barefoot Workout Pain
  1. Toe Stretch
    Sit in a chair with your right leg crossed over your left thigh. Work the fingers of your left hand in between the spaces of your right foot’s toes. Squeeze your fingers and toes together strongly and hold the position for 10 seconds. Release and stretch the toes widely for 10 seconds. Repeat three times on each foot.
  2. Arch Reliever
    Stand with a tennis ball directly under the second toe of your right foot (if your gym doesn’t have tennis balls, the head of a light weight, between one-three pounds, should serve as a decent substitute.) Slowly roll the ball or head of the weight around the sole of your foot for a minute or two. Repeat with your left foot.
  3. Heel Stretch

Now that you know how to deal with mid-workout foot pain, here’s a few steps you can take to keep discomfort from derailing your exercise programs.

  1. Make sure you come to class hydrated. This will help prevent cramping and can keep you moving more fluidly.
     
  2. Try stretching your feet before classes to help warm up your muscles. You can also do a few sample poses during your warmup, going at a slow pace to prepare your body for what’s to come.
     
  3. Wear supportive shoes the day before and after a barefoot workout, and give yourself a day or two between these types of workouts so your feet can bounce back from the additional strain.

For most people, taking these preventative steps will make for pain-free barefoot workouts. If you are being careful and still experience some pain during yoga class, it will most likely resolve quickly if you follow the plan discussed above. There is catch: some people just shouldn’t workout without shoes.

When to Skip Barefoot Workouts
For older individuals, or for those who are dealing with foot conditions like bunions, practicing bare foot yoga, pilates or barre could make existing pain and foot problems worse. Moreover, going barefoot in a yoga studio leaves everyone susceptible to contagious viruses like plantar warts (painful warts that form on the bottom of your feet.)You don't need ballet shoes for a barre workout, but grippy socks are always a good idea!

Now that you have the facts about the risks of barefoot workouts, here's my recommendation for all my devoted yogis who don't want to deal with a yoga-related sports injury: skip the bare feet and opt for some grippy socks instead, preferably a pair that comes with a little extra padding. Not only will they protect you against all those nasty floor germs, they will also provide a little extra cushioning for your feet, putting less strain on those small-but-hardworking foot bones and muscles. It may not be as authentic a way to get your practice on, but the protective benefits more than make up for a little less floor-feel in your day. Namaste and meet you at the barre!

 

 

 

Dr. Andrew Schneider
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.
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