Yoga + deformed feet = ?
August 15, 2011 9:54 PM   Subscribe

I want to like yoga, but I have zero flexibility in my feet/ankles. Do I keep trying or move on?

I've been trying out yoga at the gym, but I think I might be too deformed to get much out of it. When I was a baby I had leg casts and corrective shoes due to curved feet, and I've had ultra-flat feet with no arches ever since. I've never been able to point my toes (much to the dismay of my synchronized swimming coaches), and sitting on my feet like in the yoga child's pose is both impossible and a form of torture. My feet simply don't bend - it's like those bones that appear on the top of the foot when other people point their toes don't exist in my feet. I'm horribly inflexible in general (which is why I started going to yoga), but this is some major foot incompatibility. Has anyone else had this problem?

At my yoga class today it seemed like 75% of the poses involved laying/sitting with the tops of the feet touching the ground. It didn't go well. The instructor was a sub, and she seemed to be doing more advanced stuff than I'm used to. Is this foot position what I have to look forward to in non-beginner yoga? Can I get by in yoga with my foot limitations, or should I cut my losses and do something else?
posted by Maarika to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I did yoga for a year or so, and I don't remember many of the poses involving tops of feet pressed against the ground. Sure, child's pose does, and cobra, but running through many many of the others in my head, they do not. E.g. all the standing ones should be fine, as should crouching or squatting type poses. Inversions also should be okay. So hopefully you won't have to do more of the foot-downwards poses in advanced classes than you have been doing so far.

That said, any good yoga instructor should be able to suggest alternatives for people with injuries or disabilities. If you get there early next time and talk to her/him in advance, he/she should be able to show you a few alternatives, and then during the class also keep an eye on you and help you out when you can't do something.
posted by lollusc at 10:01 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've taken classes with a lot of poses that require that position -- and I really hate it too. I have the flexibility, but I can't stand having the weight on my feet/ankles. Having said that -- you can totally participate in yoga as long as you have a quality teacher and a quality studio. You should discuss this with your instructor and learn adaptations, different positions, or ways to alleviate your discomfort using props like bolsters, a rolled-up towel, etc.

Yoga should be challenging, mentally & physically. It shouldn't be painful and it shouldn't cause injury. If an instructor doesn't seem to want to deal with your issue, find another. I'm adamant about this -- I'm a "non-traditional" yoga practitioner, meaning I don't have a yoga hardbody, can't already do a headstand, came into practice with limitations, etc. etc. Finding a great studio and great teachers is what it's all about.

You may like an Iyengar-based practice; they use a lot of props.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:08 PM on August 15, 2011

Don't give up! As said upthread, in any good yoga class, you should be able to explain your limitations beforehand to the teacher and ask him/her to show you workarounds for the difficult postures until you get enough flexibility to do them in the usual way.

You might also consider "hot yoga." The point of the heat is to increase your flexibility and enable you to go further in the postures without hurting yourself. It has the added benefit of making you sweat-out toxins. A Bikram Yoga class, for example, consists of about one hour of standing postures, where your foot inflexibility should not be too much of an issue, followed by half an hour of floor postures. I think about 3 of those floor postures involve sitting on your heels, but again, there are ways around it.

IANAYT (I am not a yoga teacher), but I do love yoga. If you're really determined to work with your body and change something about it, be patient. You've been living with your feet this way for x number of years; don't expect them to change overnight. If you put your body on the right track, it will do what is necessary to balance itself. But follow your body's pace, not your mind's. Good luck!
posted by Paris Elk at 1:26 AM on August 16, 2011

I agree with others that you should be able to find modified versions of these poses or versions with props. Then when the class drops into child's pose you go right into Better Modified Version.

It can be expensive, but if you can swing it possibly look into some semi-private classes to start out with. You might be able to find 5-or-under sized classes where there's a lot of interaction with the instructor and a lot of correction. If possible, I think that's a great way to start out, because you'll learn good yoga habits and the modifications necessary for your body type. Go to five or ten sessions, and then you can then bring that knowledge to a larger 20- to 40- person class.

(Mind you, it is expensive (and I've never felt like I had the cash to go!) But if you can, I think private or semi-private classes are the best way to start out.)
posted by lillygog at 3:52 AM on August 16, 2011

Don't give up!
How active of a yoga class are you used to? You might try Ashtanga - it does involve a lot of up dog, but any good instructor will help you modify it, as people above have said.
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:24 AM on August 16, 2011

You can always, always modify. For child's pose, if you're going to be there a while then I would put a block under your rear to lift you off of your ankles and then just flex your feet to whatever point you feel comfortable, OR just do a seated fold from whatever normal sitting position you feel comfortable in (crossed legs, cobblers pose, whatever). If you're just passing through child's pose then use downward facing dog instead (you can use this or dolphin as your resting pose, too--but you have to be in pretty good shape to find it resting).

Cobra you can do with your knees bent just enough to flex your feet. Upward facing dog--just do cobra instead. Pigeon you can do with your knee bent and foot flexed. I think all of the kneeling poses (cat-cow, spinal balance, camel) you can do with your feet flexed... Or try putting a rolled blanket under your ankles and see if that takes enough pressure off of your feet while still giving you a good stretch.

A ton of poses call for you to reach out through your toes, but you don't need to have actual pointed toes for those as long as you're using your muscles and stretching.

Basically, you should stick with it. The longer you do yoga the more comfortable you'll feel with modifying things and the more you'll get out of it. For me, having problem spots means that if anything you need to do more yoga.
posted by anaelith at 4:34 AM on August 16, 2011

I'd recommend asking your instructor after class for their ideas on how to change the poses, they'll be happy to help, but this is a sample of the kind of modifications people are talking about.
posted by lillygog at 5:15 AM on August 16, 2011

Try a towel roll between the tops of your feet and the floor. That should take the pressure off your feet and ankles, while allowing you to relax your spine.
posted by freshwater at 6:51 AM on August 16, 2011

Classes are by necessity, more or less one size fits all. Advanced students have to do fancy poses for much shorter periods than they'd like, or not at all, new students suffer trying to do advanced stuff at least a little bit, etc.

I think it's a completely false dichotomy where you have to find a class that works for you or have to resign to the idea that yoga is not for you.

The unique feature of yoga is that you only need a mat and 2x1 yards space and as little as 10 minutes of time. Rain, snow or cold, it's just as comfortable to continue practice.

Some poses may be hard or impossible for you to do right now, but if you look at it from a different angle, consider that it will be exhilirating when they eventually do work for you, something you would not experience if you were able to do them easily from the beginning.

When you practice at home, it's absolutely fine to avoid or minimize some asanas you can't do well. You'll come back to them in a year or a few years time.
posted by rainy at 7:27 AM on August 16, 2011

Don't quit! Contrary to how it might seem from the outside, the important part about yoga is how it works with your particular body, and discovering things about your body you didn't know before. I'd suggest taking a private class with a really good instructor to coach you in the modifications you need. In the future before you take group classes, just explain briefly to the instructor before hand that you have really inflexible feet and so you will be doing modifications, so that they know what you're doing is intentional and you don't have to interrupt the flow of the class if they try to give you an improper assist.
posted by yarly at 7:28 AM on August 16, 2011

I don't do yoga, but I do have problems sitting with my feet under me, so if I do need to sit in something like that position (typically when I'm kneeling up by the side of the bath to wash childrens hair) I roll a towel up and put it under my ankles to allow my feet to flex down a bit. Once I've done that, it's quite comfortable.
posted by crocomancer at 8:05 AM on August 16, 2011

Is there a yoga studio near you? I find the instructors at yoga studios much more knowledgeable and always have alternatives for people with chronic pain or injuries. You should be able to talk to the yoga instructor about the particular issues you have and they should be able to suggest alternative poses or incorporating props for you.
posted by sadtomato at 8:31 AM on August 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I go to the YWCA and going to a yoga studio in addition to that is not in the budget, but the classes at the Y are really small (5-10 people). I will talk to the regular instructor next time and see what she suggests. I like the rolled up towel suggestion, too!
posted by Maarika at 7:57 PM on August 16, 2011

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