Got your attention? Ok, I made that up, but you can improve the dexterity of your feet. The intrinsic muscular anatomy of your feet is very similar to that of your hands with the exceptions that none of the digits are opposable and there is not the ability to “cup” your foot as you can cup your palm. In theory, then, your feet should be able to move much like your hands. You need only look at a homunculus, which is a representation of a human, but whose parts or dimensions are mapped to areas of the brain devoted to those parts, to see the vast potential of your feet. In a homunculus, parts of the body that require the highest levels of dexterity have larger representations in the brain, more circuitry, and more neurons per muscle group. As you can see, the feet require a significant amount of brain power, which tells me that there is a lot of wasted potential for dexterity.
You toes, casted inside your shoes for hours, days, weeks, months, years, generations, are weak. They feel tight. You may not have attempted to move them independently of your foot or independently of each other for a very long time. I know a simple (but not necessarily easy) test and exercise you can do to evaluate and strengthen the motor nerves and toe extensor muscles of your feet. This can be done standing, sitting on the floor, or sitting in a chair. Simply lift your big toes (called extension) without lifting your other toes.This gives you an indication of the health of the neural pathway that exists between your brain and your feet. If you are unable to lift your toes, your foot is not properly innervated, circulation to that area is poor, and you are accumulating cellular waste that is not being removed by your lymph system because your circulation is poor. You are negatively impacting your gait since your big toes plays a huge role in gait biomechanics. If you are not toeing off properly in gait, all of your major joints will suffer.
If this is easy, then attempt to keep the big toe lifted, while you lift your second toe to join it. Still easy? Add the third toe, and so on. Try to put them down in reverse order, pinky toe first. Here is a list of variations of the toe extensions in order from easiest to more difficult – for me, anyway. You may find the ordering different for your puddins. Try them first one foot at a time. Once you master them, try both feet together.
Playing the Scales with Your Toes
- Lift big toe, put it down, repeat 10 times. Repeat any of the following variations multiple times.
- Lift big toe, keep it raised, lift second toe; lower second toe, lower big toe
- Lift big toe, add second toe, add third toe, etc. until you can add each toe; put them down in reverse order, ending with big toe
- Repeat #3, but put the toes down in the same order as you raised them, starting with big toe lowering first
- Start with the pinky toe and work in reverse, putting them down in reverse – big toe lowers first
- Start with the pinky toe, but then lower your toes, lowering your pinky toe first
- Once you are able to “play the scales” with your feet, it’s on to typing
Typing with Your Toes
This is very difficult for most people and may take years of moving your bare feet over natural terrain in good alignment and supplemented with loads of corrective foot exercises like those found on this blog. But when you’re ready:
8. Lift your second toe, and only your second toe; place it back down, Lift your third toe, solo, place it back down. Lift each of your toes independently of the others. Practice this every day and in 30 years, you will be able to type with your toes!
Anatomy Bit. What muscles lift aka extend the toes?
Extrinsic Foot Muscles (has one attachment point on the foot and the other on the lower leg)
The above image is the dorsal (aka top) of the foot
- Extensor Hallucis Longus – extends big toe; colored in blue
- Extensor Digitorum Longus – extends the other toes; colored in yellow
Intrinsic Foot Muscles (both attachment points reside on the foot)
Above image is the dorsal or top of the foot with a section of extensor digitorum longus in yellow cut away to reveal the intrinsic muscles beneath (orange).
- Extensor Hallucis Brevis – extends big toe; colored in green
- Extensor Digitorum Brevis – extends the other toes; colored in orange
The Homunculous comes courtesy of my favorite anatomist/physician/yogi, Ray Long, whom I had the privilege of taking a workshop with in Vancouver, BC last September. It comes from his very excellent and would-be-dog-eared-if-it-wasn’t-of-such-high-quality spiral bound anatomy book Scientific Keys Vol. II: The Key Poses of Hatha Yoga by Ray Long (2008) Spiral-bound. This book comes in a non-spiral bound edition for less money, but I really like the option of having it lie open while I practice asana.
The muscle images come from The Anatomy Coloring Book (4th Edition). This book gives you a multi-dimensional way to learn bones, muscles & ligaments. And coloring is fun!
Yoga and other movement teachers, Ray Long’s book is my go-to book to understand and explain what is happening in my students’ body during postures – what muscles are contracting and how; what muscles are stretching and how; which muscles are helping; and most interestingly, how a student can manipulate her musculature to increase her range of motion during a particular posture. This book absolutely transformed my Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1).