If you're new to yoga, you might be surprised that yoga is practiced barefoot and often involves focusing on your feet. After all, since we were babies our feet have been shoved into socks and shoes, and now you're in a yoga class grabbing your toes with your hands, interlacing your fingers between your toes, and getting acquainted with your feet. Why?
There are a number of reasons. In yoga, we work from the foundation up. This means that if you're doing a standing pose, you start not by jumping right into it, but by looking at your feet and building a stable foundation. You ground down through all four corners of both feet, you spread the toes. For all standing yoga poses, start with the feet. You'll be surprised at how it can transform your postures.
As for spreading your toes- just as you have muscles in your hands to help your fingers to spread, you have muscles in your feet to help spread your toes. When our feet are shoved into tight shoes, our toes get crunched and we lose the muscles that help our toes to spread. A number of bad things can occur when our feet are squished from shoes- plantar fasciitis, poor circulation, fallen arches, Morton's neuroma, etc.
The good news is that it's never too late to retrain those muscles. You can start by standing tall, lifting the toes, spreading them as wide as you can, and setting them down. You can always interlace your fingers between the toes.
Another option is wearing vibram five fivers shoes (pic above, link to the left). My cousin swears these have cured his fallen arches (and subsequent back problems). My husband wears these during weight lifting, saying that he feels more balanced and stabilized when doing squats, etc. A good friend wears them when he runs (he's a marathon runner!) and says he has less injury as a result. I have a pair and have worn them for running and weight lifting. You don't need to wear them all the time, but a few hours a week will help retrain those muscles.
As previously documented here, I love these Gaiam toe socks as well. They also work to spread the toes, and have these little non-slip nodes on the bottom. All you'd have to do is put these babies on and walk around the house going about your business.
Ultimately what I'm trying to say here is that our feet are important, and they can be the root of a number of health problems, so it's time they come out of the tight shoes and sweaty socks and get some attention! :)