I have always been curious about yoga. I have tried every possible form of exercise in my quest to find the perfect one for me (alas, I am still searching; aren’t we all?). The one form that I avoided was yoga. My mother was the one who finally convinced me to give it a try. She swore it to be the perfect form of exercise and swore it was relaxing at the same time! An oxymoron, I know!
I avoided yoga because yoga is performed barefoot and the poses, I imagined, could put a great deal of stress on them. I could only imagine! The curse of being a podiatrist! Seriously though, my curiosity was such that I had to see for myself just how much twisting and torque was involved.
On my first class, I used the thick mats provided by my gym. It had to be better than the flimsy mats some of the other people were coming in with right? Needless to say, I need to work on my core because I was working really hard to keep my balance and could not concentrate to keep the stretch! And I can tell you for a fact that the thicker the mat, the harder the tendons and ligaments in your feet are working along with your balance to keep you in check. It is very easy to develop a tendonitis or a muscle strain doing the required poses on a thick mat. So yes, the flimsy thin mats are better! Invest in the yoga mat if you have had a tendon or ligament injury or are prone to getting one. People with "extreme" foot types, the flatter foot type or the super high arch type are more prone to these potential yoga-induced tendon/ligament injuries.
The next week I bought a yoga mat. It is "stickier" so your feet do not have to grip as much and much thinner so you have better control of your movements. Over all, much less strain and stress. This is a trade off. If you have joint problems, the thinner mat could aggravate your pain just by the fact that there is less to cushion an aching joint. On the flip side, it can also aggravate tendon and ligament injuries for the same reason.
Beyond the mat are the poses. There are some pretty severe hyper extensions and pressure points going on here! Those "downward dogs" and "half-moons" and don’t get me started on some of the other ones I am no where near perfecting! Not for the light-footed! I can see how easy it is to cause some serious over-use injuries.
The conclusion to my curiosity is that you do not enter a yoga class thinking it will be easy because it doesn’t involve rapid movements. It needs to be approached as one would any exercise. Build your way into it slowly if you do not have foot problems to see if your feet can tolerate what is required of them. Modify the position of your feet if what the teacher is doing to her feet just doesn’t feel right to yours. I do not recommend the "standing" or "inversion" yoga poses to those of you who are trying to recover from a foot injury even though it is "non-impact" simply because of the lack of support it places. That being said, as resistant as I was to try it, I must say that, though it is not my "nirvana" form of exercise, it is now not one I will easily give up either! I have found harmony with yoga and my feet after all!