I Can’t Touch My Toes

Standing Forward Fold is most likely the #1 excuse for people not to practice yoga. I hear it all the time, especially at parties. People LOVE to relate to Yoga teachers by saying these exact words, “Oh, I could never do Yoga. I can’t even touch my toes!” Then they laugh and laugh and laugh, demonstrating bending down to, as accurately stated, NOT touch their toes.

I know I am not the only Yoga teacher who experiences this as the #one excuse! CNN even featured an article last year by Dana Santas all about “Yoga to help you touch your toes,” toting that this is a very popular excuse that people use to avoid Yoga.

Personally, this is my FAVORITE Yoga pose excuse because it is usually fairly easy to respond to. “Do it again,” I’ll say. And this time, as they reach down to hover in a painfully awkward forward hunch I give them the cue, “now bend your knees.”

… Aha! 

It’s a great party trick but it’s not a joke. That simple breakthrough could change a person’s life.

… I’m serious!

Something happens, both physically and mentally when you find the freedom to fold forward and touch your feet. What it is that happens to make this move so transformative is hard to put your finger on, but I think the main happenings that take effect in the body and mind are as follows:

  1. There is a release through the spinal column, especially near the top at the base of the skull.
  2. There is a shift of focus into the core.
  3. There is a newfound awareness of freedom (and responsibility) in the hips and thighs.

Give it a try. Mimic the guy or gal at the party who “could never do Yoga.” Then tell yourself to bend your knees. What kind of breakthrough, shift of focus, and sensation happens? I guarantee that once a person experiences simple breakthroughs like this, they will never use those same excuses again. If they really want to avoid Yoga, at least they will come up with some other valid reasons 😉

I’m going to give you some words of encouragement now that I’ve learned from some of my senior teachers over the years… and has proven to hold true in life experience. Here goes –

If you can relax your tight ass enough to fold forward and touch your toes then, there is little in your life that will be able to hold you back from reaching your goals.

If you need extra help in the beginning, you will use a chair or 2 blocks to put your hands on. (Another yoga excuse solved!) But, what is actually happening with this? How can the ability to reach down from standing on your feet to touch your toes translate into the ability to step into a yoga practice? And beyond that, how does this help you in actualizing a higher potential in life?

The awareness and experience of being able to do something you previously thought you could not do is a great beginning in Yoga. I’ve seen the transformation many times – in both women and men – not being able to reach their toes, and then discovering the muscles, actions, and movements necessary to dive fully forward into a fold.

For example, when my college boyfriend began a yoga practice with me, he moved enthusiastically but awkwardly in his body. I endearingly gave him the nickname, “Friendly Dragon” because his body language reminded me of Pete the Magic Dragon (a cartoon movie I watched when I was young). I remember so clearly the day he proudly stood outside the yoga studio and said, “Watch this!” Then, with his long legs dressed in black jeans he DOVE into an intelligent form of Standing Forward Fold and… touched his sneakers.

It was like witnessing a miracle! 🙂

Callison Yoga with Daughter
10 years later – Kurmasana

He is now finishing Med School. Pictured here with his beautiful Daughter!

I want to give you some tips and share wisdom with you about how your body works to demystify the Standing Forward Fold and unlock the tightness in your hips, hamstrings, and legs.

First, there are 3 bones I want to point out.

  • Calcaneus – the heel of your foot
  • Ischial Tuberosity – the sitting bones at the back base of your pelvis
  • Sesamoids – 2 tiny bones under the base of each big toe at the medial ball of your foot

Second, there are 3 movements that coordinate with these bones to go over.

  • Forward – You want to reach forward through your chest, away from your sitting bones.
  • Out – You want to isometrically spin out from your big toes towards the outer edges of your feet.
  • Down – You want to press down through your heels as you pull down through your chest to fold.

Third, there are 3 tricks to play with.

  • Inhale – Let your body expand on each inhale, lengthening your chest forward from your sitting bones
  • Exhale – Let your body descend on each exhale, pressing out through your toes and pulling down through your chest
  • Bend Your Knees – Until your hamstrings are warmed up and your quadriceps are active (like elastic), BEND YOUR KNEES

Watch this Video for a “toe-touching forward fold demonstration” during a private session with my Yoga buddy, Jim!

P.S. Keep in mind, I offer private yoga sessions via Skype and Google Hangouts!

Leave me a comment if you have questions.

touching toes - judith lasater

6 Replies to “I Can’t Touch My Toes”

  1. Hi Courtney! Thanks for the tips on how to do forward fold. I was going to find out about that posture because it has felt quite impossible to do, but with my knees bent it works -though I have felt like cheating until now 🙂 Since I found your videos about a month age I do your Beautiful morning yoga every morning and some nights Bedtime Yoga which has some difficult postures for example to sit with my legs in a wide angle and have my back straight and also to fold over one leg! I try hard and I also modify the posture but it’s still very tiring for my back and its hard to know if my back is as straight as it should be – but I’m working on it and I sleep like a baby afterwards. I also enjoy Beautiful yoga for flexability and am proud to say that I can do the whole routine. I have done some hatha yoga about 25 years ago so it’s been a while since I’ve practised! I have tried other forms of exercise but have had a nagging feeling that yoga is the thing for me and now I’m sticking to it. Better late than never 🙂 Now it’s starting to get a bit warmer here in Sweden so I’ve done the morning yoga outside twice – lovely! Thanks Courtney for your videos – you inspire me!

  2. Thanks for the tips on doing a forward fold. All the tips give one a lot to think about during a pratice. So, how can one be in the moment and focused on breathing while also thinking about all the body mechanics you described so well?

  3. I have recently found your youtube videos, and I am so happy to have continued on to your blog! I am beginning my journey into yoga with your videos, and your advice is wonderful as well. My goal is to start and end my day with yoga! I have taken Alexander Technique classes, and that has helped me love yoga even more. Before AT I found yoga very difficult and uncomfortable.

    Anyway, I am sending this page to my boyfriend. He is very yoga shy because he’s “not flexible” and after reading this I am sure it will make him more confident.

    Thank you so much for sharing your skills for new yogi’s to start in the comfort of their homes!

    -Drew

  4. Hi! I’m soo inflexible the heel of my palm CANT go beyond my knees, is this normal? I’ve tried almost every stretch for both hips and hamstrings but I’m having no progress, I look at videos where people say they can’t touch their toes but they’re like 2 inches from them and I’m like “Wow if iI could do that then iI wouldn’t complain” and ithink my back is fine cause ican do a standing bridge.

  5. Hi Courtney , I’m 5’9″ and weigh 240. I was wondering if I should try to do beginners yoga now, or wait until I lose about twenty more pounds. I’m afraid that I’m going to do damage to my knees and back right now due to so much weight. I really like your instructional videos and find them easy to understand and follow. Do you have a DVD starter video I could purchase? Thank you so much, Sandy Clevinger

  6. Hi Courteny,

    I’m sure your advice is wonderful for most people, however for some persons the inability to touch their toes is hardly an “excuse.” I wish that more health and gym instructors would learn this.

    I am 47 years old and touching my toes has always been difficult. I could never reach my toes without my knees bending and severe pain. Turns out I was born with my kneecaps off center and this trait, according to my doctor, is genetic. My mother also has suffered the same isdues, including knees giving out in our youth.

    So, ever since I’ve come to view that severe pain as a warning sign. Some people physically cannot and should not try to touch their toes without medical supervision and physical therapy to help resolve the underlying physical and bone structure defects.

    Sometimes, for some people like myself, it is not about excuses and flexibility as many insist on believing.

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