What About My Feet?
Yoga teachers can tell volumes about their students by how they use their hands and feet when they practice asana. Beginners often are unaware of their feet or how to align them well. The tendency is generally developed outside of yoga, and with overuse, time/age or active pursuits (including your yoga practice, if the problem isn’t addressed), those misalignments can lead to pain or injury. Through yoga we learn good alignment, where it will improve our practice, then carry it into the rest of our lives, where it will bring a new level of awareness and vitality through informed actions.
Why Foot Alignment Matters
Our feet contact the ground when we walk or stand and carry that impact all the way up through our ankles, knees, hips and into our low backs. Everything stacks, one upon the other, and if any one part is out of alignment it effects the whole.
For example, when we walk with our feet turned out, like a duck, the natural bend that should happen at the ball of the foot (metatarsophalangeal joint) is compromised. The arches of our feet collapse, our toes get pushed to the sides (laterally), and the chance of a bunion forming is increased.
Carry that misalignment up into the leg and the knees tend to roll in (medially) and more strain is put on them. Then the hips get tight trying to compensate and the low back feels the pull. Correcting the way we walk, stand and align our feet is not a panacea, but it will go a long way towards resolving and preventing problems.
We hear it all the time in yoga class: stand with your feet parallel. Parallel to what? And what part of our feet is it that we’re lining up to be parallel? Toes are funny shaped, some are crooked, some bend away from the big toe (like mine), others are long and straight, so using them as a guide can be confusing. Here are some other simple landmarks that you can use to help you stand well.
- Draw an imaginary line from the base of your second toe to the center of your ankle on both feet.
- Place those lines parallel to each other. (Note: My left foot is slightly turned in, in the image below).
This alignment works whether the instruction is for your feet to be hip width apart (as pictured) or touching. When you bring your feet together, the big toes, or more likely the balls of your feet at the big toe edges, will be touching. However, your heels will be slightly apart in order for your feet to remain parallel.
Downward Facing Dog
Beyond the two parallel lines described above, there is an easy way to check that your feet are parallel in one of the most frequently practiced poses in any yoga class.
- When your feet are parallel in Down Dog, you won’t be able to see your heels. They’ll be hidden behind your ankles (unless you lean your head to the side to purposefully look for them).
- If you can see your heels, it means they’ve dropped in (medially) and your feet have turned out.