How to Achieve Optimal Leg Alignment in Standing Yoga Poses
The standing poses you practice in yoga build strength, stamina and flexibility. Because they use the big muscles of the legs, they are excellent warm-ups, and that’s one reason they often come at the beginning of a yoga class.
But the truth is, if you want to improve all of your practice—you know, go deeper in back bends, get your foot behind your head, or balance in Handstand—you absolutely need to refine your standing poses. The deeper you go with these, the easier those other yoga postures become! Here, we’ll take a look at the foundation of foot alignment and width of the stance to understand the building blocks of optimal leg alignment in standing poses.The Stance
How far apart your feet are in a standing pose determines much of the balance between stability and flexibility. Feet too narrow creates instability and excess load on the joints, particularly the knees.
Too far apart, and you can’t access the strength needed to hold the pose, build endurance or make subtle alignment adjustments in it. Below are some ways to find the best stance for your standing poses.
Externally Rotated Standing Poses: Warrior 2, Triangle & Side Angle Pose
- A good starting point is to step your feet as wide as your wrists when you lift your arms to the sides at shoulder height.
- Take your feet wide enough that you feel a stretch, but not so wide you couldn’t get back out of the pose easily.
- Externally rotate your front foot (more on that below), then bend your front leg until your thighbone is parallel to the ground and your knee is stacked directly above your ankle.
- If making your thighbone horizontal puts your knee beyond your toes, make your stance wider.
- This entire setup also works for Triangle pose, even though it’s done with the front leg straight.
Forward Facing Poses: Warrior 1, Revolved Triangle & Pyramid Pose
- For these yoga postures, start by standing facing the front (short) edge of your sticky mat, then step back with one foot.
- Start up with your feet a little closer to each other—front to back— than in the above poses.
- Again, find a balance between stability and flexibility.
- Adjust the distance between your feet until you can get your hip bones to point forward, towards the front edge of your mat, evenly. (This is called “squaring” your hips).
Optimal Foot Alignment
Your feet are the foundation of all your standing poses. If they’re misaligned, it directly effects the shape of your pose, making it less safe and more difficult to hold. Here are some basic landmarks to get you set up.
Externally Rotated Standing Poses: Warrior 2, Reverse Warrior, Triangle & Side Angle Pose
- Once you have the length of your stance (as above), line your feet up so an imaginary line from your front heel would bisect the arch of your back foot.
- Turn your front foot out all the way to parallel with the long side of your sticky mat.
- Make your back foot parallel to the short edge of your sticky mat. (Note: some teachers suggest turning the back foot slightly in; I believe this is a remedial way to activate the upper inner thigh. I prefer to keep the foundation square and work at the leg, instead.)
Forward Facing Poses: Warrior 1 Revolved Triangle & Pyramid Pose
- Maintain a wide stance between your feet, as in the previous poses.
- Point your front foot straight ahead and parallel to the long edge of your yoga mat.
- Turn your back heel in so it reaches the ground, but not so much your hips aren’t square; it will likely be at about forty-five degrees.
- If you need more stability and freedom in the pose, place your feet hip width apart.
- As you become more stable and limber, move your feet into heel-to-heel alignment.
- For Warrior 1, go for the same parallel-to-the-ground alignment in your front leg as mentioned above.
Editors Note: This post was originally published in 2013, but has been re-posted due to the essential nature of the subject, with added and improved content.