In yoga class teachers repeatedly ask you to stand with your feet parallel. They rarely explain to you what that means, or why you should bother.
I’m going to take this one step further and ask you to always stand with your feet parallel, whether in yoga class or at the bar.
This video will show you how.
Retraining Your Feet
Walking or standing properly takes skill and attention. Most of us don’t realize this and we walk without thinking about it. I definitely walked unconsciously (which is different from being unconscious when you walk) before I started practicing yoga.
Repetitive actions such as sitting at a desk, playing stand-up bass, or being trained as a dancer, can cause what is called a functional turn-out (one that wasn’t present at birth, but was learned). These learned actions can, with practice, be unlearned, and you can retrain yourself to stand with your feet parallel.
Like learning anything, learning to consciously place your feet, to find anatomical neutral in your foundation, can be challenging and frustrating. With practice, however, it becomes second nature.
Remember, your feet are the foundation of everything you do, so it’s kinda important what you do with them.
What Are Parallel Feet?
When yoga teachers talk about parallel feet, we don’t mean the inner edges of the feet should be parallel or the outer edges. Instead, the midline of each foot should parallel to the other, which helps your knees point straight ahead.
Don’t line up the inner or outer edges of your feet. Parallel lives somewhere in between.
Visualize lines from the base of your second toe to the middle of your ankle, and make these lines parallel to each other. You could draw these lines on with a marker to help you learn. I even know a student in Los Angeles who has tattoos of these lines on her feet. If you’re really committed, maybe that’s for you too.
Another good indicator of proper alignment, and one that can be easier to see, is the direction your knees are pointing. Your knees (in all likelihood) will point straight ahead when your feet are parallel.
Are Your Feet Parallel?
Stand at the top of your mat. Walk on the spot without paying attention to your feet. Stop walking. Look down at your feet.
Are they turned out like Peregrin Took’s feet (pictured above), or do they turn in (pigeon toed)? Most likely they are doing a version of one of these.
Most of us have to work at turning our toes in a little, or turning them out a little. Some people have to turn their toes a lot.
When your knees are pointing straight ahead and the invisible lines from your second toe to middle ankle are parallel, your feet are parallel.
How much adjustment do you need to make to bring your feet to parallel?
Why Should I Worry About Making My Feet Parallel?
Here are the three main reasons to work to feet parallel in yoga class and out in the world:
- Misaligned feet can cause knee pain, SI joint constriction, lower back pain, and more
- Turning your toes out as you walk leads to a hunched back, neck pain, and back pain
- Walking pigeon-toed often leads to knee injury
Achieve Proper Alignment
- When you align your feet it helps align the rest of your posture
- Aligning your feet helps align your knees which are prone to repetitive action injuries
- When you move from anatomical neutral you have more range of motion
Increase Your Flexibility
- Feet parallel and slightly apart allows your pelvis more freedom, so forward folds become easier
- Increased pelvic mobility allows for more hamstring access and stretch
- Freedom comes to your spine when your feet, knees, and legs are doing there job efficiently
How Can I Train My Feet To Be Parallel?
If parallel feet in yoga is something you are working on:
- Draw lines on your feet from the base of your second toe to the middle of your ankle
- Look at your feet every time you come back to the top of your mat for the next week – make them parallel
- Whenever you are standing in line this week (at the store, signing in for yoga, at the coffee machine) make a decision to stand with your feet parallel
- Yoga is a practice of conscious action in all that you do. This includes what your feet are doing in Mountain pose (Tadasana), in Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), and in line at the grocery store.
[Recap: They should be parallel!]
A tiny disclaimer: No one is exactly the same as anyone else. Genetic differences (especially in the size, shape, and angle of your femur/thigh bone) mean we don’t all stand exactly the same way and we can’t all turn our legs in or out the same way. This blog post is meant as a general guideline for bringing your foundation closer to optimal alignment. Also, some yoga schools teach feet together in standing poses. There are reasons for this that are beyond the scope of this blog.
Image of Peregrin Took copyright Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (2001) | Foot image Creative Commons, from Nordisk Familjebok (1908)