By bringing your feet into alignment you will ultimately feel more freedom through the back of your body, your knees and even your hips. You will also be able to bring advanced poses into your practice. Proper alignment takes work, if you aren’t consciously working your feet then you are probably out of alignment and ultimately causing your body more harm then good. In general you will want your feet to be as stable as they are in standing poses as when they are off the mat in arm balances or seated poses. This is why these alignment cues are consistent for most poses.
The first time I heard of any type of foot alignment, I was in Ireland studying with John Friend. Since then I have continued to study his teachings of Anusara Yoga, through Anusara teacher trainings and workshops, with his certified teachers. All of these alignment cues are my interpretation of his amazing teachings on alignment.
Walk around the room and when you feel relaxed stop and look down at your feet, this is the position that your feet fall into naturally. Ideally when in standing you will want all four corners of each foot on the mat, with your feet hip width apart and parallel to each other. Now consider if your feet are in alignment. If one or both of your feet are turned in or out, you will want to remember to consciously bring them parallel to each other until this stance becomes habit. An open position of the feet is a periphery sign that your core is misaligned. Yoga is definitely a good idea (imagine that!).
Begin by grounding through your big toe mound (1), next press the inside of your heel (2) followed by the mound of your pinky toe (3) and then the outside of your heel (4) into the mat.
Flex your feet and separate each toe. Bring special attention to your pinky toe as this toe is directly connected to your shin and knee. Work on bringing your pinky toe away from every other toe and then back as if it could touch the outside of your calf. At first you may need to move your pinky toes with your hands, but if you keep it up you’ll soon be able to easily bring your pinky toe out and away from all the other toes.
With every toe flexed feel your calf with your hand, it should be engaged (your knees are thanking you, can you tell?). In some poses (Wild Thing, Crescent) you will need to press the ball of each foot forward like you’re stepping on the gas in your car; remember not to loose the engagement of your toes or feet. In most poses your two “middle” toes will align with your ankle.
In poses such as side plank and pigeon where you are on the knife edge (outer edge) of one foot, your ankles (think the center of your ankles) will be aligned with your two middle toes and you will want your ankle even on all four sides. If you stand up and lift the inside of your foot off of the ground you can see how the outside of your ankle is longer then the inside (and the inside is shorter) because the foot is not evenly grounded.
While in lunge your back foot should be engaged with the toes curled under and your heal in line with your two middle toes. Even here your full back foot is working, this will help you balance as well as create a safe engagement of the shins.
Remember to enjoy your yoga practice. Correct alignment is important but it shouldn’t take away from the simple joy of your practice. E-mail me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or come to any of my group classes.