I intended to post something on feet every day in January, but alas, embedded in all the knowledge I picked up at the gait workshop that I attended in Seattle (Walking the Lines: Anatomy Trains, Myofascial Efficiency & A Model of Gait), was something that feels like the flu.
I’m using my down time to read about the anatomy of feet and yoga, and was inspired to comment on a common yoga cue that I’d like to see go away.
“Spread your weight evenly from front to back”
“Distribute your weight across the four (or three) corners of your feet”
“Feel your weight in all parts of your foot”
“Your weight should be even across your big toe mound, baby toe mound, and heel”
You will hear some variation on this cue for Tadasana (mountain pose) in many yoga classes. Unfortunately, its not good instruction. If you follow this improper cue, then you will have an unnatural, strong forward lean of your body. The architecture of the foot is elegant and intricately complex on an a deep anatomy level, but quite simple on a gross level as pertains to weight bearing. Your heel bone (calcaneus) is the largest bone of your foot and is structurally located precisely below where the weight of your body is translated to the ground. Your lower leg bones and those of your feet make up your ankle joint, which is located above your strong, weight-accepting heel bone, not above the smaller bones (tarsals) and more slender bones (metatarsals) of your mid and forefoot, respectively. These smaller bones are meant to assist in transfer of weight during gait, propulsion of your body forward, and in supporting your arches but NOT to hold the mass of your weight. I go over this in more detail in my post on backing up your hips.
Even the cue to have “the majority” of your weight in your heels is not specific enough. The majority could be 60% and that is not enough weight in the heels. ALL of your weight should be borne by your heels. So if all of your weight is back in your heels, what is the rest of your foot doing? Wouldn’t it be lifted up off the ground? No.This is where your strong yoga foot comes into play. You can apply pressure to the ball of your foot by pressing it into the ground, without shifting your weight or hips forward.
- Stand in Tadasana with your the front of your ankles the width of your ASIS bones (pelvic bones, “hip pointers)
- Line up the outer edges of your feet so that your outer ankle bones and the middle of your baby toes are in a straight line
- Sway your weight forward and back a few times, but then stop when your weight is fully back over your heels
- Press the balls of your feet into the floor
- Relax your toes
- Make sure to back your hips up until a side view in a mirror would show your hip joint directly over your knee joint directly over your ankle joint with all three joints stacked directly over your strong, meant-for-this-purpose calacanei.
Having a partner press their hands down firmly on the tops of yours shoulders should give you a sense of whether or not your weight is all the way in your heels. If it were spread evenly throughout your feet, you could buckle under the weight of your partner’s hands. If your weight is back, you can easily stand strongly under this downward pressure because you are using the vertical structure of your bones to resist downward force.
This is how you do Tadasana – not because it is part of any particular yoga lineage, but because it is optimal for the health of your feet. What’s the big deal if you are only doing Tadasana a few minutes per yoga class? Because what you do on the mat often translates to what you do off of the mat – both the helpful and the harmful. This is how you do standing in line at the grocery. This is how you do standing around with a group of friends. This is how you do standing.