As a yoga educator, I get this question a lot: “Are my feet supposed to be together or apart in this posture?”
Like most things in life, there isn't a “one size fits all” answer—because every body is unique.
As yoga students test out alignment cues from their instructors and notice how poses feel in their body, with time they can discover a healthy alignment that supports their individual needs.
An experienced instructor will assist students with tweaking to allow for body differences, and also for changes relevant to different stages of life.
This means two students in the same pose could practice with two different foot positions—one together and one apart.
Still, having worked with hundreds of bodies over the past 15 years, I have a definite preference—and here’s why.
In a neutral standing position (like Mountain pose pictured above) the healthiest and most beneficial position for your feet is hip distance apart.
The feet-together position in mountain pose dates back to the ancient roots of yoga. Originally, yoga in India was only taught to men, often young boys. Indian women were not permitted to practice yoga.
The hip structure of a pre-teen or teenage boy is typically narrow and therefore standing with feet together didn't necessarily affect the mobility in their hips. In fact, with their feet together they were likely closer to being directly under their hips.
Females have wider hips than men—definitely wider than twelve-year old boys!
Foot placement was not as big an issue until it came to the west and women started practicing yoga.
Here are five other factors to consider when deciding which foot position is best for you:
1) Stability and Balance: Standing in your Mountain is symbolic of standing your ground in life. The best way to be balanced and stable is with a wider stance. When you balance your weight evenly on both feet and stand with them placed directly under your hips, your center of gravity is in your core, creating a stable and grounded foundation.
2) Knees and Hips: Any undue pressure to the inside of the knee is not optimal for the health of the knees. If the knees angle inward relative to the hips in order to keep the feet together, this can create gravitational pressure on the inside of the knee. Depending on the angle, the knee may begin to bear some body weight, which is not what it’s designed to do. The strongest and healthiest line of force for the bones is straight, without locking the joints. Optimally, the knees would be directly under the hips, with all gravitational weight moving through the knee joint without resistance.
3) Hip Mobility: Ideally, the head of the femur (thigh bone) sits back in the hip socket and is able to rotate and create optimal movement. This position allows for greater mobility in the hips. If the feet are placed together, there is more pressure on the head of the femur pressing outward in the hip socket. This position limits range of movement and mobility, puts pressure on your hip flexors and can also create lower back discomfort. When the thighbone is brought directly under the hip socket (standing with feet hip distance apart), it frees up the hips and the socket.
4) Teaching: As yoga teachers, we teach a diverse group of people with various body types. Our students model what we do. Not everyone will be able to stand with feet pressing together in Mountain Pose and feel stable, balanced and comfortable. Some may even be injured in this stance. If our intention is to offer options and be as inclusive as possible, a hip distance apart foot position is the most widely accessible option.
5) Comfort: I’ve practiced both ways and found much more comfort in my body when I allow space between my feet. For me, it simply feels better.
I invite you to try both stances and pay attention to how it feels.
I'd love to hear from you in the comment section below. Was this helpful? Which foot position works best for you?
Stand your ground—and enjoy your practice,
Join Brenda for her upcoming course Integrative Anatomy: Muscles, Bones, Energy & More.