What do mountain pose, chair pose and standing forward folds have in common? These postures often have some of us questioning – feet together or feet apart? We’ve heard it cued both ways, but let’s explore why. There’s benefits to practicing postures with feet together, like core building – and there’s benefits of a wider stance, such as greater stability. Both placements come with contraindications, however.
On a physical level, feet together (sometimes cued with big toes touching, heels slightly apart) in, we’ll use mountain pose for this example, increases muscular engagement in the inner thighs, and also makes knee alignment more obvious. The benefit of practicing with your feet together would be to build core strength. Also, when standing with feet together, the muscles and fascia that run from the hip to the knee on the lateral part of the leg are as long as they can get in a relaxed position. However, this stance creates a narrower foundation which some find less stable. Thighs internally rotated can help you draw your core in and up, but it also means more abdominal pressure, which is contraindicated if you have low back pain or stomach/intestinal issues (or pregnancy!). This placement may also create tension in your hips.
Let’s move on to practicing with feet apart. Separating your feet to hip-width distance allows for more balance and provides a more stable base. Not only do you feel more supported laterally, but this stance provides more space for your lower back. In addition, the hip joints have more room to move. The downside of this stance is that everyone has a different skeletal variation – someone’s hip sockets may face to the side, causing them to force internal rotation to keep their feet parallel.
As yoga teachers and practitioners, we believe the bottom line to feet placement simply involves awareness and exploration. There is no single placement for your feet to find the “perfect” standing pose. Your body changes, so experiment with the width of your stance. To really see how much a difference it can make, try the following yoga poses with both positions for your feet and think about how it affects your knees, buttocks, hips and back. Often, the best place will be somewhere in between these two spots.
Remember, every part of your body has its own shape and it takes some time to learn how to best structure your practice.