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Skill Building The Foundation In Alignment

By John Mackey

Staying healthy is a primary concern. Our joints last a lifetime with attentive care: yet they take a lot of unhealthy punishment if we mistreat them. Understanding the anatomy of the foot, ankle, and knee joint along with their proper movement and alignment while under stress, and how to strengthen them gives us a safe and enjoyable practice, and a knowing sense of calm that our practice will not elicit harm.

For principles of foundation alignment, we might begin by researching the history of yoga. In the past, a student practiced one-on-one with the teacher. Krisnamacharya for example, taught his few students completely different styles (the ones we know now as ashtanga, iyengar, viniyoga, etc.) And if we look at the asanas, they varied. Why? Let’s not focus on the sequence or style of the practice, but rather the look of pose itself. As an example, Tadasana (mountain pose) has a different shape in Iyengar hatha and in ashtanga yoga. Why would this be? Since K Pattabi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and T.K.V. Desikachar were each taught by Krishnamacharya.

The logical explanation is that each of his student’s body required a different variation of the asana (and also a different style of practice.) So how do we know that our practice is best suited for our body? Let’s look closer at Tadasana and Warrior 2.

For Tadasana (Samastiti), Iyengar and viniyoga say heels and toes together; ashtanga says big toes together with heels slightly apart. What’s the reason for the difference? There are a couple of ways to tell what is correct for our body, and what gives the most stability and the least stress to the joints involved. One is anatomical; we can measure our body to determine this. For example, here is mine with heels together.

Notice both feet are turned out, the right slightly more. Which one is correct for your body?

The foot anatomy itself may require a modification – see the foot pictures in my previous blog. You will experience the modification if you need it.

Even “simple” poses we do every day may be causing stress. In Warrior 2 we also want to be aware of the back foot alignment. Notice the difference in the back feet.

The left lady, toes straight across; the right, toes slightly back. Both are correct. Which is best for your body (especially the knee)?

Even if we can’t do them fully, we can practice with modifications as the pose expresses itself as far as we wish to carry it. If we can do them fully, we want to ensure that our expression does no harm to the body over time.