In the name of all that is right and good, quit standing around with your feet turned out all willy-nilly! The tendencies to turn the feet out, and also to kick the hips to a side and shift our weight primarily into one leg, causes structural imbalances in the low back and the legs, especially the knees. Ideally, stand with your feet parallel as much as you can, and line your kneecaps up to point over the center of your ankles.
Standing with parallel feet and legs is a simple idea that can take a fair amount of practice. It’s something you are likely already practicing in yoga (‘At the top of your mat with your feet parallel, inhale and lift your arms overhead….’), but advice I often offer my yoga private clients is that the time OFF the mat is making a bigger impact that the time you spend ON the mat. Which is to say: we spend far more time in our lives outside of yoga class than in class, and every time you’re standing in line at the bank or waiting for the light to change with your feet turned out and your knees buckling in, you’re moving your body away from its potential to thrive.
When the feet and legs turn out, the back of the pelvis and the low back narrow. Chronic narrowing will compress the sacral area, and create a structural pattern that stresses the back, as well as the knees. Strong turnout in the legs tucks under the back of the pelvis, flattens the low back, putting the discs of the low spine at risk. It also interferes with the healthy tracing of the knees, and will tend to stress the stabilizing ligaments of the ACL and the MCL.
But you can make a change! Here’s what you need to know to track your feet, legs, and pelvis, in the healthiest way possible:
Parallel feet are defined by lining up the center of the ankle to the base of the second toe. So you’re not looking to line up the outer edges of the feet, but rather the second metatarsal. Sometimes toes will point in different directions, so trace the line just to the root of the second toe, where it connects to the ball of the foot.
Kneecaps should track over the center of the ankle as well (specifically the second toe base). A common pattern I observe is hyperextension of the knees, which will tend to track the knees inward even when the feet point forward or out. Counteract this by softening your knees, and balancing your weight evenly in the ball and heel of each foot. Keep that balanced as you track your knees over your ankles.
Keep your pelvis level. When the back of the pelvis gets tucked under, it will tend to turn out the thighs, as well as the feet. Your pelvis needs to be upright, with your low back in its natural curve, to allow the thighs, knees and feet to track straight ahead. Check out this blog entry for more info on a level pelvis and healthy low back.
Remember that the unconscious ways we hold ourselves posturally make a big impact. The biggest work is just in remembering to stand with your lower body in healthier alignment. If you’re like me, you’ll notice throughout your day that you’re standing with the feet turned out and the knees buckling in. Don’t stress; you’re not doing anything wrong! The body gets in patterns based on use, strength, flexibility and structure. So never give yourself a hard time if you catch yourself standing with your feet turned out, or weight shifted to one leg. Simply notice, realign, and repeat as often as you need to help the new pattern take hold. It will take mindfulness for a while, but will quickly become second nature.
Justicia DeClue (E-RYT 500) has been teaching since 2005 and is the owner and director of Maha Yoga in Philadelphia. She is most sought after for her detailed alignment instruction and open-hearted teaching style. She really loves Instagram, and can also be found on Facebook.