Yoga Toes.

If you’re interested in reading more on ideas presented in the article below, I suggest reading Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief. If you’d like movement instruction via video, start with Schoolhouse Series Snacks: Unduck Your Feet.

Human feet, like tires on a car, are designed to point forward. It is in this position that the hinge of the ankle works with the least friction, the (hopefully) arch-shape created by the foot bones can support the most weight, and the toes articulate properly.

So, in classes, seminars, and to people I randomly meet on the street, I have them adjust their stance until it looks like this:

And then the person usually says “but now look at my toes! They are pointed inward! Now I have pigeon toes!

And then I say “have you ever seen a pigeon’s toes?” Because they look like this:

(I got this photo from www.pigeonsaspets.co.uk and I highly recommend visiting the site to learn more than you ever wanted about pigeon feet. Turns out they are amazing!)

And then I try to explain that, although closely positioned, your toes are separate structures from your feet and the muscles of the toes can pull the toes wherever the heck you want. And the cool thing is, if you are a duck footed (feet turned out):

Photo by Ian Britton/Freephotos.com

(wait, is this a picture of a pigeon-toed duck? I’m so confused! Who came up with these names?)

As I was saying,

If you feet are turned out when you walk, the crooked action of the ankle during gait is similar to the wrist action of cracking a whip, which accelerates the toes forward — even though the foot is pointed outward.

So when you make your feet straight, you may see that your toes have been pulling medially (towards the midline) for years.

Don’t worry” I say. It’s just muscle and you can stretch that out.

And then I give them exercises. And I tell them to get alignment socks because I love them:

And then about one out of every four people say “But I was told in my yoga class, that the correct position of the foot was to line up the second toe.”

So then I say: Yes. If your foot had been positioned correctly the entire time you’ve been up and walking around, the second toe would have been parallel to the outside of the foot, see?:

But, because you have the habit of walking around in turnout, that second-toe guideline doesn’t apply to you. And most of use are walking in turnout, so you need a better, objective way of seeing where your feet are.

If I could talk to all of the yoga teachers out there about biomechanics (and someday, maybe I will!) I would say that the much more accurate and objective straight-foot marker is the outside of the foot, NOT the second toe. Toes are not attached to the foot in a fixed way, where they could be used to determine foot position.

Toes are like teenagers. They can do what they want. 🙂 {And, in case you were wondering what to do with the knock-kneed sensation straightening your feet creates, check out this video from last year (click).}

Are you still interested in learning more on this?

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26 thoughts on “Yoga Toes.

  1. Thanks so much for your informative blog. I look forward to every new posting. Is it possible some of the turnout is occurring at the hip? If so, is lining up the foot still the best way to correct it? Many thanks!

    1. Turnout starts at the hip (think of all the babies with things between their legs, pushing them open, and then becomes a turn out of the lower leg (which is the most difficult to correct!) You have to start with the feet and make sure you watch the video at the end of the post — there’s a link — which may add the next level of understanding for you!

  2. I am working with some pretty poorly aligned and aching feet! Well, mostly just the right one. In my 40’s I developed a slight big toe bunion. Well they made me wear AAA shoes most of my life, so what do you expect – they were too narrow!!! And, I was always told I had flat arches. So, welcome to yoga…and I’ve been working on these feet…the right big toe wants to go medial, but I’ve used Yoga Toes and I have these socks, too, which I wear at night. The socks make my toes ache!!! Some days, the bunion really aches (and it isn’t even huge, from what I see!). Now, the arch of the foot hurts too – and the popping and cracking! My chiropractor adjusts it; of course, I have orthotics I can slip in my shoes too – been wearing those for 10 years. I”m not sure they aren’t a part of the problem! I do go barefoot in the house now all the time; and, I roll my feet over therapy type balls (slightly smaller than tennis balls) which feels good. I also learned from a PT how to tape the big toe over – so when I go for walks, I do that. That right foot hurts when I start walking – but last night, the walking actually relieved the pain! I had my sturdy Merrell’s on – which feel so good.

    Suggestions and to where to go for more help or what I could do? I really don’t want surgery!!! My sister-in-law did that 2 years ago…plates and all. A year later, they took the plates out, and she STILL can barely walk without discomfort; of course, she still insists in wearing “girly” shoes and heeled boots!!! LOL! Thanks! Love your blog!

    Martie

    1. Martie – Do you have the Fix Your Feet DVD? It sounds like you are doing lots of mobilization (massage and passive release) but there are specific exercises that work on stabilizing the toes, arch, and ankle. I’d start there – foot issues actually come from tension down the back of the leg (calf and hamstring) which is why I include those areas on the DVD. And, if you REALLY love feet, my big book on feet comes out later this year!!

  3. Katy, now i’m really concerned about my baby, who wears cloth diapers and spends a lot of time being worn with her legs open. she does sleep on her side now with her legs together, so she gets a number of hours per day with her legs together. she spends a lot of time (most of it) standing against furniture now, do you have any suggestions on what i can do to not totally destroy her body before she even has a chance to use it?

    1. Don’t worry! As long as there is some diaper free time these muscles can develop. One of the things you can do with your baby if she is in shoes, it model good gait for her (i.e. feet forward!) I am hoping my next book is on natural gait AND what to do for kids. Wish me luck 🙂

        1. I do wish you luck, and I garuntee I will buy that book. I also model proper gait for her, and I also hang out with her on the floor in many different positions, squat a lot, etc. Ii’m not sure if anyone else does this, but I also look at the way she sits and the positions she gets into and try to do it too, since I figure she’s moving a lot more like a human than i am. She hasn’t been influenced by culture yet in her body language, and she does a lot of really cool stuff *L*

  4. Great post, as usual!

    I second Jillian’s question above. Plus, can my baby wear diapers and still develop good trunk muscles? I know that diaper-free is not for us.

    ALSO….I lined up my feet and watched the knee video. I started walking like a prancing pony because the increased muscle activation made it difficult for me to roll through the feet. Any tips? Please put out a walking DVD soon, I will snap it right up! : >

    thank you!

  5. oh dear…a decade+ of formal competitive irish dance training left me with a very narrow stance (from crossing legs at the knees, from the hips) and toes turned out more than 90 degrees…and six years later, it still hasn’t changed much. drives my osteopathic faculty and fellow students crazy in labs. =) how long, in your experience, does it take to undo 17 years of training and habit?

    1. I used to watch the RiverDance commercial in a trance. Cool. Only not so much in the rest of the body, eh?
      The rate of change is a complex algorithm that is made of up of
      how much you stretch the inappropriate tension patterns
      +how much you strengthen the non-innervated tissues
      +how often you correct your stance somatically
      +how often you walk in the correct stance
      +how often you walk in the uncorrected stance
      +how often you don’t even think about your alignment.

      There are 10,080 minutes is a week. Rate of change depends on how mindful you can become about your joint to joint relationship.

  6. So if we’re working on the external rotation (shown in the linked video; cracked up at the duck sound effects) is it correct that we should not be tightening or using the butt muscles? Or is that ok? In the first picture here, it looks (to me) like the 2nd toe is aligned forward. Is it just slightly pointed inwards?

    Where can one find alignment socks? Thanks for the informative post, though I swear you’re making my walks that much more difficult! 🙂

    1. My pleasure (on the making your walks difficult part 🙂
      The external rotation CAN come from the quads, the butt, or the obturator (a deep hip rotator in the pelvic floor.) Guess which one it’s supposed to come from? If you guessed obturator, you are correct. Tip: Play with external rotation while lying on your back – feet up in the air. You’ll use the best muscles in this position — see if you can “feel” where they are and then translate it to when you are standing. The first picture is of one of our top teachers, so her toes are pretty in line with her feet. And getting better all the time 🙂

      If you click on the alignment sock link, it will take you to http://www.my-happyfeet.com! You can get socks there…

      1. Thanks for all the great posts and questions from everyone here!! I was about to post my own question on this…as I’ve worked on these exercises for months now, but there are days when I still struggle w consistently getting the ext rotation. I keep wanting to torque my feet trying to effect the ext rotation, ESPECIALLY when I’m getting tired. Then my feet fall asleep. And they hurt! But I have been able to give up my orthotics and that’s great progress! Anyway, no need for me to post a question, this last tip gives me something else to work on. I’m beginning to see this is an on going education…someday I’ll be at Pelvic Floor level 5000 – grad level. As an aside, I’ve discovered that stress plays a huge factor in all of this. When I’m stressed (esp. emotionally) all of this work and attention flies right out the window. I start tucking my butt and thrusting my ribs. Then my food doesnt digest well and I’m a real mess! Ugh!! Time for some personal time to defrag the physiology! Thanks Katy, you’re the best, I’m learning so much and I love all these posts!

  7. Thanks Katy, I was looking forward to your answer. And to all you out there – do the Alignment Course, worth it’s weight in gold. Actually worth a lot more – it doesn’t weigh that much!

    Spreading the word.

    Lucy

    1. Thanks Lucy. I can’t tell you all out there, interested in alignment – you won’t get all the information you really want, at the level you want it, unless you commit a bit of time to “go to alignment school.” It is very worth it. I promise!!

      Thanks Lucy, from the other side of the world 🙂

  8. I recently started tracking your blog and really appreciate your insights. I noticed that the first photo in your yoga toes article shoes a foot with Morton’s Toe/Morton’s Foot (I’ve heard both). That condition, where the first metatarsal is shorter than the second, can cause a lot of postural problem due to the tendency to rock to the outside of the foot, then the inside, trying to find balance. Do you address this in any of your videos? I have this condition and recently realized it is the source of hip, knee and even jaw pain. Thank you! Diane

    1. Diane – The notion that Morton’s toe causes the postural imbalances is an incorrect one. If people didn’t have excessive sitting habits that have resulted in low hip strength, balance, and muscle tension in the legs, their second toe length would not be an issue. It is much more correct to say that, if you have low hip strength and muscle tension, the morton’s toe will take a larger beating at the joint — with is the main cause of morton’s neuroma. The key is to strengthen the hips and lengthen the posterior leg muscles (hamstrings, hamstrings, hamstrings!) — then the toe is not an issue. Best DVD is Hips and Knees — and there is a lot more about this in my Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain, which is coming out later this year (but you can order it early for about 35% off.

      Bonus trivia: The largest Morton’s toe belongs to the STATUE OF LIBERTY. YES, they put one on her 😉

  9. Interesting post! I have seen people who are carrying and moving their bodies very well have their feet aligned naturally in the position you described. And all of them have excellent balance…. Going to play with this!

  10. This was really interesting! I’ve been reading a lot of your blogs posts lately, and paying attention to my alignment, especially when walking (which I’ve been doing more of, though still not quite as much as you recommend.) I have a question, though– I have very long toes, and they’re increasingly snugged up against each other from years of wearing shoes that didn’t have enough room in the toes, had pointed/narrow toe boxes, etc. I’ve been working on trying to spread my toes, stretch them out, and build up some dexterity with them again. I know that I tend to walk in a slight turnout when I’m not paying attention to my alignment; however, when I’m aligning my feet straight it looks to me like my toes slant *outwards* a bit rather than in towards the midline as you were discussing in this post. (Maybe that makes me whale-toed instead of pigeon-toed?) I’m assuming that’s not any better, alignment-wise, than having toes that drawn inwards, so what can I do about it?

    1. I’m sorry, but Whale Toes? I love it 😉
      It sounds like your toe abductors (muscles that pull them out) are stronger than those that pull in. Work on trying to not only spread, but get them to move inward. Note: try not to let them lift as you adduct, but keep them on the ground. It’s tough!

  11. Link to video no longer working. Knock kneed lady needs to know! (try saying that three times fast!)

  12. Katy, the link to the video mentioned in this post is broken. Can you fix it? I’d love to watch! I’ve just found your blog (pelvic floor issues and bursitis in one hip) and I love it so far. Ordered the foot pain book and can’t wait to get started. Thanks!

    1. Ok, just scrolled to the end of the comments and found the link to the video. Sorry for any confusion. Paula

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