beginner yoga student demonstrating standing balance pose in yoga

The Foot Triangle: Yoga for a Solid Foundation

By: 
Leila Stuart, BA, LLB, C-IAYT

You, and everything on Earth, are subject to the force of gravity. Luckily for you there is an equal and opposite uplifting force that keeps you standing.

Right relationship between gravity and the counterthrust of gravity (known as “ground reaction force”) can pattern structural stability and integrity while allowing efficient transmission of force and graceful movement. Without right relationship, you must compensate—do something, hold yourself up, or distort other body parts in order to stay upright.

The foot and ankle are designed to receive the entire weight of your upper body as it transfers through your structure and into the Earth, and to transmit the ground reaction force upward. As the interface between the body and the ground, the way the foot receives and transmits weight and force influences alignment in the rest of the body.

When you have a harmonious relationship with gravity, you can organize yourself around your midline and the nervous system can receive precise input about the ground surface through the many sensory nerve endings in your feet. This information is processed and interpreted so the nervous system can send motor messages to the muscles that help you stay upright and in balance.

The “Celestial Design Committee” designed your body so that all the joints of the lower limb line up directly with the pull of gravity. Even a small deviation off your central axis can contribute to altered movement patterns, imbalanced muscular development in the legs and torso, and an increased chance of injury.

Alignment, stability, and mobility build a sound foundation not only in the feet but in the rest of the body. Without this soundness, your breath, emotions, quality of perception, and state of wellbeing can all be affected.

For example, your breath may be restricted when upper body muscles tense in compensation for the lack of support from below. Feelings of safety, support, and balance may be difficult to access when the foundation of the feet is unsteady.

The Foot Triangle in Yoga

Beginner yoga student learning how to practice easy standing balance poses in yoga

The experiential anatomy practice of the Foot Triangle is a way of consciously establishing foundation through your feet, on and off the yoga mat. With this practice, you repeatedly ask yourself to come back to center, to connect to the Earth, and to place yourself squarely in the present moment. Consistent practice can help you to stay seated in your true self and to respond from that place when challenges tempt you to react from old conditioning.

The Foot Triangle is a foundational practice that I teach to all my students.  One older student was thrilled that her balance had improved so much that she could again pull her pants on when standing up.

Another student reported that diligent practice of the foot triangles strengthened her feeling of standing in herself so much that she experienced her first family Christmas in years without fighting with her sisters!

How to Practice Using the Foot Triangle

1. Set a Baseline                                                                                                                                                 

Standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), focus your awareness to sense the interface between your feet and the surface of the ground. How does your upper body weight sequence into your feet? Which parts of your feet are pressing into the floor? Which parts are suspended away from the floor? Is there more weight on the heel or the toes? On the inside or outside of the foot? Is the weight pattern the same or different for each foot? Is your weight balanced between the right and left foot? What does the outline of your foot look like in your mind? How steady do you feel?

2. Learn It                                                                                                                                                                   

When you are in harmonious relationship with gravity, your weight is transferred from the foot into the ground through a triangle formed by the ball joints of the big and little toes, and an area toward the front of the heel where the “clean” part meets the “dirty” part. The triangle is the most stable and materially efficient shape in nature. 

learning your foot triangle to create greater stability and balance and connection in your yoga practice

 

 

3. Feel It                                                                                                                                                                       

To find these points, sit in a comfortable position and use your thumbs to explore the big and little toe ball joints. As you palpate the geography of these joints for a few minutes, you are highlighting their existence for the nervous system, which can then use this information in subsequent alignment and movement. Wearing shoes, moving in habitual ways, and walking on flat surfaces can make the nervous system forget about the existence of the foot triangles.

To find the heel point, place the second and third fingers of each hand on the ankle bones of one foot, then move the fingers to meet on the sole of the foot toward the front of the heel. Take some time to massage this area so it “wakes up.”                                                           

After completing your exploration of one-foot triangle, stand in Tadasana, and compare the sensations in the two sides of your body. How does creating a mind-body connection with your foot triangle change your experience? Repeat this exploration on the other foot, then again stand in Tadasana and compare your experience to your baseline.

 

4. Integrate Foot Triangle Awareness In Your Yoga Practice                                                                                                                                              

Once you have “turned on” foot triangle awareness, you can apply it to asana to become aware of your weight-bearing habits, and to repattern a new habit of transferring weight and force through your structure into the ground in a more balanced way. To provide very clear feedback, you can tape buttons or coins on the three points with adhesive tape. You will know immediately when your weight distribution is imbalanced!  

Experiment with different standing poses to determine the effect on your alignment when your primary directive is to distribute your weight equally between the six points of the two-foot triangles. You will probably discover that you can disregard the many usual alignment clues regarding position of the foot, knee, and pelvis. Return to foot triangle awareness throughout your daily activities.

Mindfulness of the foot triangles can provide an effective and unifying cue that can automatically produce impeccable alignment and undo unnecessary muscular tension.  The added bonus is that you will also stand in yourself, connected to your own power! 

 

Also, Study Experiential Anatomy with Leila Stuart and YogaUOnline - Standing on Your Own Two Feet: Experiential Anatomy of the Foot.

Leila Stuart, writer, yoga teacher, experiential anatomy, experiential anatomy of the foot


Leila Stuart, writer, yoga teacher, experiential anatomyLeila Stuart BA, LLB, C-IAYT, is a Registered Massage Therapist and has practiced and taught yoga for over 40 years. Leila developed and taught 14 years of The Anatomy of Yoga Therapy, an innovative Yoga Therapy training, focusing on experiential anatomy, alignment, breath, and movement repatterning, and embodiment of the deeper teachings of yoga as pathways to self-healing. With a deep love and intuitive knowledge of experiential anatomy, Leila specializes in transforming academic information into somatic intelligence and life-changing experience. She is an international teacher, online educator and conference presenter, and author of Pathways to A Centered Body with Donna Farhi. She lives near Vancouver, BC.  www.leilastuart.com.