Strange things happen to yoga instructions. They often seem to morph over time into something new and slightly different. This isn’t a bad thing but I often wonder why it happens. When I started doing yoga about 16 years ago the instructions were always to bring the feet parallel and feet together at the front of the mat. If you look at the picture of B.K.S. Iyengar in the picture that accompanies this post you will see his big toes touching as well as his heels. This is how I was taught as well, and how I continue to practice.
Nowadays you will see most people standing in tadasana with an inch or two, if not more, between their feet. I have to admit that I have accommodated this concept for a long while, but I am working on changing my ways. It is easier to stand this way but is it better?
I guess the upside to separating the feet is that it makes it easier to accomplish a key instruction to take the thighs back, internally rotating the inner thighs allowing the sit bones to move back and apart. This is an essential yoga instruction for standing in tadasana as well as many other poses. With the feet apart it is much easier to accomplish.
You can experience this in three ways; one more advanced than the next. Take the inner thighs back and apart with the feet two inches apart, then take them back with the big toes touching and the heels slightly apart, and finally do the same action with the feet together- big toes touching and the heels touching. It should get harder with the feet together and might even require a lot of work with the heels touching but this is as it should be.
The down side to letting the feet separate has to do with the outer hips and butt. Many people tend to be tight in the hips and outer thighs. The IT Band is a length of connective tissues that gives people loads of trouble. Tightness in the outer thighs manifest s all throughout the practice but most unfortunately in backbends, where the tight IT Band pulls the knee joint to the outside of the ankle joint, which in turn compromises the sacrum and the sacro-iliac joint. This is the reason for much of the back pain that yogis experience.
When we stand with the feet together, the IT band is as long as it can get in a relaxed position. The instant the feet separate, the IT band is no longer in extension, and shortens slightly. While an inch or two of space between the feet might not be the biggest deal, it isn’t the ideal that we are looking for.
I can be a very picky yoga teacher emphasizing minute adjustments to make large changes to the body. For years my yoga instructions have simply ignored how people maintain their feet in tadasana, while in my own practice I am working with the toes and heels together. I think that is about to change.