As a yoga instructor and practitioner, something I have never thought about was how the shape of someone’s feet affect their stance and alignment – specifically when a person has bunions. In fact, in all my years practicing yoga in the classroom, I’ve never once heard a yoga instructor give someone a standing variation because their toes couldn’t touch.
The only reason I even started thinking about it was because one day I was teaching my partner yoga and I gave the cue in tadasana to bring the feet together, big toes touching, and he physically could not do it. I felt baffled and thought, “OK, I’ve never seen nor dealt with this before. What do I do?” Well, I came up with a few things.
What are bunions?
A bunion (also known as hallux valgus) is a bump that develops at the big toe joint, on the inside of the foot. As it gets bigger and bigger, this impacts the other toes pushing them outward. Bunions develop over time from a variety of factors. For example, from bad hip alignment, which affects walking and standing, from bad footwear, or pre-existing conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The Power of the Big Toe
The big toe is such a small thing in comparison to the rest of the body, but is actually responsible for a lot of important functions. It provides leverage when we are walking, running, or pedaling. It gives us balance, as well as alignment in the pelvis and leg bones.
In yoga, the toes are extremely important in terms of balance and stability. They are the foundation, and help create the mind-body connection. When we are balancing, for example in a pose such as utkatasana (better known as chair pose), consider where you place the weight along the foot. Typically, most of the weight will be towards the heel with the toes lifted to give more stability in the pose. Or, a pose such as uttanasana (standing forward fold), the weight is toward the front of the foot with the big toe gently pushing down on the mat, which brings more alignment in the femurs.
So, what happens when there are bunions?
How Bunions Affect Stability and Alignment
Bunions can pose a host of problems when it comes to stability and alignment. They affect your stance, how you walk, how you distribute your weight, and your balance. As the bunions grow, they can also affect your knees and hips. If your bunions are painful, it can cause you to shift your weight away from the bunion which can lead to other painful problems. In short, without intervention, your bunions may slowly worsen over time, causing other problems within your body, affecting your quality of life.
How Yoga Can Help Lessen Bunion Symptoms
Yoga is not a cure (please, go see a doctor about your bunions), but there are poses that can help slow bunion progression.
- Vrksasana (Tree Pose) – Balancing poses such a tree pose where one foot is on the mat, help strengthen leg muscles. This can help strengthen the where the big toe and metatarsal bone meet.
- Tadasasana (Mountain Pose) – This is a basic pose that anyone can do. It can help you to focus on your toes and practice spreading them, as well as think about the distribution of weight at the four corners of the foot. For those of you with large bunions, where the big toes can not physically touch, I recommend placing the feet one fist distance away from each other. This will give you the proper alignment needed.
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose) – This pose is great to help focus on the arches of the foot. It is possible that bunions can cause flat feet which can cause alignment problems, as well as problems in your ankles and knees. In supported bridge pose, make sure to keep your thighs and feet parallel to each other. Your knees should be in line with your hips, your ankles should be in line with your knees. Make sure to press through your arches and toes.
- Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold) – This pose is good for stretching out the muscles in the feet, as well as the back of the legs. Keep your feet flexed and pointed towards the sky. You can have your legs straight or knees bent. Keep the spine straight, as you reach toward your toes, bending at the hips.
There are other poses which may help alleviate some symptoms from bunions, but these are a good place to start.
Last, but not least: Focus!
It is difficult to correct old habits. A consistent practice is key when it comes to seeing improvement over time. And, as a reminder these exercises are not a cure – don’t forget to visit a doctor for serious issues. Thanks for reading and let me know if you found this information helpful.
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