Have you ever felt the ground you stand on? How does it feel to stand on your own two feet?
The third and final “worst yoga cue ever” is one that I can already sense you contracting around. Take a deep breath. Let’s not fight about it. I feel a little bit like Galileo, convicted of heresy for saying the earth is not the center of the universe. This is just anatomy, it’s not a matter of universal importance. Or is it?
Here’s the cue: “find the four corners of your feet.” It’s not like the four-corner image is inherently unsafe. You aren’t going to hurt your students with this cue.
But when we give our yoga students cues like “find the four corners of your feet,” we offer a concept. Our students trust us, most likely they swallow it whole, undigested. Now that there’s an image (four corners of the feet), there’s no need for exploration.
Yoga posture practice at its best is a way to experience the body and mind without concepts or labels. Training attention on present moment experience via yoga posture practice helps us to be with things as they are. It allows us to release patterns of distraction, and ultimately to have a sense of freedom and spaciousness in life both on- and off-the-mat. In teaching yoga, this is why I gravitate toward language cues that entice and illuminate rathe than those that command or superimpose images onto the body from the outside.
What happens when the language cues superimpose images that don’t match up to reality? It creates a disconnect between body (3 points making contact with the earth) and concept (4 corners). Unfortunately, because of our mind-dominant culture, it is usually the concept that wins. Especially given how often the phrase “find the four corners of you feet” is used. The body tries to conform. We are quite adept at conforming to outside influences: look at 4-inch heels, foot-binding and spanxs. Yoga becomes another place where mind rules over body; when actually yoga practice should be the place where the body’s inherent intelligence guides the way forward. Once you have superimposed an image and concept, you stop feeling for how your foot actually is.
How is your foot, actually? I will present as evidence a single image (from Thomas Myers, Anatomy Trains). This image is of the three arches of your feet. Notice how the medial and lateral arches join at a single point in the center of your heel. Your foot is not shaped like a car on four wheels. That’s why your ankle wobbles around when you are trying to find your point of balance on one foot. If your foot was like a car resting on four wheels, there would be no teetering, just as a parked car isn’t wobbly.
What changed when we stopped seeing the earth as the flat center around which everything else revolved? We came into clearer focus about our actual place in a larger system. Our sense of belonging changed. I don’t know what will change when you feel, as I do, the center of your heel making contact with the earth. But every shift has consequences. When you stand more truly aligned with how things are, you see clearly.
The sutras say we are moving away from avidya, ignorance, toward vidya, clear seeing. Moving the body with intentional, focused presence trains us to receive experience as it actually is. This training is a form of clear seeing. When we are able to see clearly, both on and off the mat, we have the wisdom to make wise choices, to act with freedom. To be awakened. Otherwise, what is the practice for?
If you’re still reading, thank you. Even if you’re a doubtful, committed “4-cornerer,” try spending your next ten yoga practices feeling for how your foot is actually making contact with the earth in tadasana, mountain pose, or in tree pose, vrkśasana. If you’ve been at this 4-cornering for a while, it’s going to take some time to unravel the concept and touch the ground of being. You have to get beneath external conditioning, zoom your attention to present moment experience. But that’s ok: this is what a yoga practice is all about.
Just imagine: what if the process of foot-contact exploration held the potential to open a magic portal of connection to the earth that exists at the very center of your heel?
Thank you for meeting me here! As always, I would love to hear from you. Please connect with me via email or leave a message in the comment section. I am always happy to see what posts you like and honored when you share your favorites with friends.
Check out Part 1 & 2 of this series on worst yoga cues ever: