The ankle is probably the most underrated, under-appreciated joint in the body. Aside from withstanding the rigors of high heels and sweaty gym socks, the ankles support the majority of the body weight while standing and moving. Specific yoga poses and modifications can help strengthen the ankles and provide a strong base for the rest of the body.
The ankles are much more than the big nub at the bottom of the leg. The two major bones that make up the ankle are the talus and the calcaneus. The talus connects the lower leg bone with the foot and is the visible ankle that often suffers contact with the coffee table or bed post. The calcaneus is the solid bone of the heel that supports the talus. Aside from the bones, the ankles are a noodle network of muscles and connective tissue joining muscles of the lower leg to the solid base of the foot and the toes. Solid bands of connective tissue support the structure of the ankle including the Achilles tendon, the largest tendon in the body. Regular yoga practice strengthens all of these muscles and connective tissue by challenging balance and stability
Performing any sequence of standing poses will engage the ankles. Warrior poses with one leg bent challenge the stability of the ankle on the bent leg through the torque and weight applied to it. Additionally, any lunge poses forward or to the side challenge the ankle of the extended back leg simply because the foot is turned with pressure applied to it. The ankles work overtime in these poses to support the body weight on an unstable plane. Similarly, poses such as the triangle or revolving triangle where the legs are straight and the body is hinged forward or to the side at the waist demand both flexibility and balance. Even if these poses are modified with the legs bent or with the use of foam blocks, the ankles still get a workout because the body weight shifts forward and down and balance must be maintained on the unsteady plane of the aligned feet.
Standing balance poses immediately push the stability issue for the ankles. Balancing on one foot can be tricky even in a casual context -- think of playing Twister -- and is even more challenging when more is asked of the entire body at the same time. Poses like the eagle work the ankle of the standing leg as well as the ankle of the foot wrapping the shin of the standing leg. Lord of the Dance pose challenges the strength and stability of the standing leg ankle while improving flexibility in the ankle held in the hand as the rear foot is lifted toward the ceiling.
Moving to seated poses can be like a sigh of relief, but the ankles are still challenged even without full weight-bearing stress. Ankle flexibility is challenged in poses like full or half lotus, and the tops of the feet extending to the ankles are stretched in poses such as kneeling in hero pose or sitting back on the heels in child’s pose. Increasing ankle flexibility can go a long way toward improving ankle strength.
- Human Anatomy and Physiology; Elaine N. Marieb
- Yoga Anatomy; Leslie Kaminoff
- Yoga Journal: Step Lively
- 30 Essential Yoga Poses; Judith Lasater
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