Keeping your ankles strong and supple can help prevent injuries such as ankle sprains. Yoga not only stretches and strengthens the muscles around your ankles, it also increases proprioception -- your ability to sense the position of your joints -- helping you move more easily and with better balance. To strengthen your ankles, focus on keeping your weight evenly spread through your feet during standing poses and maintain a neutral alignment in your ankles when your feet are not weight bearing.
Stretching the Front of the Ankles
Habitually leaning forward can cause the muscles of your shins to become overworked, leading to tightness in the front of your ankles. Child's pose stretches the front of your ankles. If Child's pose is too intense due to ankle restriction, try placing your shins on a folded blanket with your feet hanging over the edge of the blanket. Virasana, or Hero's pose, also stretches the front of the ankles. Elevating your sit bones on a block or folded blanket may make the pose more comfortable.
Stretching the Back of the Ankles
Upavesasana, or Squat pose, can be challenging if your ankles do not flex fully. This is typically due to tightness in the calf muscles, although restrictions in the front of your ankle can play a role as well. Poses such as Downward-Facing Dog and Warrior I lengthen your calf muscles. Do not allow the arches of your feet to collapse when you stretch your calves. Instead, distribute your weight evenly between your inner and outer foot as you work to press your heels down.
To strengthen your ankles in standing poses, focus on keeping your weight balanced between your heels and the balls of your big and little toes. Standing balances such as Warrior III and Garudasana, or Eagle pose, are particularly helpful for strengthening the muscles around your ankles. In poses such as Trikonasana, or Triangle pose, avoid collapsing the arch of your back foot, but also be careful not to over-stretch your outer ankle, which can lead to instability.
Finding a Neutral Ankle
Iyengar yoga teacher and physical therapist Julie Gudmestad writes in "Yoga Journal" that when most people relax, their feet fall open and the soles turn up. She notes that habitually holding the feet like this can shorten your calf muscles and increase your risk of spraining an ankle. Gudmestad suggests holding your ankles in a neutral position, rather than allowing them to fall open, during poses where you are not bearing weight in your feet, such as Headstand and Shoulder Stand.
Joe Miller started writing professionally in 1991. He specializes in writing about health and fitness and has written for "Fit Yoga" magazine and the New York Times City Room blog. He holds a master's degree in applied physiology from Columbia University, Teacher's College.