Working with a friend on yoga, I have seen the postures in a different light. No two people have the same strengths and she has asked pointed questions about things that have never crossed my mind before. Most specifically, she asked if there were postures that were good for strengthening ankles. I have always worried about my knees but never my ankles. But with a little research I came up with some suggestions for her. And a better understanding of why she is having a hard time with balance.
One thing that is helping my friend greatly is that she listened to me when I told her that alignment is more important than depth when doing yoga. Her chances of injury are lower than those of the people I see in Vinyasa flow classes throwing themselves in to Wild Thing with no real understanding of what is being asked of their bodies. Proper alignment for feet (and by extension ankles) means making sure all four corners of your foot are equally grounded – not just the outer edges, which are often called out in class but the ball of the foot as well. That strong base will improve your balance and stability. Following are some basic postures that will help with your ankle strength and by extension your balance.
Chair Pose and Awkward Pose: While both work to strengthen calves, thighs and arms they will also build stability in your ankles. Make sure your feet are firmly planted with the outsides of your feet parallel to one another before getting started. Don’t let your toes point in with your heels slipping out. Naturally, the second part of Awkward Pose will ask the most of your ankles but the entire sequence will help you improve balance and focus.
Garland/Malasana/Squat Pose: This is a great posture because it is easily modified so that you can continually work the pose. Starting in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with feet slightly wider than hips distance apart, pivot feet so toes are slightly wider than heels. Bend knees, sinking down until your hips are lower than your knees with your butt a few inches off the floor. Bring your hands together at heart center and wedge your elbows to the inside of your knees. You can modify by bringing your feet closer or farther apart to try and keep your heels on the ground.
In the photo above, I am doing Half Frog Pose – which is a little more advanced but really opens up the ankles. It is one of many poses that can help in this vein – why not try them all and see which is best for you?