4 Poses for Strong, Resilient Ankles

What would it be like if you lived your life in ski boots? It would certainly make walking down  stairs challenging, not to mention squatting to pick up the newspaper from the driveway or getting out of the car. On the other hand, ski boots might make balancing on one leg a whole lot easier. 

Ankle stability is a key component of balance — a foundational and often overlooked part of good health. By definition, balance is the ability to provide even distribution of weight, enabling you to remain upright and steady. Far beyond physical fitness, balance plays an important role in preventing falls and injuries, maintaining mobility and supporting good posture.

So why do we lose ankle mobility and strength as we get older? What happens when we have wobbly or stiff ankles? How can you work on your ankles when you fear falling?

Read on to learn the answers along with four yoga poses for keeping your ankles strong and stable. 

 

Ankle Mobility  

Consider this fact →  the ankle is the first major joint to absorb shock when your foot hits the ground. It takes the full weight of your body and sets you up for the next step. This is why having full ankle mobility is so important.

Ankle mobility refers to the flexibility of the ankle joint and its surrounding muscles and tendons. When these joints are flexible, you have a greater range of motion (ROM) during activities. You will also have a more natural gait to your walk, which will keep, well…pretty much everything upwards (knees, hips, back) in check. A weak ankle not only affects your balance, but also increases your risk of injury and can lead to chronic instability. Weak ankles can lead to sprains, strains, fractures, or dislocation.

Your ankle is designed to move in these five ways

  • Dorsiflexion: action of lifting the forward portion of the foot up, as when rocking back on your heels with the balls of your feet elevated or squatting down toward the ground. 

 

  • Plantarflexion: action of pushing the forward portion of the foot down, as when you raise your heels off the ground as you go up on the balls of your feet.

 

  • Inversion/Supination: turning the sole of the foot towards the center or midline of the body. 

 

  • Eversion/Pronation: moving the sole of the foot away from the center of the body.

 

  • Rotation: action of moving ankle in a circle. If you sit down, keep your heel on the ground, and slightly lift the ball of the foot off the ground, you can pivot the foot medially (internal rotation) and laterally (external rotation).

Of these five, studies show one of the greatest predictors of declining balance and increasing falls in older adults is the loss of ankle dorsiflexion.  

Why Does Dorsiflexion Matter? 

Dorsiflexion is part of normal walking. It occurs during the middle stages of your stride, just before pushing off the ground. 

Age-related stiffness of the ankle joint limits this movement, increasing instability and the likelihood of a fall. It also makes it more difficult to engage in daily activities, such as getting up and down from a chair, walking, and climbing stairs. The key is to have ankles that are both strong and flexible. 

 

Yoga For Strong, Resilient Ankles 

Like any muscles in our body, we need to use them or lose them. Including ankle stretching and strengthening exercises in your daily routine can really pay off in accident prevention. In addition, strengthening your ankles will help you walk properly and prevent the knee and hip muscles from weakening, ultimately lightening the load on your back. 

To help you incorporate poses specifically for ankle mobility, here is a four (4) pose mini yoga sequence you should do at least three times a week: 

 

4 Poses for Ankle Mobility 

1) Seated Ankle Rotations 

These are simple movements you can do while watching TV, sitting in a waiting room, or on an airplane. Not only do they help maintain the ankles’ ROM, but also help with circulation in the lower part of the body. 

Sit on the floor or in a chair. Extend one leg and circle your ankle in a clockwise direction 5-6 times. Move slowly, really working through your ankle’s entire range of motion. 

Next, flex your foot, bringing the toes towards your ankle, and then pointing the toes away. Repeat 4-5 times. Pause before repeating both movements with the other leg.

You can also incorporate these movements into your daily routines. For example, when you are standing at the kitchen sink slowly raise up on your toes and rock back on your heels (hold onto the counter for added stability).

2) Dandasana Toe Writing

Tracing your name or signature with your toes helps to stretch the muscles around the ankle and improve the range of motion in the ankle joint.

From seated, extend one leg forward. If seated on the floor, you may want to place a pillow or yoga block under the calf so that the foot and ankle are lifted off the floor. Then using your big toe, imagine signing your name on a document. Move slowly and mindfully, emphasizing the formation of each letter. When done, pause to notice the sensations in your toes, foot, and ankle before repeating with the opposite foot. 

Bonus activity: Hold a pencil between your toes to promote toe strength and provide for a good chuckle!

3) Mountain-Chair Pose Flow

This combination of poses emphasizes both dorsiflexion and plantarflexion of the ankle. It’s also a good way to practice balance with both feet on the ground. 

Stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with feet hip-distance apart. On an inhale, lift both arms overhead as you shift your weight into the balls of your feet. Pause here for one count before slowly bending your knees and bringing your heels to the floor. Reach both arms forward as you come into Chair Pose, pausing for one count.  

With the next inhale, raise your arms overhead, bringing your weight back into the balls of your feet and arms overhead. Pause for one, then exhale both arms by your sides as your heels come back to the floor. Repeat the sequence 3-5 more times, each time incrementally lengthening the time you stay to 5 counts. 

Need extra support? Hold the back of your chair with one hand and lift the opposite arm as you lift your heels. Be sure to alternate arms. 

4) Warrior I Calf Stretch  

Stand with your hands on your waist or lightly resting on the back of a chair. From Mountain pose, slide your right foot back into a Warrior I stance, heel lifted. On an inhale, lift the right heel up, straightening your left knee. As you exhale, slowly lower your right heel back towards the floor, noticing the stretch in the calf. Repeat 2-4 more times. 

Then with your right heel flat, lift your arms overhead into Warrior I. Keep pressing into the right heel into the floor as you stay for three breaths. Exhale your arms to your sides and return to Mountain pose. Pause to observe any sensations before repeating on the left. 

Finish the sequence by coming into Downward Facing Dog either on your mat or with hands resting on the back of your chair. 

Side note: It is completely normal to be stronger and/or more flexible on one side of your body than the other, and the ankles are no different.

**Bonus notes: All standing yoga poses are great for improving ankle strength. To watch a video of this sequence, click here.

 

If balance is something you struggle with, caring for the health of your ankles can really pay off. Of course, it’s always more fun to practice with others, so consider taking a yoga class, too. You can learn more about Wisdom Tree Yoga’s classes here. And be sure to check out my  4-week balance course, Building Better Balance

Be well! 

Wisdom Tree Yoga’s goal is to share the transformative benefits of yoga with real people living with real life challenges. We welcome students of all levels, offering a safe, supportive environment that is inclusive, accessible, compassionate, and joyful.



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