Simple Yoga Poses To Strengthen Your Ankles
Common Ankle Injuries
Ankle injuries are quite common, and can result in acute or chronic pain, stiffness, swelling and/or misalignments within the joint.
Rolling your ankle—say when playing basketball, or stepping off of a slippery curb, or hiking through rugged terrain—can stretch and/or tear one or more of the ankle's ligaments, resulting in an ankle sprain.
More severe than a sprain is a fracture of one of the bones of the ankle: e.g. the tibia, fibula, or talus. A broken ankle—whether it's a simple or a compound fracture—can be the result of an auto or household accident, or a high-impact collision in a sporting event.
But the muscles, tendons and bones in the ankle can also become inflamed or injured simply as the result of overuse—the repetitive movements and impact of long-distance running, for instance, or being on your feet for long hours at your job. Inflammation of a tendon is called tendinitis, and some of the most common examples in the ankle area are Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. And stress fractures (aka hairline fractures) of the tibia, fibula, or metatarsals are fairly common among runners—and are another example of an overuse injury.
Ankle pain is sometimes also the result of biomechanical misalignments: when the bones, ligaments and/or muscles are not properly oriented. Misalignments can cause nerve compression, deformities of the foot, and unnatural and painful weight-bearing habits.
And finally, pain in the ankle can be associated with more chronic conditions such as ankle osteoarthritis.
Whatever the original cause of the ankle pain, the following sequence of yoga poses can help to restore comfort, ease, and proper alignment within the joint. It can help you heal from a specific injury, as well as keep your ankles healthy throughout your lifetime.
Yoga Poses To Resolve Ankle Pain
These yoga poses can help you regain range of motion in your ankles—along with stability, balance, and improved proprioception.
Required equipment: a yoga strap (or a long belt), and a yoga bolster (or a couple of folded blankets).
Optional: a stability cushion.
Note: For maximum benefit, we recommend completing the sequence in the order that it's presented here. That said, it's also fine to choose just one or two of the poses to practice—if time is short.
1. Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-Wall Pose). Sit down on the floor, near a wall—then let your torso relax all the way down as you swing your legs up the wall. Allow the base of your pelvis to remain 6-8 inches away from the wall, so that your legs are at a slight angle. Let your arms rest on the floor, near your torso—or you can interlace your fingers behind your head, if that feels better.
Now, with your feet still resting high up on the wall, strongly dorsiflex both of your ankles: Slide your heels up toward the ceiling, while at the same time drawing your toes toward your shins. Continue this flexing action for 2-3 minutes, then relax the ankles again.
2. Now, with your legs still up the wall, reverse the action of the feet and ankles: Reach your toes toward the wall, and then curl the toes strongly toward your heels—as though you were making them into feet-fists (or firmly-held flower-buds).
Curling your feet in this way will likely cause a bit of cramping—but don't worry about this. Work gently yet firmly to dissolve the cramps—or move right through them. If need be, back off a little bit, and then reengage. Continue for 2-3 minutes, then relax the ankles again.
3. With your legs still up the wall, hook the base of your right foot (just below the toes) with a yoga strap. With each end of the strap firmly grasped in your right and left hands, use the strap to help you fold the right ankle joint even more deeply (as in #1). Continue for 2-3 minutes, and then repeat with the left foot/ankle.
To come out of the pose, slide your feet halfway down the wall, and then roll onto your side. Rest for 30 seconds or so, and then press up to a seated position.
4. Supta Padangusthasana (Reclined Big-Toe Pose variation). Lie down on your back, with your knees hinged and your feet flat on the floor. Rest your head on a folded blanket or the yoga bolster.
As in #3, place a yoga strap over the bottom of your right foot, near the base of the toes. Now extend your right leg fully—beginning at a 45-degree angle—while holding the ends of the strap, one in each hand. Keep the left leg hinged at the knee, with the foot flat on the floor.
Use the strap to help lift your right foot even closer to the ceiling—if you can do this without hinging the knee. Now use the strap to fold the ankle joint even more deeply—into dorsiflexion—by reaching through the heel and drawing the toes toward the shin. Hold for 2-3 minutes, and then repeat on the second side.
5. Dandasana (Staff Pose variations). Sit up on a yoga bolster—or on a couple of folded wool or cotton blankets—with your legs extending forward on the floor. Place your hands on the bolster (or blankets) to the side or slightly behind your hips, and use the support of your arms to keep the spine upright and extended.
With your legs still extended forward, draw your feet together and then strongly dorsiflex your ankles: moving your toes toward your shins. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and then relax the ankles.
Now dorsiflex your ankles once again, but this time also invert your feet—turning the soles of the feet toward one another. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and then relax.
And finally, flex your ankles and at the same time evert your feet—turning the soles outward, away from one another. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and then relax the feet and ankles completely.
6. Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose variation). Kneel down on the floor, with your knees and legs close together. Curl your toes under, press your inner ankles toward one another, and then- sit back on your heels—doing your best to keep your inner ankles together. Hold for 1-2 minutes, and then change the position of your feet, so that your toes are extending back (rather than curled under) so the tops of the feet are now resting flat on the floor. With the feet in this new position, once again sit back on your heels, and hold for 1-2 minutes.
Note: If you aren't able to comfortably sit all the way back on your heels, you can place a bolster, blanket, or pillow between your heels and pelvis.
7. Virasana (Hero Pose). This pose is similar to Vajrasana (#6) but instead of sitting directly on your heels, you'll be sitting on the floor (or on a block or cushion) between your heels. Begin by kneeling on the floor, with your knees hip distance apart—then sit down between your feet. Hold for 2-3 minutes.
Note: As mentioned, it's fine to place a block, folded blanket, or yoga bolster beneath your pelvis—if stiffness in your hips, knees or ankles prevents you from being able to sit directly on the floor.
8. Vrksasana (Tree Pose variations). Stand upright, with your feet close together. Press down strongly into your feet—as though you were a tree growing roots. Place your hands on the top rim of your pelvis. Now transfer most of your weight into your right foot, lifting your left heel so only your left toes are touching the floor. If this feels stable, then experiment with lifting your left foot entirely off of the floor (just a few inches) and then placing it lightly against your inner right ankle. Continue for 1-2 minutes, and then switch sides.
9. Once you've practiced steps 1-8 for at least a week, you can improve your ankle joint flexibility, strength and stability in a new way—as well as improve your balance and core strength—by using a stability cushion (aka balance disc). Place the cushion on the floor near a wall or dance-bar. Place your right hand on the wall or bar to help you balance, as you step onto the center of the stability cushion with your right foot. Hold for 30-60 seconds, then switch sides.
The Healing Power Of Mindful Awareness
As you explore these yoga poses, do your best to keep your attention directed inwardly: remain mindfully aware of the movement of your breath, and the sensations in your body. Feel into your ankle joint—and the surrounding tissue—with an attitude of loving-kindness, compassion and curiosity. Learn to differentiate between pain and strong sensation. If it's pain, then lessen the intensity of the yoga pose. If it's just strong sensation, then welcome this sensation, and give it lots of space.
If you notice thoughts or emotions rooted in fear, sadness, anger, frustration or impatience—allow these negative, contracted emotions to unwind, as best as you can. Return to spacious, non-judgmental curiosity and kindness—as you rest your attention gently in the very center of the ankle. This begins and deepens the healing process.
And finally, remember that an ankle brace or compression sleeve is another great tool to support healing. These can be worn during your daily activities, at night while you sleep, or as extra support during your athletic or exercise routines.