Strengthen Your Ankles

Strengthen Your Ankles

foot health

STRENGTHEN YOUR ANKLES

Our feet are the foundation of our bodies. Placing great emphasis on creating ankle stability and mobility during our asana practice should be obvious; unfortunately, this is not always the case. Maintaining a regular practice can help us greatly benefit in this area of the body, even when we’re not specifically focusing on our feet. The simple nature of the practice exposes us to a variety of movements in the ankle joints. It’s up to us, however, to be intentional about incorporating specific actions to strengthen our ankles.

The question is how we can incorporate these actions and techniques. What we’ll see in today’s video is how Matt seamlessly integrates techniques into common postures. These techniques not only translate into a more challenging arm balance but also serve to help us to minimize ankle injuries.

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  • Dogmatic alignment versus functional alignment
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  • Excellent guide for yoga enthusiasts
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  • Joint-health awareness
  • Muscle integrity, range of motion
  • Props for accessibity
  • Alignment alterations in the case of injuries

ANATOMY OF THE ANKLES

In order to strengthen our ankles and create a “corset of support,” it’s helpful to understand the muscles we are affecting with each action. There are 4 actions of the ankle: dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, inversion, and eversion.  Although Matt touches on each one of these, our focus for today is on inversion and eversion. Everting the ankle helps activate the fibularis muscles (outer shin). There are 3 fibularis muscles (2 that attach into the outer foot and 1 that is more towards the front of the outer ankle). 

The tibialis posterior (along the back side of the calf) helps invert the ankle. This muscle runs along the back of the shinbone, or tibia, and opposes the fibularis muscles. Matt refers to these two muscles as the “bootstrap” muscles, which help stabilize the ankle.

WATCH THE VIDEO

STRENGTHEN YOUR ANKLES TO MINIMIZE INJURY: IMPLEMENT KEY TECHNIQUES IN FAMILIAR YOGA POSTURES

PREVENTING POTENTIAL INJURIES

If you’ve ever experienced an ankle sprain or the pain of plantar fasciitis, you’ll be glad to know that the techniques from this video can be extremely helpful in preventing these types of injuries.

The outer ligaments of the ankles are smaller and less powerful compared to the ligaments on the inside of the ankle. Due to the increased vulnerability of the outer ankle, more sprains happen here. There are 2 tendons that run under the ligaments that help the ligaments keep the ankle in place. To make sure the ligaments have the support they need, it’s imperative to strengthen the muscles of fibularis. It is equally important to strengthen the muscles that support inversion, to help prevent the collapsing of the inner arch.  

If plantar fasciitis is an issue, we want to work on the sole of the foot, in order to reduce strain.  

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ANKLE ACTIONS

What are the techniques and how can we implement them?

In the video, Matt takes us through exactly how to evert and invert the ankles via a supported Forward Fold. What we gain here is the understanding of how the actions of simultaneously pressing into the big toe (and big toe mound) and the pinky toe create inversion, activating the targeted muscle groups. The band of stability that is created is what strengthens our ability to balance our side-to-side movement. Matt goes on to demonstrate how this can be applied to familiar postures. In Warrior II, for example, we see how the articulation of the toes can have a greater impact on the external rotation of the hip, which supports the journey towards Flying Pigeon. He also includes the articulations of the ankles in a Pyramid Pose variation, a Figure Four preparation, and an Ardha Chandrasana drill.

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INTENTION

Ultimately, it’s up to us to engage in movements on our mat that may be “less enticing.” The result of the actions described above is that we benefit from an expanded exploration on our yoga mats and from increased foot health and strength for our everyday activities. It’s up to us to be very intentional about our actions. This connects well to a lesson Matt teaches in his 300 Hour Teacher Training about Abhyasa (well-placed effort). The precise movements of the ankles and toes require well-placed thought and effort when focusing on them in a given yoga posture.

Overall, we can also take time to consider the intention of our asana practice. What is our intention in a given practice? What are our intentions overall? These are concepts that will be explored in Matt’s upcoming Pose Factory and Yoga Teacher Trainings

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Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Mobility Immersion

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What’s Up With Warrior 3?

What’s Up With Warrior 3?

Key Actions for an Alignment Alteration

virabhadrasana 3

WARRIOR 3

Going to a tailor to get fitted for the perfect item of clothing may just be one of the most underrated incredible feelings in the world. After all, you’re coming away with a piece of clothing that is altered with 100% you in mind. It’s going to fit your body just as it should. This doesn’t mean that the garment didn’t fit you before, but now what you’re walking away with is something more streamlined for your own body. You can compare this to Matt’s approach to alignment in your yoga practice in that it’s not about the “right” or “wrong” way to do a yoga posture (more on this later). Warrior 3, or Virabhadrasana 3, is no exception. There are specific micro and macro movements along with techniques that Matt teaches in order to optimize this posture and acquire the alignment that matches your body.

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IDEAS ABOUT ALIGNMENT

The common belief about alignment when it comes to a yoga practice is that you’re either doing a pose correctly or incorrectly based on achieving an “ideal shape.” From Matt’s perspective, it’s more about getting to know how to align the joints in the most optimal way for each individual body. He says that once the joints are aligned and you begin to add on specific movements and articulations of bones as they relate to other bones, that will ultimately create the shape. It’s not about fitting the body into the shape; rather, the shape is the result of your joint awareness.  

The term “bespoke” means custom-made (often when referring to a tailored item of clothing), and that’s how you can approach alignment in your yoga practice. This approach can increase strength, flexibility, and proprioception, and it can help to minimize the risk of injury.

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WHAT’S UP WITH WARRIOR 3?: KEY ACTIONS FOR AN ALIGNMENT ALTERATION

HIP IMPINGEMENT

In any movement practice, the risk of injury is almost inevitable. Some of the most common conditions/injuries you may encounter in a physical yoga practice are issues related to hip impingement. Hip impingement occurs when there is damage and/or deterioration of the soft tissues that lubricate the hip joint. A scientific study from 2018 that examined athletes returning to yoga after hip arthroscopy for femoroacetabular impingement syndrome (FAIS) states that “Femoroacetabular impingement syndrome is most commonly diagnosed in patients who perform activities that require repetitive hip flexion and rotational loading.” These are common actions in a yoga practice, and hip flexion is present in Warrior 3. In today’s video, as Matt guides you through the variations and articulations in Warrior 3, you’ll see that the actions not only can drastically improve your individual alignment but also may greatly decrease the risk of hip impingement.

Frank RM, Ukwuani G, Allison B, Clapp I, Nho SJ. High Rate of Return to Yoga for Athletes After Hip Arthroscopy for Femoroacetabular Impingement Syndrome. Sports Health. 2018 Sep/Oct;10(5):434-440. doi: 10.1177/1941738118757406. Epub 2018 Feb 14. PMID: 29442577; PMCID: PMC6116099.

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WARRIOR 3 ALIGNMENT TO AVOID HIP IMPINGEMENT

The video starts off with Matt demonstrating Warrior 3 preparation. One of the first things to consider is whether or not your pelvis is leveled. This is important because it provides information about whether your lifted leg is “dropped” or more open. Matt recommends a little opening so that the pelvis is not collapsing on the opposite inner thigh. The concern here is that the pubic bone on the side of the standing leg may collide with the femur bone on the same side, which may cause hip impingement. An added benefit of creating this opening is that it will promote more strength in the standing leg. You must activate the muscles of the outer hip in the standing leg to initiate the opening. This preparation will allow you to explore other variations of Warrior 3, such as Matt’s demonstration of Dekasana in the video.

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  • Masterful sequencing and verbal delivery
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THE HARDEST VARIATION?

If you’re really interested in challenging yourself, then you can try Warrior 3 at the wall. In theory, this variation may sound easier; you may be thinking that you have the wall as a support. The truth is, doing the pose in this way can feel quite laborious. Because the foot of the lifted leg is actually planted on a wall behind you, finding the right stacking for the standing leg is imperative. Doing so means the difference between balancing and falling out of the posture, particularly when you start to incorporate arm placements. Attention to the articulations of the pelvis are the same as above, and lifting the arches of your feet is key to promoting greater strength and balance, but this is true for all variations. It’s the push and activation of your entire body, pressing into the ground and the wall, that make this variation challenging.

THE EASIEST VARIATION?

From Tadasana, you start off with more of a “macro movement” to tip yourself into the shape for Warrior 3. This may feel easier because your body may more naturally fall into where it needs to be. It’s up to you, however, to then explore the specific articulations that Matt offers to find the stacking and alignment for your body. Your intentions within a given practice will also determine the alignment and/or variation you select. These considerations are how you formulate a practice that is tailor-made for you. The foundational pattern may offer a layout, but you have the authority to stitch all of the pieces together.  

Jump into Matt’s current Alignment Immersion for an opportunity to delve into ways you can redesign your relation to your asana practice.

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Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Alignment Immersion

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Lifting The Arches of Your Feet

Are Your Arches Lifted?

Setting the foundation for standing postures - Avoid Collapsed Arches

Is your foundation trong?

Setting the foundation of any posture is arguably the most important step you can take aside from breathing of course, which you can simply consider a part of the foundation. You probably have heard me talk about the foundation of arm balances and handstands a million times, but how about standing postures? If you have practiced with me on retreat or at the Elements of Mastery, you already know the importance of what I am about to share with you. If you have not worked with me before, no problem, I am going to take you through a step-by-step approach to building a strong, solid foundation for all your standing postures.

Have you been asked to lift the arches of your foot in a class? Did you know how to do that on your own? Maybe you were told to lift your toes in order to do so, and you probably noticed a loss of connection to stability. Lifting your toes can be a great way to strengthen some of the muscles I am about to share with you, but it is literally just the beginning.

Does it really matter?

This is a great question and I wouldn’t blame you for asking because ultimately knowing the why behind anything we do gives our actions power. So why lift the arches? Consider your feet the foundation of all standing postures. Would you build your extremely expensive one-of-a-kind house on mud, or would you prefer a solid foundation you know will hold up over time? Picture it, a strong, heavy house resting on a muddy foundation, eventually part of the house would start to sink downward while other parts remained strong. The pressure would build and the weakest parts would start to break. This happens in our body, and the weakest points are typically our joints. The joints are weak because they are the place where two or more bones come together for the purpose of movement. If they were too strong, no movement would be available. Gravity is always upon us and pulling us downward. When our bones are properly aligned there is less stress on the joints. However, what if we have an imbalance at the ankle that causes our weight to fall to the inside or outside of the foot? Not only is the ankle or foot at risk but ALL of the joints that exist above it are too because they have to compensate for the new alignment. This is why you could have a pain in your neck that stems from weakness and miss-alignment at the ankle. You feel it in the neck because the neck is compensating for everything below it. This is very important to understand especially if you are a yoga teacher or in any field of physical health. Does it matter…? YES!

The Anatomy

For the purposes of this article, we will talk about two joint actions and the muscle groups that create them: Eversion and Pronation of the ankle which occurs at the subtalar joint. The subtalar joint is just below the ankle joint. The ankle joint allows for the up and down movements of plantar flexion (pointing the foot) and dorsiflexion (flexing the foot), while the subtalar joint allows the foot to rock from side to side. For the purpose of simplicity, we will refer to both of these joints as a collective –  “the ankle”.

The arch of the foot

There are multiple muscles that help to form the arch of the foot. How high someone’s arches are may be due to the structure of the foot – the bones might be shaped in a more flattened position. However, we aren’t concerned with the external look of an arched foot but rather, training the muscles to activate appropriately for our feet. Most of us can use strengthening of these muscles. The way that I found really helps is first learning how to isometrically engage the muscles of inversion and eversion at the same time which forms a “bootstrap” like scenario around the foot. One of the fibula muscles wraps from the outer shin down the outer ankle and attaches near the ball mound of the big toe – That is pretty cool! There are muscles underneath the sole of the foot that when activated in conjunction with the muscles of inversion and eversion allow us to find greater engagement and lift of our arches.

One of the best ways to integrate these actions in your practice is to repeat them throughout your yoga practices. If you are interested in greater balance, stability, and ankle awareness there are two online immersions – 12 class packages that focus heavily on the feet and ankles.

1. The July 2020 Immersion titled The Chakras & the Elements – the Earth and Water practices will provide a profound awakening to the ankles and feet and how they relate to your practice.

2. The August 2020 Immersion titled Journey To Bliss follows a similar format as of July; the first few practices target the ankles and feet. I highly recommended either or both of these immersions.

Everting

ankle strength, heal sprained ankle with yoga

Inverting

ankle strengthening for yoga
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3 Steps To Activate the Core of the Foot

  1. Press the outer edge of the food down.
  2. Maintain this action, and counter engage by pressing the big ball mounted and big toes down.
  3. Drag the big ball mound back toward the inner heel.
inversion of the ankle - arch of the feet

Step 1 - invert the ankle

While you can certainly evert the ankle first, I find for most people it is more effective to start with inverting the ankle when approaching standing postures. For clarity of the action, I am showing it in a seated position – try it seated first so you are very clear on how to invert. When in Warrior 2, press the outer edge of the front foot into the ground until your feel the muscle deep in the calf muscle activating. The ball mound and the big toe might lift when you do this – it is ok for now.

evert the ankle in warrior 2 yoga pose

Step 2: Evert the Ankle

I recommend learning everting when seated – first, pull the outer edges of the feet back, it can be helpful to press the big toe and toe mound forward. When articulating this action properly you will feel the muscles along the outer shin engage. After you are aware of the action, the next part can be challenging. In warrior 2, be sure to maintain the muscle activation of inversion and add eversion by pressing the big toe and toe mound down into the ground, while trying to roll the outer ankle in slightly. Be sure not to fall flat into the inner arch while doing so – if this happens it means you are no longer activating the muscles of inversion, so go back to step 1 and try again.

arch of the foot in warrior 2 yoga pose

Step 3: contract The Arch

While this step is optional, it can be really helpful especially for anyone that gets plantar fasciitis. The idea is to maintain steps 1 and 2 but then add an activation of the musculature along the bottom (plantar side) of the foot. The action is to try and drag the big ball mound of the foot toward the inner heel. Like inversion and eversion, this action can be quite foreign and may take a bit of time until you are able to feel the muscles contract. I really like to focus on this action in the change of seasons when I am switching between different shoes and my feet are trying to adapt to the differences.

October Livestream Yoga Classes

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The Results

Activating the arch of the foot can be challenging at first. Typically the hardest part is learning how to co-contract opposing muscle groups. When opposing muscle groups contract at the same time, you get lifting and stabilizing of the joints. In this case, when you activate the muscles along the inside and outside the leg, it’s like pulling up your bootstraps and stabilizing the ankle. As a wonderful result, the arch of the foot pulls up.

Integration

 To fully integrate these actions into your practice you will need repetition throughout all of your standing postures. Try it in your next class, or if you want a full workshop that incorporates these exact actions throughout, check out Hips: Rock Em and Unlock Em workshop below.

Thanks for stopping by. Leave a comment if this post has been helpful, or if you have questions or requests for future posts.

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4. Bow Pose & Wild Thing
5. Crow Pose & Half Firefly

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  • 6 Different Peak Postures 
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read more
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Spinal Spaciousnessdancer poseSPINAL SPACIOUSNESS Some key indicators of spinal health include strong bones, durable yet flexible ligaments, supple discs, and strong supportive muscles. Aside from nutrition, it’s not enough to say that movement in general is enough to...

read more
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read more

THE FREE TECHNIQUE PACK

When You Subscribe, You Will Get Instant Access to

  • the Technique Pack: 15 yoga pose breakdowns
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  • exclusive blogs and videos
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

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