This article is a continuation of Yoga for Healthy Ankles & Knees Part 1, and part of a series discussing the biomechanical connections between the feet, ankles, knees and hips and how they all impact knee health.
Smart yoga for ankle dosiflexion
Many yoga poses can help increase ankle dorsiflexion range of motion, especially if you practice them intelligently with the right cues and props. All of the variations described below work by lengthening muscles and tendons on the back of the shins and ankles, and by increasing the dorsiflexion angle at the front of the foot and ankle.
It should be noted however that some people have genetically stiff ankles. They are just born that way! For example, some bodies will never be able to press the heels down to the floor in downward facing dog pose. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try* (see pointers below).
*As ever, never practice yoga aggressively or try to ‘win’ at the pose through sheer force of will. Instead, breathe softly and rhythmically as you practice, and stay present to listen to your body’s responses.
Here are several variations on classical yoga poses you could try:
Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog pose)
- Try this pose with your heels pressed firmly back at a wall. After a short hold begin to slide your heels down the wall any amount you can, to the floor if possible, lengthening the back of the calves and shins as you go.
- Another way to play with this pose is to enter it from Uttanasana (standing forward bend pose). With your back to a wall and your feet hip width apart, put your hands on the floor and walk the backs of your feet, calves, thighs and buttocks snug into the wall. Press the legs firmly back and push the heels firmly down. From this position begin to walk your hands forward into the room into downward dog pose. Do not let your heels lift off the floor. Unless you have flexible ankles you will likely be in a shorter than usual dog pose. From here begin to inch your hands forward while keeping the heels down. Gradually lengthen the back of the legs, and the distance between the hands and feet. Lastly, still keeping your heels down, try to bend the knees. This will shift the stretch into the deep calf muscles.
Utkatasna (chair pose)
- From Tadasana (mountain pose), stretch your arms above your head. Shift your weight back into your heels and press them down strongly as you bend both knees into chair pose. Do not lift the heels from the floor! After a few rounds of breathing, see if you can bend deeper at the ankles while keeping the heels to the floor. Press both heels down evenly.
Virabhadrasana 1 (warrior pose 1)
- Try this pose with the back heel at the wall. Using the same actions as downward dog above, press the back leg heel into the wall and down. Don’t let the back leg heel lift as you bend your front leg forward into warrior pose.
Malasana (garland pose)
- Like above, keep the heels on the floor in this squatting pose. If they won’t stay down place a small, firm lift under your heels and press the heels firmly down into it. Only take as much lift as you need. With regular practice you might be able to gradually lower the lift.
- You can also play with using a heel lift to press into in the other poses above.
To work directly with the talus bone, see this post on yoga for healthy feet and knees.
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