Yoga Stretches for the Feet and Ankles


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  22 comments   :  32,987 Views

In January, I started teaching a new yoga class. Many of my students are athletes, particularly runners and cyclists. My boyfriend, who co-founded a local competitive cycling team, is also a yoga teacher, and the two of us firmly believe that athletes should integrate yoga into their fitness routine. When I teach yoga classes for runners, I like to focus on the hips and hamstrings, which tend to be tight for runners. We also work on building strength. For cyclists, who spend a great deal of time leaning over the handlebars, we also focus on opening the chest and shoulders, undoing all those hours of being hunched over. Both groups of athletes rely on their feet and ankles to perform, but these areas of the body are often overlooked when it comes to stretching. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite stretches for the feet and ankles. Add these to your post-workout repertoire. These stretches can feel quite intense at first, and that's normal. Take your time, use props when needed, and remember to BREATHE! Before you begin, remember these precautions:
  • Do not start a yoga routine or any other workout without clearance from your doctor.
  • These poses are not suitable for pregnant women.
  • Each pose should be done in a slow and controlled manner, without bouncing or forcing, which can cause your muscles to tighten, increasing your risk of injury. Stretch in a slow, steady motion to the point of “mild discomfort.” If you are stretching to the point of pain, you have stretched too far. Learn to "respect your edge"--never go beyond it.
  • A breath is one full inhalation and one full exhalation through the nose.
  • If you have knee problems, do not do these poses. They can be quite intense and should be entered and exited gently and slowly.
  • Warm up with 10 minutes of cardio or a few sun salutations, then move on to these stretches. Hold each one for five breaths to start, then slowly transition to the next one. Work your way up to holding these stretches for 30 seconds each.
Begin in a comfortable seated position. Breathe through your nose, using ujjayi breathing.

Before I do these poses, I like to spend a few minutes lying on my back warming up the toes, feet, and ankles. Lie on a mat, knees slightly bent, arms by your sides. Some ideas to loosen up the ankles and feet. Flex the heels and point the toes, scrunch and spread the toes, shake out the legs, circle the ankles in both directions, write the alphabet with your toes. I also like to give my feet a quick massage. They work hard and deserve a break!

Balasana (child's pose)
Kneel on the floor, touch the big toes together and sit back onto the heels. Spread the knees hip-width apart.

Exhale and bring your torso to the tops of your thighs, forehead resting on the floor or a block.

Let your arms rest next to the legs, fingers extended toward the toes.

Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Come to hands and knees as you inhale.

Exhale and tuck the toes under and press into the hands as you lift the hips high.

Hands should be as wide as the shoulders; feet as wide as the hips.

Spread fingers wide and stretch your heels downward.

Pull the bellybutton toward the spine.

Tuck the chin and gaze toward the belly.

Inhale and look toward your hands; walk your feet in between your hands, so that toes touch and heels are slightly apart. Bring hands to your shins, lift halfway (so you're parallel with the floor) and gaze straight ahead. Exhale fold all the way, tucking the chin.

Inhale, press into the feet as you rise up, bringing the palms together overhead as you stand tall. Exhale, relax your arms by your sides.

Noose variation (Pasasana)
From Inhale as you step the feet hip-width apart.

Exhale and fold forward, bringing the palms to the floor on either side of the feet, which should be hip-width apart. Bend the knees if need be.

Place a block just behind your feet. Bend your knees into a full squat, sitting on your heels (below) or the block (above). Keep your hands on the floor in front of you for support, or to test your balance, clasp hands in front of you, arms straight.

To protect the knees in this deep stretch, make sure that the knees are neither in nor out. Keep the legs hip-width apart.

Hero variation (Virasana)
Place your block between your feet lengthwise. Walk the hands out in front of you, and shift the knees forward until they touch the floor. Keep the toes curled under.

Keep the hands on the floor for support and stay low, or, for a deeper stretch, bring them to rest on the thighs and sit up tall.

Finish with child's pose:
Walk the hands back in front of you, remove the block from between your feet, and bring the torso to the thighs. Rest the forehead on the floor or a block.

This time, extend the arms in front of you to change the stretch.

Are your feet and ankles tight? Do you regularly stretch them?

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  • 22
    Thank you for these! I have a regular yin routine that I do, but I recently started doing cardio again. I've gotten VERY heavy, and even walking is tough on my ankles and feet. This is a great routine for me to stretch them out. Thanks again! - 8/3/2011   3:58:28 PM
  • 21
    You are sooooooo flexible. I guess it's just a matter of keeping at it. Beautiful! - 7/31/2011   11:10:42 PM
    I have trouble with plantar fasciitis. I am hoping these simple stretches will help. Thank you so much! - 7/12/2011   9:28:46 PM
  • 19
    My ankles and feet often feel tight after a run. These are GREAT yoga poses to relieve that tightness and increase flexibility. Thank you for posting these!! - 5/9/2011   10:59:49 AM
  • 18
    Aquarius rules the ankles, so they need to watch for injuries in that area. My Aquarian son tried to learn to rollerblade and broke his ankle. Pisces rules the feet, so they need to be care not to have injury. YOGA is certainly good. - 5/4/2011   11:12:51 PM
  • 17
    I often wake up in the morning with foot cramps; maybe doing these before bed would help me. - 5/4/2011   12:46:46 PM
  • 16
    All of the above exercises, done on your knees, are hard on your knees. you need to be so careful. I did those exercises for years, and my knees are finished now. Don't get me wrong, I do LOVE yoga, and try to practice it, still. I may have been going to have the worst joints, known to man, anyway..but just a caution. If anything hurts, that's your body, telling you..DON'T!!! - 5/4/2011   12:41:10 PM
  • 15
    I have never even thought to stretch my feet and ankles. I'll have to start! - 5/4/2011   12:41:01 PM
  • 14
    My body is a bit stiff with arthritis but I'm going to give these a try. THANKS! - 5/4/2011   10:03:17 AM
  • 13
    Fantastic! I'm a runner and I'll definitely be trying these stretches. I love the saying 'Respect your edge' - 5/4/2011   9:42:02 AM
  • 12
    Great info...I'll definitely try these moves b/c I have "flat feet" and many times have pain in my feet and shins when I walk/jog. Thanks so much! - 5/4/2011   8:45:59 AM
  • 11
    Thanks for the great information! - 5/4/2011   8:41:31 AM
  • UMMM613
    i never thought to stretch my feet and ankles. these also look simple enough for beginner yoga-er as myself. Thanks! - 5/4/2011   8:10:02 AM
  • 9
    I love this blog! I walk ~30 miles a week and my feet and legs feel like they take a beating on alternate days. Sometimes very stiff afterward. I can't wait to try some of these. - 5/3/2011   11:06:03 PM
  • 8
    Thanks for sharing. It surprised me to note that I have actually begun to practice some of these poses (although I began with wii fitness) it helps with form, and as I am trying to increase my intensity the areas worked by these exercises really helps. These are areas I often neglect, but I am learning through Spark how important they really are, and what a difference it really makes! - 5/3/2011   6:14:14 PM
  • 49ERGIRL24
    Thank you for sharing these tips - 5/3/2011   5:52:01 PM
  • 6
    Fascinating, thanks! :)
    Jocelyn - 5/3/2011   2:49:45 PM
  • 5
    This is going to help me alot with my strenght for running. Glad I picked this blog to read today.
    thanks! - 5/3/2011   1:23:56 PM
    Thanks for this post! I'm starting to get stiff ankles, esp. when doing Jazzercise on a harder surface, so these will come in handy! - 5/3/2011   11:29:59 AM
  • 3
    So glad I stumbled on this blog. I walk 3 days and run 3 days so my ankles and feet are taking a beating. On top of that I always feel stiff. So I am going to try these out. Thank you for sharing. - 5/3/2011   11:21:32 AM
    This is also great for walkers :-) - 5/3/2011   10:57:37 AM
  • 1
    This is going to help me! That's for sure!
    Thanks much for sharing!
    May - 5/3/2011   10:41:07 AM

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