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:
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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