Q: I have an ankle injury. What can I do to strengthen my ankle once the injury has healed?
A: All balancing postures have the benefit of strengthening all parts of the legs. When you are able to stand quietly and confidently, you can begin to pay close attention to how the muscles in your standing foot, the toes and ankle balance the posture. Interestingly, when your balance is not 100% those muscles are strengthened even more by the constant adjustment they have to make to keep you upright.
When you are recovering from an injury, ‘simple’ balancing poses such as Balakikasana (Crane Pose) and Vrksasana (Tree Pose) are recommended. Stand close to the wall or the back of a chair for support, and to prevent any missteps.
A great way to create strength and awareness in the standing leg when practicing balancing poses, is as follows:
1. Stand at about a foot distance from the wall. Your feet are parallel with the wall and your right foot is on the inside. Place a block on the outside of your left foot. The block is at the lowest level.
2. Place your whole left foot on the block. Straighten your left leg so your right foot comes off the floor. Hold on to the wall with your right hand.
3. Flex your right foot, by pulling your toes up and reaching down through the heel (your foot is still off the floor). Then lift your right hip towards your right armpit so it is higher than the left hip.
4. As you keep lifting your right hip up, draw energy from the sole of your right foot up through your leg. Engage your leg by ‘hugging’ the muscles to the bones, and as if you are pulling up a very tight ‘energetic stocking’.
5. Keep that engagement in your right leg, as you begin to lower your right hip down, then bend your left knee, until your right foot touches the floor.
6. Without loosing the sense of energy lifting up through your right leg, and while maintaining the engagement, slowly lift your left foot off the block.
7. Your left foot can simply stay a few inches above the block as you find your balance. Breathe deeply in and out through the nose 3-5 times. Then lower your left foot back to the floor, and feel the effects of your balancing pose.
8. To take it a step further, you can lift your left knee up towards the ceiling at hip height into Crane Pose, or turn the left knee outward and place your left foot on the inside of your right leg (at any height, as long as the foot is not on the knee joint of the standing leg) into Tree Pose. As the muscles in your foot and ankle get stronger, you can increase the time that you sustain the balance.
9. When you are done, practice the same on the other side; balancing on your right foot.