A little over a year ago, I tore the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) in my ankle. This is the most commonly torn ligament in the body and is the main place people have injuries from an ankle sprain. One of the major problems associated with this kind of injury is balance instability. I went to physical therapy and it was to my therapist’s surprise that even with my full tear to the ATFL, I was still able to balance on the injured foot with relative ease. She attributed this to my history of a vigorous yoga practice, and I think she was right. Yoga is great for building muscles around joints, so that when you do get injured, you have a backup system to rely on. Although my ankle still had a great deal of pain, I could balance without trouble, which helped me heal from my injury even quicker.
This week I’m going to touch on three cool (and helpful!) balance postures. There are 26 bones in the foot and ankle alone, making this a very complex area of the body, especially for injury prevention. Because of this, we always need to keep ankles (and knees) healthy, and one way to do that is by building the stabilizing muscles in your legs. Balance doesn’t have to be restricted to that, though. We can also stretch and open our bodies while we build the muscles necessary to keep us healthy while we run.
Tree pose is often considered one of the classic yoga asanas. In almost any class you attend, you will be doing this posture, or some variation on it. But tree pose is not solely a balance posture. It is also a hip opener. To harness it’s hip opening powers, remember to draw the knee of the lifted leg back and down. You should feel a stretch in the inner thigh and outer hip.
Come into this posture by shifting your weight to one side and lifting the opposite leg. You can test the waters a little by keeping the toes on the ground and the heal of your lifted foot on your ankle. If you would like to go deeper, place the lifted foot on your calf or draw it all the way up above the knee. The only rule to tree pose is to make sure your lifted foot is not on the knee. We don’t need any extra pressure there.
Standing Pigeon Pose
Standing pigeon pose is a staple among runners. Before almost any race I go to, I see at least one person in this posture. Standing pigeon has a lot of fun variations including a forward fold, a few twists and an arm balance. Today I’ll be going over two of these variations. I’ll hit on this posture a little more in depth another time.
Start by shifting your weight on to one foot and lift the opposite leg while keeping the lifted leg’s knee bent. Begin to bend your standing leg and take the ankle of the lifted leg on to the knee of the standing leg. You’ll notice that as you bend your standing leg deeper, the hip opening of the stretch becomes deeper.
From here, begin to fold forward over your legs. If you know your hips are tight, have a block or some stacked books in front of your standing leg. As you fold forward, the stretch will become more intense. Place your fingers on the ground or on your block for stability.
Eagle is one of my favorite balance postures. It is great for stretching the outer hip, shoulders and upper back. I am often surprised how often this posture gets overlooked, since it manages to hit almost every part of the body. I almost always do eagle in my yoga classes. This is a very complex posture, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it the first time.
To start, bring your arms out to a “T” and then wrap the right arm over the left so that your hands touch opposite shoulders. If your shoulders are tight, stop here. To go deeper, lift your hands off your shoulders and see if you can wrap your arms around each again other so that your palms eventually are together. Make sure both of your feet are together and then bend your knees coming into chair pose (a squat with the feet together). Then, lift up your left leg, so you are balancing on your right and place your left leg over your right (the toes of the left leg can come down for stability if needed). See if you wrap your left foot around the back of your right leg so that your arms and legs mirror each other. Continue to draw the shoulders down your back and the elbows against your chest.
Be sure to even these postures out on both sides. If you know that instability is a problem, use a wall or a chair to help you with balance. Balance can be fun, but it is also humbling. Everyone falls, and that is OK! The strength and flexibility you will build with these postures will not only help you with your running, but also with your daily life. Enjoy some balance!