Rather than the traditional hamstring stretch where the leg is at a 90 degree angle, try threading a strap around the ball of your foot (right below the base of the toes), and bring your knees in line with one another. Turn the thigh of the lifted leg slightly in, and turn the heel slightly out. As you start to slowly pull down on the strap, guide your femur bone (thigh bone) down into your hip socket. Engage a strong foot flexion with the lifted foot, and explore the mobility of your ankle. As you flex your foot, bring your toes towards you and move your heel away. The lifted leg will start to open from behind and you will work to strengthen your ankle. By keeping the arms straight with the elbows extended while you hold each side of the strap, you will strengthen your wrists and hands. This variation works from the joints - specifically the ankle joint, rather than the traditional version which focuses on stretching the hamstring muscle.
The ankle is a hinge joint that allows the foot to move in the sagittal plane. Within this plane, there are two specific movements; dorsiflexion and plantar flexion. The ability to move the top of the foot closer to the shin is called dorsiflexion.
Improved flexion of the foot can help your squatting, sprinting, strength, and your ability to avoid injuries in the knee, hips and lower back.
Like anything else, there can be a number of factors contributing to weak dorsiflexion. A few common reasons are:
A lack of flexibility of the muscles in the calf. Perhaps they have shortened over time due to the raised heel in some shoes. (Ladies – this is a good reason to avoid wearing heels and check out barefoot shoes such as Vivobarefoot and Merell Trail Glove.)
Previous injuries to the ankle could be the cause of poor mobility. Have your rolled your ankle in the past? Sprained it? These injuries can lead to tight joint capsules and/or scar tissue buildup.
Any injuries to the legs that have caused even a temporary change in your walking pattern can also lead to ankle mobility issues. Limping, favoring one leg over another due to an injury can cause ankle restrictions.
Whatever the case, including feet and ankle work into your yoga practice can make a positive impact increasing your overall flexibility and range of motion. Look for the Shoshin Yoga classes in the class library with a focus on the feet and ankles to practice dorsiflexion and plantar flexion.