VIRASANA (HERO’S POSE)
by Steph Creaturo
If you run, you know what a beating your feet and ankles take on a regular basis. It’s easy to take the workhorses of the body for granted – that is, until something goes wrong or that nagging sensation in the big toe becomes a full-blown injury that sidelines us or creates compensatory movements throughout the rest of our form. Such a bummer!
This week on the blog, I’ve got poses that create stability and flexibility in our feet and ankles, with a sequence at week’s end that strings them all together. This balance of foot and ankle stability and flexibility is critical for runners – it can balance our gait and cadence, break bad habits that lead to injury, and create awareness of our chain of movements from the foundation up through the rest of the body.
With the Brooklyn Half-Marathon 8 weeks away (or, 57 days from today!), add these poses at least once a week – twice is optimal – to your post-run workout or yoga practice to revive your feet. Even if you don’t run, don’t let that deter you – this is great work for everyone.
First up is Hero’s Pose, or Virasana, which creates openness in the tops of the feet and toes, builds strength in the arches of the feet, and cultivates stability in the ankles. We’ll do this pose supported with yoga blocks to allow for greater ease in the feet, ankles, and breath. Remember, whenever there’s physical stress in a pose, there’s a good chance your breath and mind will be equally – if not more – stressed and unsteady.
Set up: Grab a block or two or three (really), a strap, a blanket or washcloths, and your mat. If your feet are bony or sensitive, drape a blanket across your mat. Come stand on your shins and the tops of your feet. Then draw your inner knees towards each other and separate the feet and shins to the outer hips. Before you sit back, place the block(s) between the inner ankle bones.
From there, place your sitting bones towards the front edge of the block(s), aligning the center of your knee with the center of your hip. (For some of us, the knees are together. For others, there’s a slight space between the knees. Just make sure your knees don’t splay beyond the hips.) Always make sure there’s support under your hips – even if you can put your sitting bones between your ankles, use blocks for ease in the joints.
Actions in the pose: This is a key instruction: connect your inner, or medial, ankle bones to the block like you have magnets on your ankles and the block is a refrigerator. Many of us “roll” to the outer foot and ankle when we run or walk. By sticking the outer ankle bones to the block, we find the midline, and can reorganize the relationship from the feet to the rest of the body, thus creating more stability from body’s foundation upwards through the spine.
Once you’ve cinched the ankles in place, look at your feet and spread your toes wide. You can roll your knuckles along the length of your feet to encourage the bottoms of the feet to open and the toenails to press to the yoga mat – especially that pinky toenail! Then, spread your toes wide. Recommit to drawing the ankle bones towards the yoga mat – it’s easy to lose an action in the pose when we add another one on top of it.
In addition to pressing the feet down, also press down your shinbones and sitting bones into the earth – from these actions, a sinewy length in the spine emerges upwards towards the crown of the head. Rest your hands on your thighs and close your eyes.
Focus on your inhale and exhale, starting with five breaths and working your way up to 20. In addition to being great for your feet and ankles, Hero’s pose is wonderful for meditation and focusing on your breath.
Exiting virasana: Just as important as the entry. Rest your hands on the floor in front of the knees. Engage your core, then draw your body to all fours. Take a moment to let your knees realign, then stretch one leg behind you in a half-plank position. Change sides.
Ways to customize: Tight feet/ankles? Roll up small towels or washcloths and place them between the floor and front of your ankle.
Cranky knees? Take those washcloths and put them behind your knee for a bit more space. Also make sure that your kneecaps are tracking straight ahead when you’re in the pose and not getting pulled to the right or the left.
You can also add a variety of arm and shoulder stretches, twists, and side bends to create a whole warm-up sequence while seated in Virasana.
I hope your feet feel re-energized and ready to run! In my next few posts, I’ll add a more poses to build strong, flexible feet, stable ankles, and healthy toes. Let me know if you have questions in the comments – and how this targeted yoga practice impacts your running. I’d love to know!
And, we’re adding an extra Yoga for Runners class this month to support those training for spring races like the Brooklyn Half-Marathon! Class cards accepted. Sign up now!
As with any yoga poses, make sure that you’re healthy and in the right headspace to practice. If you’re working with injury, make sure your medical professional has cleared you to practice yoga and you’ve worked with a yoga teacher in person to insure you are practicing safely and customizing accordingly.