Thunderbolt Pose: Skillful mindfulness amidst great sensation
*Steph’s holding a special Yoga for Runners class. Thursday, April 11, 7:30-9:00pm. Class cards or drop-in rates apply. Sign up now!
Earlier, we took the foot into sharp plantar flexion and the ankle into extension with Hero’s Pose. Through regular practice of Hero’s Pose and Thunderbolt Pose, which we’ll look at today, we learn to control the smaller muscles of the foot and ankle, which aid in prevention of nagging repetitive stress injuries. And, with a repetitive stress practice like running – especially for city runners on hard surfaces – movement of the toes, foot, and ankle can get restricted. These poses offer as much in the way of flexibility as they do stability.
In today’s post, we take a closer look at Thunderbolt Pose, or Vajrasana. There’s also a variation for more flexible toes – this version may challenge your ability to focus because it’s super sensational for lots of us, but that’s not a bad thing!
Set up: Similar to Hero’s Pose, kneel on your shins, placing the tops of the feet on the floor. This time, there’s no block between the ankles – instead, we zipper the inner feet and ankles together, then bring your sitting bones to your heels.
Actions in the pose: Press the tops of your feet and toenails into the floor and squeeze the inner ankles towards each other – notice how this feels without a block between your feet, like in Hero’s Pose. Keep spreading wide through your toes. The thighbones descend to the floor, as you lengthen your spine upwards. Tone the abdominal wall so the lower spine doesn’t overarch. You may “feel” the stretch in several places – top of the foot, front of the ankle, front of the shin – just make sure it’s a stretch and not a strain, especially on the knees.
To exit, place your hands in front on the floor and come to all fours. You can gently roll your ankles or move into an easy down dog.
Customizing Thunderbolt Pose
It’s hard to pin the ankles towards each other. Cinching a yoga belt around the tops of the ankles helps cultivate this action.
Here, as in Hero’s Pose, rolled up blankets under the foot-to-shin corridor (or behind the knees) help alleviate stress in these places. You can also work with your arms in Urdhva Hastasana, or Arms Up Pose, to get more length in your torso and spine.
Toe Opening Version of Thunderbolt Pose
Set up (toe opening version): Let’s mix the pose up and do the opposite with our toes, feet, and, ankles to stretch the toes. Loop your yoga belt and slip it right above your ankle bones. This keeps your ankles from splaying to the pinky side of your foot. Then, turn your toes underneath your heels and draw your sitting bones back to rest on your heels.
Actions in the pose: Let the belt guide your inner ankles towards each other. Get that the pinky toe tucked under as well – if you have short toes, tuck it as much as you can. Spread the toes wide and keep breathing.
Other Ways to Customize Thunderbolt Pose with Tucked Toes
Now, your sitting bones may not reach that far back with your feet in this position. Your toes may shout in protest or your knees may object. You may be able to sit back, but you might see thunderbolts because the level of sensation is way intense. Who knew the toes could be so tight? (Well, we did, but sometimes other stuff is tighter, so the toes get neglected.)
Work this version of Thunderbolt with skill and mindfulness to gain its benefits without distress to the nervous system by:
Putting a block underneath your knees to lessen the sensation in your toes.
Ways to customize: Slip the strap off and see what it feels like to draw the ankles to the midline without the support of the strap. Stay upright in your thighs and torso with the toes tucked underneath your heels.
Watch that the sensation in your feet doesn’t force you to compensate elsewhere, like overarching the low back – it doesn’t make sense.
Keep watching your mind while in Thunderbolt Pose – when we associate a pose with a lot of sensation, we may create storylines and miss the present moment because we’re too busy watching the pain narrative that’s looping in our head. This is where the discipline of watching the breath is key. Even if this is crazy intense, set a certain number of breaths for yourself (being realistic and intentional aren’t at odds – one breath may be enough), then release, slipping the belt off and gently tapping the tops of the feet on the floor.
Practice Hero’s Pose and Thunderbolt Pose together this week. I’d love to hear how consistent and focused practice of these powerful, but sometimes subtle, poses is shifting your awareness of your toes, feet, and ankles while running. Let me know in the comments!
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 live yoga teacher to insure you are practicing safely and customizing accordingly.