Virasana (hero's pose) is a fantastic seated posture for beginners because it fosters a tall, upright spine for pranayama and meditation. However, it requires flexibility in the quadriceps and the ankle dorsiflexors, and if these muscles are tight then a student might experience pain in their knees and/or feet. To accommodate tightness in the quadriceps, all that is really needed is to decrease the amount of knee flexion by sitting on a block or two placed between the feet. However, accommodating tightness in the ankle dorsiflexors requires a bit more finesse.
In this post, we'll review the muscles that plantarflex and dorsiflex the ankles and go over a few modification that will accommodate tight dorsiflexors. We've also included a video from one of the recent ASFYT-3 classes where we offer a strategy that might help prevent cramping when coming into the pose, as well as how to fold the blankets for our favorite modification.
Before going any further here's a simplified anatomy review of some of the muscles that we'll be talking about. The dorsiflexors of the ankle include the tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus and extensor hallucis longus. These muscles are all located on the anterior aspect of the leg and attach distally on the medial arch of the foot, the big toe and toes 2-5 (respectively).
The main plantarflexors of the ankle include gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis posterior, flexor digitorum longus and flexor hallucis longus. These muscles are all located on the posterior leg and attach distally on the calcaneus (via the achilles tendon), big toe, medial arch of the foot and toes 2-5 (respectively).
Tightness in the Dorsiflexors
If the muscles that dorsiflex the ankle are tight, plantarflexion will be limited and a posture like Virasana will be uncomfortable or even painful. In addition, the effort to plantarflex the feet against the resistance of the tight dorsiflexors could result in a cramp in one of the plantarflexors, which is frequently experienced in the medial arch of the foot (where tibialis anterior and tibialis posterior attach).
A common modification is to place a rolled blanket underneath the ankles, but there are a few potential problems with this set-up:
Check out and practice all three of the modification shown below and see what you think!
In the following video, which was taken during one of the recent ASFYT-3 classes, I talk about one strategy to try to eliminate cramping when coming into Virasana, and show some of the above modifications (eventually settling on the one with two separate blankets as my favorite for tight dorsiflexors).
If you enjoyed this article please share... and as usual we invite comments and questions!