Sometimes tight ankles fly under the radar. Because ankles don't necessarily experience much range of movement, you don't always notice when they aren't flexible (unless they're causing you pain). But stiff ankles can not only affect your performance, they can enable injuries. It's important to keep them healthy and limber.
Carolyn Belko, Director of the B.K.S. Iyengar Center of North County in Encinitas, California, suggests "a good dose of standing poses" for ankle health, as each and every standing pose "impacts every joint—especially the feet, ankles, toes and hips." Because Iyengar Yoga is characterized by its great attention to detail and precise focus on body alignment—with use of props, tailored for each individual—this particular Hatha style is great for athletes. "Especially because many athletes tend to be very one-sided," she says.
Belko also recommends Jean Couch's The Runner's Yoga Book: A Balanced Approach to Fitness, with an introduction written by B.K.S. Iyengar and instruction in poses and routines for running, cycling, skiing, swimming, tennis and more.
Here is a sequence, in order, that Belko suggests specifically to remedy stiff ankles. And, those with a sprain can practice this sequence with a support for the ankle, such as a rolled blanket underneath.
1. Vajrasana: Lightening Bolt Pose
To start of the sequence, kneel with your butt sitting on your heels. Make sure your heels don't sickle out to the side too much—you can tie your ankles together with a strap, belt or scarf (whatever you have handy) but not so tight that it hurts.
Make sure your torso is upright as straight as possible, your tailbone is tucked in and your ribs aren't jutting out. While you're in this pose, you can do some arm poses for your shoulders, like holding your arms above your head with your palms facing the ceiling and your fingers interlaced (upper arms should be in line with your ears), Gomokasana arms (Head of the Cow) in which one elbow points to the ground and the other points to the ceiling, and hands are clasped behind your neck or back and then you switch arms, or Eagle Pose arms.
You can intermittently lean forward and turn your toes under your butt, kneeling for a while like this. Switch back and forth as many times as you like.
2. Virasana: Hero Pose
For a deeper variation of Lightening Bolt Pose (you can even start here if you're so inclined), kneel with feet apart and sit your tailbone onto the ground. If you're really stiff or new to yoga, or if this feels uncomfortable in your knees, use a support under your buttocks (you can sit on a block, folded blanket or whatever you have).