The lower legs can take a beating as we adapt to a new sport. Have you begun a running program and found yourself with shin splints? Or have you been intrigued by the barefoot and minimalist running trend and paid the price with sore calves? A combination of strengthening and stretching can help balance the lower legs.
Yoga asanas help strengthen the low legs, especially the single-legged standing balance poses. To increase the challenge for your lower leg, move from standing on a smooth, level surface such as a studio floor to standing on your mat. In time, you might double-, triple-, or quadruple-fold your mat to increase the challenge.
Balancing on your toes will also help you build strength. Try lifting to the balls of your feet in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Utkatasana (Chair Pose), and Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose).
Squatting will help you stretch the back of the lower leg: calves and Achilles. Try both a tight stance, knees between your arms, and a wide stance (Malasana or Garland Pose), and see what feels good. If your calves are very tight, you may need to take a blanket under your heels for balance, slowly unfolding it over time so your heels move toward the floor. (Skeletal variation might prevent your heels from ever reaching the ground.)
Kneeling will stretch the shins and ankles. Blankets can come in useful here. If you feel pain in the front of the ankles, lay your shins on a blanket with your feet hanging off. In time, you may need less folds of the blanket. If kneeling causes pain inside your knees, use blankets between your hamstrings and calves to reduce the compression in the knees.
Double-task by combining kneeling with squatting. You’ll get the benefits for the front of the shin and ankle while being able to pay attention to what’s happening in your squatting leg. And yoga is about paying attention! Start in kneeling, then take your right foot forward, lining up your right toes with the left knee. If this is intense, slide your right foot farther forward; for more, pull your right heel back. You can carefully lay your chest on your right thigh to increase the sensation in the right leg, or push into your hands and lift your left knee to open the front of the ankle.