The Power of Strength
The physical practice of Yoga helps develop strength stamina and flexibility – generally speaking we tend to be more dominant in one of these aspects. Everyone’s practice is different, for me strength is being able to press from crow up to handstand, stamina is being able to hold the handstand for long periods of time, flexibility is being able to outwardly rotate my thighs in baddhakonasana.
Each of these three aspects can be developed further, there is no ‘end-goal’ or limit to the amount of strength, stamina or flexibility you can have. And each of these supports the other when developed together.
However when one of these elements dominates your practice too much the other two will suffer. Too much strength reduces stamina and flexibility; too much flexibility limits strength and stamina; great stamina comes at the cost of flexibility and strength.
I work out in the gym: I enjoy lifting, pushing and pulling heavy things, and it can be a form of intense physical meditation I don’t find in my Yoga practice. There is the same dedication to form, being able to move in a controlled fashion, and progression, being able to add weight to each exercise as I develop.
But this comes at a cost: If I can perform a squat carrying the equivalent of my own bodyweight on my shoulders I need to have stability in my hip flexors, and a great degree of strength in my backline (thighs, glutes and back). But if my Yoga practice increases the range of motion in my hips to the point where I can perform a full split, for instance, I lose the stability I need to perform a heavy squat safely. To this end my two practices, Yoga and Gym counteract one another. I sacrifice flexibility for strength and vice versa.
It’s taken me years to develop the balance between the two, and I’m still finding my way. Yoga is my passion, but I won’t sacrifice everything else I enjoy doing to be more flexible: Yoga needs to be a challenge, and should be for everyone. When a student can perform a full split the challenge then becomes to draw the rear heel in towards the buttocks, stretching the rear quad even deeper, putting a greater strain on the hip flexors. There isn’t an ‘end’ to the physical practice of Yoga, there’s just a deeper variation to move on to.
But every time I approach the mat I face different challenges, not just in the physical aspects of my practice but also in my mental approach to what I am doing, maintaining my full presence, accepting my strengths – and weaknesses, without catastrophizing or making promises to sacrifice my strength to satisfy my flexibility ego.