My latest article for the Stanly News and Press:
“You can be strong without being flexible, but you cannot be flexible without being strong.” –Cindy Brewer
One misconception about Yoga is that it is only about flexibility and not about strength. The only way to get deeper in a posture is to use strength to get there. Strength is also needed for balance because balance is about our core. The reason balance becomes more difficult as we age is that we begin losing core strength from lack of use.
Learning to connect with your strength in the poses takes awareness, mindfulness and time, but once you start engaging certain muscles in certain poses, you will find that you can go places you never thought you could. Two great examples of this are in balancing postures and forward folds.
There is a space called Udyana Bandha that will help you balance longer and bring you deeper in seated, supine or standing folds. This space lies below the navel and in the deepest layer of the abdominal wall called the Transversus Abdominis. To find this bandha, or energy lock, you can press 100% of the air out of your belly when you exhale, or try coughing hard and notice how your belly feels. It is a feeling of pulling the lower abdominals in and lifting them up at the same time. Engage this space and you will discover that you have more room to fold and more stability in balancing poses.
People who do lots of strength work can benefit from Yoga because lifting weights shortens and tightens the muscles, which can result in reduced range of motion and even discomfort and injury. But that strength can be useful in poses like Side Angle, where strong legs help you to hold the posture longer and strong arms help to press the knee and fingers back to open the hip and shoulder. The arms can also help in forward folds by connecting the hands or fingers to the lower body and pulling yourself down over the legs. Using upper body and abdominal strength will also help to deepen all twists to keep your spine loose and healthy.
Mental strength is also needed in surrendering poses, where letting go is the only way to get deeper. If we take a chance and let go of our tension in poses like Pigeon on Modified Crescent, we learn that it is okay to allow change to happen without trying to control it.
Integrating strength, flexibility and balance will help you create a healthy body that you can feel confident living in and that will help you feel more peaceful and at ease.