I took my first yoga class about 23 years ago and it didn’t take long before I was hooked. For the better part of these years my focus was on getting more flexible. In some places I succeeded, but unfortunately it only brought me instability, pain, and injury. My problem was that I was weak.
For several years now I have been working on getting stronger and more integrated. Not only does it feel good to be strong, but I move better and don’t have pain. In terms of yoga, this strengthening has made me loose the ability to do some of the super flexi things I used to do easily.
Does it really matter?
Do those things make my life better?
Do they help me move better in all the ways I want to and need to everyday?
The answer is NO. And I didn’t “own” those poses in the first place.
A common theme in my classes is that, “you must own your flexibility.” I am not interested in flexibility that comes by accident, or with momentum or gravity, or by collapsing into a joint. Mobility is flexibility you can control, it’s not passive. So who knows, maybe if I work on those lost poses from this new found strength I will be able to do them again someday with more integrity. We shall see.
These days in my yoga classes the warm up poses are often mobility exercises. Sure, you can do a traditional warm up of 10 Surya Namaskars, 5 A and 5 B, and there is nothing wrong with that. It will get you moving, breathing, and warm – maybe even sweating. However it will not “talk” to the muscles you need to use for the poses we will be doing later in the sequence.
When your warm-ups consist of strengthening and moving the muscles you will need for the yoga postures you get those muscles hot! You are not just working at the level of the muscle, but you are also bringing these muscles “online” in your brain/central nervous system. This creates highways of connection that will give you conscious control over them. As a result you will have much more access to them when you need them in the postures – and in everyday movement. This has great value even if you are strong and/or consider yourself stiff. The flexibility you are seeking comes from strength.
The results are rewarding – both for me and the students attending class. I see people getting stronger, improving their posture, and moving better. It’s wonderful to watch
someone push up to Urdhva Danurasana – Full Wheel Pose with more ease and without pain. Even the students who could already do the pose feel they are more in control of their experience. And those who can do it sometimes but not other times are finding it doesn’t happen by accident. When we break down the actions and train the body parts you can do the posture with intention. A note again to the strong ones, it actually takes strength in your extensor muscles to do a backbend. You have to teach your spine to bend. 😉
After 18 years of teaching yoga I continue to find inspiration in learning about the body and how it moves. I keep up with continuing education because I love learning new modalities and bringing them into my classes in the spirit of yoga. And I am thrilled that functional movement, strengthening, and mobility exercises are making their way into mainstream yoga studios.
For me yoga is about ENLIVENMENT – coming more into this life, this body, this world… Your yoga practice should help you feel better and move better in your body – it should make your life better. In this spirit it is my opinion that the practice is ours to grow and evolve. Modern understanding of movement science and Neuromechanics, which combines human biomechanics with neurophysiology can enhance everything we do on the mat. What do you think?
So if you have fallen out of practice please come back and join me to explore the place where art, science, and spirituality meet.
Lynn Lee says
Namaste Stacey, you have a wise and beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing your journey with moving in your body and with knowing what that feels like. I love that idea…yoga is about ENLIVENMENT! ….thank you, that is very very nice! sweetest wishes to your practice, love, Lynn