Usually the stereotypical and initial images that come to mind when one think of yoga poses is a yogi twisted like a pretzel or bending forward effortlessly touching their toes. As a result, many beginners falsely believe that in order to practice yoga they need to be flexible. And although flexibility helps, the truth is that one actually requires – or rather builds up – a lot of strength during yoga. It’s actually a combination of both flexibility and strength that allows one to go deeper and fully into postures.
The importance of strength in yoga comes from using our core strength muscles located in the center of our body. In yogic terms, these are referred to as Bandhas – muscle contraction or energy locks. When we can tap into these locks, our practice becomes more stable and centered, and our connection to the Earth is rooted. In every position, one can use the core area- particularly in balancing, twisting, inversions and of course, abdominal strengthening poses.
Generally, men practicing yoga are looking for and are working on flexibility as they have physical power while women have flexibility yet need the muscle strength. A disciplined and regular practice of yoga asana will enable us to work on all these aspects. Unlike working out at the gym, yoga lets us work and strengthen muscles by holding poses for an extended amount of time and breathing into them. At the same time, instead of using weights and machines to build muscles tone, we are using our body mass and weight, which is at times more challenging than dumbbells and gym weights.
A yoga practice generally begins with warm ups like Sun Salutations to buildup heat in the body and get blood flow moving. Then, asanas that follow include standing poses that help us work our leg muscles (and of course core!), and forwards folding (again legs, back, core), back bending (arms, shoulders, and legs and core), and inversions (the whole body). All the poses go deep into the muscle tissue allowing us to feel powerful, toned and eventually stronger.
Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras, the classic and ancient text on Yoga: “Sthiram Sukham Asanam” (the yoga posture should be steady and comfortable). Therefore, if we are pushing ourselves too far and begin shaking in poses (when muscles are not ready or strong enough), we should back off and do as much as we can without shaking; keeping it comfortable, steady and enjoyable. Eventually yet inevitably, with practice, the poses will naturally start to reveal themselves and the body becomes powerful, opens up and builds stamina.
With time and endurance, we will see the difference in our body, as it becomes more toned and firm. As our body gets stronger, so will our minds. We will not be easily shaken up or thrown out of balance with mundane situations and events.
Thus the key to a stronger and more powerful body and mind: daily yoga practice and moving deeper into more challenging asanas slowly and gradually with patience and time.
This piece was written by Mina Ercel.
The seeds of Yoga were first planted in Mina in New York City while she was working in the financial and banking sector in 1999. Upon completing Teacher Training Program in 2010, Mina has been actively teaching in Turkey and overseas. In addition to yoga, she works as a Financial Consultant, writes weekly for the International New York Times Turkish edition and is an Art of Living Happiness Program teacher.
Yoga practice helps develop the body and mind bringing a lot of health benefits yet is not a substitute for medicine. It is important to learn and practice yoga postures under the supervision of a trained Art of Living Yoga teacher. In case of any medical condition, practice yoga postures after consulting a doctor and a Art of Living Yoga teacher. Find a Art of Living Yoga program at an Art of Living Center near you. Do you need information on programs or share feedback? Write to us [email protected]