Monday, February 28, 2011

Yoga for Strength

Random thoughts on gaining strength...

18 years ago now, when I was 16, I bought a VHS video from a discount bin called 'Yoga for Strength'...I should have known then that I'd end up an Ashtangi...

It's what I came to yoga for, what brought me to the mat for the first time: I wanted to be stronger.

Today, is my first practice back on the mat on my own after a week of practice with my teacher. The theme of last week's practices, yes, strength. I've gotten to an interesting part of the particular sequence that I'm practicing. Just when I'm starting to feel a bit tired and distracted, I'm met by strength pose, after strength pose, after strength careful what you wish for...

Something I've heard Beryl Bender Birch say at a few workshops that I've done with her is this: "Don't envy flexibility!" She goes on to talk about this a bit more and the subtext is always this: if you think you want someone's physical flexibility, then you have to be prepared to accept the rest of their life too.
It seems a very broad way of thinking about both flexibility and envy.

It's interesting to me because my default is bendy, but not just physically. The physical is also an expression of my default in life...flexible...the one who accommodates, agrees or easily slips out of the way.

When I came to yoga looking for strength, it seems that, although I didn't see it at the time, I was looking for strength in the broader sense as well as the physical. The two are not separate.

After years of Ashtanga practice, I can say that I found what I was looking for.

I have work to do yet balancing my agreeableness with standing up for myself. That work is found daily, in balancing in a steady handstand and then bending it into a deep backbend. It's found in controlling the transition from a strong neutral standing position into a deep backbend and smoothly returning to standing. It's found in the daily striving for a balance between effort and ease in breath regardless of what sort of pretzel is being asked of the body.

A week with my teacher always leaves me sore, tired and awash in gratitude. I remain in awe of what changes this practice can initiate and ever grateful for my teacher who continues to believe that I can be strong even in the moments when I don't yet have the strength to believe it myself.


  1. I'm definitely looking to gain strength too.. I feel I've hit a bottleneck and my arm balances are worse than they were a few months ago. Vinyasas don't feel great either. It's probably a cycle and I'm at the lower end of it right now.

  2. It's definitely something that comes and goes for me too. Although, I also find,that when poses appear to be unraveling sometimes they're really just starting to come together in new and steadier ways.

  3. So glad I found your blog! I am from Gainesville as well!

  4. Hi Nourish,

    Thanks for dropping in!'s such a small :)
    Are you still in Gainesville then, or have you moved on?