BY: TRISHA CURLING
I’m not talking about balancing on one leg in a given yoga pose, well maybe I am. I can’t express how many times people have made comments to me about how yoga is all about flexibility. Actually, when we look at our own yoga practice, there is, in fact, a goal of achieving a balancing act between strength and flexibility. It’s true that when we look at “popular” images of people in yoga poses it can seem very intimidating and look like we might never be able to achieve their level of flexibility. However, when we truly come to yoga, we come to a place of understanding that it’s not about achieving someone else’s level of flexibility, it’s also not about achieving their level of strength. We come to understand that it is about the nourishment that yoga can provide to our own individual bodies and minds.
It is very common and necessary to address, for example, tight hips in our practice. This is something that many people experience for a variety of reasons. These reasons can be related to things like our everyday habits (posture we’ve created over time), injury, emotion, sitting for long periods of time (the list goes on), but it is equally important to create stability and strength in this area too.
When we come to practice yoga and begin to move our bodies into various poses, we learn very quickly what is required of us. It is not solely the ability to “stretch” and be “flexible”, we must, in fact, demand a degree of strength from our bodies too. Due to the fact that many poses in our physical practice require us to tap into and strengthen our deep stabilizing muscles, we are left with an undeniable amount of strength that is created over time from a regular and consistent practice.
This balance between flexibility and strength is not only achieved in the body. This is also achieved in the mind. I immediately found this when I cultivated my own practice. There is so much focus required, that it is impossible not to quiet the mind and stay truly present in the task at hand. Yoga teaches you to be more flexible in your thinking because of the awareness it creates around things like letting go. It teaches patience with ourselves and others, which can offer a more flexible approach in understanding that we all come together and interact with one another while carrying a variety of different experiences both positive and negative (on any given day). This can impact our interactions so we need to be mindful and possibly forgiving to both ourselves and others during these interactions.
The resilience a consistent practice creates, also builds a strong mind. It is quite humbling to attempt to grow in our yoga practice as we experience challenges in poses we attempt and/or the yoga lifestyle we try to create. We are human and we make mistakes, so we may not always be true to the different aspects of our practice. There is something about it though, that keeps us coming back. This is the resilience, this is the strength that builds as we continue to move through our experience with yoga. “You stretch and strengthen your muscles and that affects circulation, digestion, and breathing. You calm and strengthen the nervous system and it affects the mind…Yoga says that if you look clearly you will see that everything about you is connected to everything else” (Yoga As Medicine By Timothy McCall, M.D. pg. 4)
The beauty is the journey and the balance we work to achieve every day.