Yoga - Strength and flexibility
by Shameem Akthar
A well-rounded yoga routine will help you to cultivate both strength and flexibility, not just physically but emotionally as well, says Shameem Akthar
Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with
the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and
is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology.
As yoga becomes explosively popular, we have to understand that it throws up two challenges to the body that may not have worked in that direction before: great strength and great flexibility. But each of these super qualities comes with a heavy price tag. The real wisdom is, then, to choose a yoga practice that provides not just one of these, but both. Then strength and flexibility will complement and not trip, each other.
When you exclusively practise strength-creating movements the body will become stiff because of the muscular growth and power. But if you engage only in hyperflexibility movements, then the joints will become loose, the collagen (the supporting tissue that holds the rest of the body) quality will also be compromised. Stiffness can cause its own chronic pains while hyperflexibility can lead to even headaches. So instead of getting fixated on one quality, you need to ensure that your yoga practice is rounded and each pose complements and aids as well as heals you. Having a sequence that takes account of both is an ideal practice.
These qualities have their correlation at the emotional level too. On the positive side, strength-creating poses also ground and calm you. Flexibility poses make you pliant and surrenderful. In day-to-day life, perhaps you may wish to ensure that you are not so pliant as to be pushed around, and may need the strength to say no where that may be required. Similarly, only working on strength, without focusing on flexibility will boost the ego without making you compassionate and accepting. It is interesting, this correlation between emotional qualities and the poses. Interestingly, as a teacher, I have noticed that when you teach yoga to newcomers, those who are physically strong will get excited only by the strengthening poses, and will either resist or suffer flexibility poses. The pliant ones, on the other hand, will prefer to keep to their space of surrender and timidly resist the adventure of strength. Clearly, this displays the need to stay in one’s zone and not explore the other side of themselves. But yoga is about breaking patterns. And with the body is where one starts. In the long run, it will harmonise you emotionally, physically and spiritually.
(Plank, side lift advanced variation):
Sit on your left side, with left leg straight. Place left palm under left shoulder, as shown. Bend right leg at the knee, taking right foot back, as shown. Inhale. Lift hip high. Continue normal breathing. Push from the left hand. Raise and drop right hand over right ear, hanging it loose.
Hold pose for a few seconds. Exhaling, relax hips back to starting position. Do for the other side.
Points to note: The hip position must be high, as your practice improves. This will shift the weight to the arm instead of allowing you to settle into the legs which are naturally strong. Try to align the hand, hip and the top leg in one line. Twist your head up to look at the ceiling. This will help you become more flexible along the sides.
Avoid: If having weak wrists
Tones sides of your waist. Makes arms and legs
shapely and strong. Builds mental grit. Aligns the
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