Strength and Flexibility in Three Yoga Postures

I am looking forward with eager anticipation to resume yoga with you at Core Physio next month!  In the last yoga blog, I introduced two themes we will be addressing at the start of this year: strength and flexibility.  Philosophically, we rely on inner strength and determination to start new routines and show up to our commitments.  This is obvious with something like beginning a yoga class where we may feel nervous or excited.  It is also required for returning to a routine job where we may face boredom or uncertainty.  Flexibility may be more aloof…As I write this, dishes are waiting to be washed and laundry to be started while my 10-week old baby boy sleeps in the next room.  I could be rigid in my to-do list, but flexibility invites me to remain open and fluid to the options presented.

When it comes to specific yoga postures, we can divide them into categories of ones that increase our muscular and mental strength, as well as ones that allow more flexibility of joints and connective tissues.  However, we can curiously explore yoga postures (Asanas) with more finesse by creating space for both strength and flexibility in the same Asana.

Take, for example, Warrior I.  It is a standing Asana where your body faces forward with your arms raised; one leg is in front with the knee bent while the other leg is straight behind you.  If you imagine that your legs are solid tree-trunks, you can begin to power them up isometrically (basically meaning to hold them still). One yoga teacher of mine used to invite us to “shrink-wrap” our muscles to our bones or use muscular contraction to engage the muscles tightly while the legs are still).  This obviously involves strength and focus to sustain.  At the same time, the mind and body can have subtle, gentle movement of both arms with flexibility and grace.  This adds an element of fluid movement and loosens muscles around the neck, shoulders and elbows.

In a different application, you can examine the challenging seated posture of Two-Legged Forward Fold that classically works to increase flexibility to the hamstrings but is much more interesting when you create an element of strength to the posture.  It is similar to the seated fold from elementary school gym class: as you sit, your legs are extended out in front of you and you fold forward over them.  However, the actual yoga posture invites an incredible strength and engagement of the lower extremities and lower back.  This toning of the abdomen, allows a slow descent of the torso over the thighs with the subtle flow of the rib cage and diaphragm as each exhale allows more space of the chest over the things.  The arms, in turn, can also create a toned engagement and static holding, or they can soften and bend toward the floor.

Finally, a classic posture for hip opening is Pigeon.  When I was first beginning my yoga practice in 2003, I always looked forward to this Asana since flexibility came naturally to me.  But, over the years, I have really enjoyed discovering the variations that increase my strength and alignment in it.  This posture involves bending one knee at an angle and folding over that leg while the opposite leg stretches back behind you.  As you remain in the posture, the connective tissue gentle stretches around the hip flexors of the leg that is bent; however, if you curl the toes under of the opposite leg to keep it engaged and stay upright to engage your core, the opposite side of your body and your abdomen become more toned.

The invigorating practices available to us through many variations of Hatha Yoga allow us to breath, stretch, strengthen and grow!   Join the Core Physio yoga blog next week where we will apply the concepts of strength and flexibility to the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) sequence.

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