yoga seeds #23 – Flexibility and strength

My motto since I started teaching yoga has been

Your body, your mind and you – a balance between flexibility and strength, will and surrender, concentration and expansion.

I was listening to the latest Yogaland podcast in which Andrea Ferretti talks to Jason Crandell (These are my favourites. Highly recommended! Check out the link and the series.) and was reminded of the process that took me away from an I-just-can’t-get-enough-flexibility approach into also developing strength. After an accident I was left with a painful sacroiliac joint. A teacher at the time was trying to get me to stretch more and more with the idea that that would get rid of the pain, but this was not working. I later discovered that my SI joint was unstable and what I actually needed was strength to hold the joint in place.

A functional muscle is a muscle with tone. That means that it can both contract and relax, with a wide range between extremes. A healthy practice includes a balanced recipe of isometric contraction (the muscle contracts without generating movement), concentric contraction (the muscle contracts bringing its ends closer to each other), excentric contraction (the muscle contracts while its ends come away from each other – imagine you sit down while also resisting the pull of gravity, as if in slow motion), stretching and letting go. The way I see it, the ultimate aim of yoga is integration. Starting with the physical not only gives us healthy functionality but helps us progress towards integration and equanimity at the more subtle level of the psyche.

Thanks to all my students at Yoga Hub Berlin, who inspire me with their practice.

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yoga seeds #19 – Shaping the mind

Michal Lassmann, who participates in my classes, told me the other day that she had noticed how yoga was changing the way her mind worked and had found an interesting article that could explain this phenomenon. There are many ways in which our mind can be shaped by hatha yoga, which really means any physical approach to yoga:

  • We are putting aside a space and a time in which we come in relationship with ourselves, gradually building an inner home that offers stability and nourishment. As a result we can be less dependent and more healthily interdependent in our relationship with our environment.
  • We train being here and now, which are the only coordinates in which we can feel the joy of being alive.
  • We learn to recognize well-being, which can be a better compass than advantages/disadvantages lists for certain types of choice-making.
  • We subject ourselves to challenge while keeping a steady and calm breath, so we train equanimity in intense situations (more about this in the abovementioned article).
  • We are placing ourselves in the dynamic space between potential and limitation and learning to integrate the inspiration to go further with the acceptance of what is.
  • We practise focussing our attention and, as a result we are more able to place our mind where we need it to be, just like our limbs.
  • By spreading attention throughout the body and also focussing on specific points we develop plasticity between our panoramic and pin-point attention and the ability to zoom in and out of different aspects of experience. As a result of this plasticity we learn to become aware, not only of what is most intense, but of the whole picture, which is very useful in difficult life circumstances that we can do nothing about.
  • By paying attention to our breath/body sensations, emotions/energy and mind, we learn how they are connected and influence each other, and gain freedom to step out of spiralling states.

Now I’m giving you the floor! In what ways does your hatha yoga practice shape your mind?

Thanks Ruta for contributing the following!: “Maybe it’s the right side because our heart is on the left side and we don’t want to squeeze it either. We want to have an open, loving heart, and not a heart that’s suppressed.”

Thanks to all my students at Yoga Hub Berlin, who inspire me with their practice.

Visit the Yoga Seeds index to go straight to what you’re looking for.