Be Strong- The Path of Strength in Yoga
It may be hard for you to imagine this but I am not naturally strong, neither emotionally nor physically. The journey of strength has been one of the most fundamental and life-changing lessons of my yoga practice. At first it felt utterly impossible, the idea that a weak small girl like me would be able to do something as powerful as a handstand. But slowly, over years of practice the impossible became possible. Along the way a whole series of thoughts, feelings and other, more hard to define elements of personality and life shifted as well. As I embodied the strength I was searching for in my yoga practice in my life off the mat, I slowly evolved into a different person. The process didn’t happen overnight, but in some ways it did feel like “suddenly” I was able to do a handstand.
With poses, it almost always feels like one day you can’t do it and then one day you can. In that miraculous moment when your lift-up happens or when you nail your jump back it can feel like something just finally clicked. The happiness of the moment brings with it a kind of amnesia for all the work that you put in along the way. Now, when I see someone lift up in what looks like an effortless handstand I look for the years of dedicated practice and all the teachers who have helped that person along the way.
I was never a dancer, never a gymnast, never on a sports team, and in general not really naturally athletic. I was never a big swimmer even though I can swim, either leisurely or if need-be to save my life and I have always loved the beach, the sun, and the ocean. I started yoga, not out of a desire to be fit or flexible, but out of a sincere desire to live a more peaceful life. My entry into this discipline was about the spiritual path. I did not start practicing yoga because I was naturally good at it. In fact, to this day, when people help me with new poses or movements, they are often quite shocked at how badly it can go. People often assume that it will be easy to help me, just as so many assume that I had some background in sports or gymnastics. When I was learning some of the more advanced yoga handstands I worked with an ex-Russian circus trainer. He was incredibly sweet to me in my repeated failures to do what he asked of me. There were so many more times that I toppled over to the side, landed on him, ended up in a twisted ball on the floor than I executed a movement on the first try. So I am here to say that I am just an average person, with average physical ability, on my own path of learning and growing. If I could build strength I know you can too.
But, I am also here to say that it’s not about pure brute physical strength. At the heart of the magic of yoga is a re-membering of the body. In the dominant theme of the Western culture, the body has been relegated to a subtextual realm of the dark feminine. This hidden world of inferiority is often portrayed as being wild, untamed and in need of subjugation and control. The othering of the body is a key force in what often feels like a systemic malaise effecting the Western collective mind. The dichotomy between mind and body is a question every yoga practitioner must answer for themselves. When working on strength, for example, some people assume that all it takes is for the mind to be master over the body. But this would merely perpetuates the flawed assumptions that yoga seeks to deconstruct and move beyond. Rather than participate in an either-or game, mind or body, yoga seeks to truly integrate mind and body. Instead of a game of dominance, where one part has power over the other, the yoga practice aims for mutual affiliation and flourishing of both body and mind.
When working on something as challenging as strength it can be hard to trust that a natural intelligence is there in the body but it is. If you feel weak and unable to lift your body off the ground it can be so easy and tempting to get mad at your body for the perceived weakness and inability to perform the pose. But that only adds self-inflicted wounds to what is already a hard journey to be on. The journey of true integration and full embodiment is a journey of great strength. Yoga is not a path to be walked alone, without a fellowship of the spirit. The myths of strong individuals in the Western world are often just that—the myths of the rugged individual rising above all others, pulled up by his (and now maybe also her) own bootstraps, succeeded against all odds. You probably recognize this story of the lone conqueror from many cultural legends. Now, I am asking you to question that assumption in how you cast yourself in the myth of your own life. Do you seek to do it alone, to conquer the untamed minions and succeed at a storyline that may not be your own? Or, do want to tell an entirely new story and redefine what strength and success means for yourself, and perhaps also for the world? I know which path I’m on now. What about you?
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Practice my Strength Drills in Santorini on Omstars HERE
And also on YouTube HERE