In my yoga asana practice, I found that I needed to focus more on physical strength rather than flexibility.
It’s easy to see why at first glance.
My body is naturally more flexible—therefore, I had to work harder to stabilize in strength-focused yoga asanas.
As many of us may have similar experience of balancing between physical strength and flexibility, we end up more focused on one. The truth of the matter is that each informs the other—it’s a dance and goes beyond the physical. Bringing awareness to this balance helps us in our daily life.
In order to uniformly develop strength and flexibility and prevent overcompensating with undue pressure, I started to shift my focus off the mat to spend more time understanding and working on specific muscle groups that needed more help. Developing such muscle strength takes time and consistency. After some time, I finally start to see that all that work is paying off—initially on a physical level, but there is more.
Though I see tangible changes in my muscle definition and in my yoga postures, I can feel my body more balanced in its center of gravity as I hold my yoga postures, my walking strides, and even running gait—with better weight distribution and stability.
When I practice, my ankles are not wobbling in Awkward pose, my wrists are not quivering in Downward Dog; I feel my quadriceps muscles burning less and allowing me to focus on my upper limbs stretching in the three-minute long Triangle posture. I can go deeper in certain poses that otherwise as a whole system my body couldn’t handle—or, my mind became preoccupied with the physical struggle.
Then I recognize that having strength requires not only the physical type, it also demands willingness to go beyond the comfort zone and tune in to a deeper aspect of the yoga practice. Because the point of exertion now lies beyond the physical strength, finding strength is also an awareness practice. It is between pushing my body to become stronger and recognizing that “edge” is where I find my balance.
As a result, my definition of strength has evolved—it comes from a deeper or more subtle point of exertion, depending on what is needed more—is it to step back, push or observe?
As I develop more muscular strength, my body seems to want the opposite. It also yearns to be released, to be grounded, to soften, to return to its centeredness again—with fluidness and flexibility. I find that my body’s natural inclination to find its center very interesting; this physical body awareness translates into mindfulness to balance when needed.
The interesting part is this: as soon as I recognize how to balance between strength and flexibility in my body, I’m capable of upholding a more transitional mindset.
When I tune in to that mindset, I slow down, I pay more attention in between movements and observe. It’s not just only about getting stronger or flexible with my body, it’s balancing craziness in daily life.
Recently, there have been a couple of times when I caught myself embroiled in uncomfortable thoughts triggered by a certain stressful situation. What would have otherwise set off my internal push-that-stress-reactive-button to deal with the situation, now I push a lot less.
I’m developing a new sense of ease and gentleness, going in and about situations, with slower reactive mode and deeper breath. This translates into a visceral sensation that my whole body recognizes and agrees with wholeheartedly, fortified by an invisible shield that interrupts reactivity.
After finding my body’s state of balance, I have a better awareness of expanding it mentally in everyday life.
From our yoga practice to our life off the mat, we are constantly being challenged to find our own balance. Finding it from moment-to-moment, from the physical to the mental level, is ubiquitous yet unique to our individual experiences and awareness levels.
Sometimes it’s easy to identify and practice it—or, it can much more subtle and takes practice. For me, yoga practice has helped me tremendously in identifying where my present imbalance is—between strength and flexibility—in terms of physical definition, but also points out the continuous, subtle mental grounding exercise that is equally important in life.
Josie Huang is an evolving yogini and yoga teacher. Outside of yoga, she is a curious foodie; a knowledge-thirsty Registered Dietitian to-be; a health and fitness enthusiast who loves creating, eating, sharing clean and delicious foods. She is a fledgling following her life long passions for health, yoga, food and nutrition altogether. As she is exploring different loves in her life, she remains dedicated to staying open to all phases of her journey. You can find her via her website.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise