Thursday, May 15, 2014

Finding Strength In the Small

So yesterday morning after Colden was packed off to school, I rolled out my mat before I did anything else, and I put myself through a vigorous asana practice. I did my Sun Salutations, went through a nice vinyasa flow using my favorite standing poses, and then did a few seated poses to cool down.

A thought kept popping back into my mind as I went through my flow. When I was at the studio for practice yesterday morning, Robin said to me, "Look at your biceps! Oh my God!"

Yeah, after 18 months of near-daily Sun Salutations, I have itty bitty biceps on my itty bitty arms. My body has definitely changed - I'm more flexible, stronger, and leaner than I was 18 months ago. My size 12 jeans have been replaced by sizes 8 and 6, if you can believe that. And all I did was yoga. I do not lift weights. I do not run. I do not do "cardio" (except for a vigorous Ashtanga practice now and then), and I don't go to the gym to "work out". I just do yoga.

And it's not like I'm doing any of the really big, flashy asanas, here. No headstands for me. I can only do shoulder stand if I'm using a bolster or a stack of blankets about 6" high. I can't do plow, or wheel, or any of those crazy back bends. (At least, not yet.)

But think about it: if you stand in Warrior II with your arms outstretched, what are you doing? You're working those muscles. You're breathing deeply, moving oxygen and red blood cells through your body. You're standing still, yes, but you're WORKING.

It's not a big movement to stand in mountain pose with your arms stretched overhead. But if you do it every day, what happens? Eventually, you get strong. Your legs get strong - your bones get strong from weight bearing, your muscles engage and get used. Your shoulders loosen up, your arms get long and lean.

When I  move through Chaturanga, the yoga push-up move that's a part of every Sun Salutation, I still can't move right from plank and lower down to the mat without dropping my knees first. I just don't have the strength in my core.


But practicing all those Chaturangas with my knees bent has paid off - I have biceps! 

Don't be afraid to start small. If you're looking to start a yoga practice, don't be afraid to walk into a beginner class and learn the basics. Don't tell yourself that just because you need to modify a pose that you're practice isn't as "good" as someone who doesn't need a prop or a modification.

Yoga is not about a competition. It's about working on YOURSELF. It's about checking in with YOU. Treating yourself gently makes you stronger, not weaker.

Have you ever just spent an entire yoga practice sitting in easy pose or child's pose? That's a powerful move, right there. Do you have the strength to sit with your thoughts and your breath for a full 75 minutes? I encourage you to try it one day, and experience it for yourself.

Sure, one day I might have the core strength and strength in my shoulders to get into head stand and shoulder stand. But for now, I'll keep practicing my small moves, and enjoy those biceps of mine.

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