I’m a self-proclaimed Type A personality and I’m a Libra so if you know anything about either of those traits, or maybe you’re both as well, then you know that combination can be a force…and also force things to be in their place perfectly all the time. That’s probably why I was so drawn to the figure competition world, especially with all the prescriptive diets and “no days off” mentality of training. It was precise, it made sense, I could check boxes and feel like I was getting it “right.” But that life broke me down in so many ways. For years I prided myself on being the strong one, having it all together or at least looking like I did, #GSD was my motto and I tried to do it all with a level of harmony and balance, albeit forced half the time. As my fitness journey and my fitness goals have changed, as I’ve gotten older and my health goals and needs have also changed, my view on strength is evolving. I am redefining strength by finding ease in my efforts.
I’m roughly 2 months into an 18-month, 200-hour yoga teacher training program at the studio where I’ve been practicing for the past 5 months. This training was a gift to myself as a way to deepen my own practice and learn more about the Yogic perspective on life, energy and movement. Yoga found me a year ago pretty banged up from all the heavy lifting and looking for another way to challenge my body outside the weight room while prioritizing self-care. My old way of training wasn’t working for me anymore and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it up even if I tired. The most recent training module, Anatomy for the Subtle Body, was a mix of textbook anatomy of the physical body and the subtleties of movement specific to yoga. So, aside from learning a lot about bones, muscles and joints, we discussed subtle ways to challenge our bodies with poses we can keep improving on long term. Yoga has been about unlearning pretty much everything I thought I knew about strength and flexibility.
Ultimately, what I want is to find synergy between my mental and physical strength, especially when I exercise. To me, balance means reducing one thing to even out the weight of something else, but synergy is the cooperation of the two to produce a greater result than one or the other. My weight lifting mindset was in constant battle with my newfound yoga mindset…I could tell because I was always trying to muscle my way into poses, approaching yoga as just another physical workout and not allowing myself to fully relax into the final relaxation pose.
That’s the thing about practicing yoga – you can definitely muscle your way into a pose, use your practice as another sweaty intense workout and lie in complete exhaustion at the end…but it’s not necessary and it’s often counterproductive to your long-term health and fitness goals. It’s crazy because I didn’t have this revelation until I took the anatomy workshop. The weekend before I actually posted this picture of my sweaty mat with a caption about how I had just burned 560 calories in a heated power flow class and that I didn’t know what else to do with my life. It was all in fun, of course, but when I looked back at all the classes I’d take that week, there weren’t any gentle relaxation days. In my short time of practicing 4 times most weeks, I’ve experienced some shoulder pain that wasn’t there before I started yoga a little over a year ago. Why did I feel the need to suddenly ramp up the intensity?
During the week of anatomy training, we broke down some of the most common poses such as Warrior 1 and Warrior 2, Mountain, Child’s Pose, Pigeon, Triangle and Down Dog. Poses where I was bent all the way over and hardly able to breath weren’t nearly as challenging as bending half as much and breathing deeply. Poses where I would yank my upper body into a twist and put my hips out of alignment weren’t as strenuous as twisting less and contracting my muscles more. Holding poses for longer periods of time required so much more strength than moving on each breath. I am redefining strength by finding ease in my efforts.
How I’m redefining mental strength in fitness –
- I’m listening to my body and really obeying what I hear – Do I need to pull back some or can I push through a pose or a few more reps?
- I’m consistently checking in with myself to discover the reason behind wanting to push further – Is it because I think I have to in order to get a good workout or is it because I’m physically up for the challenge that day?
- Above all else, I am exercising because I love my body and not because I hate it.
How I’m redefining physical strength in fitness –
- In yoga, although there were a lot of poses that came easier to me because of my muscularity, there were just as many poses that I had to scale back on or remove from my practice for now. And I’m working on becoming totally ok either way.
- I’m easing my way into yoga poses instead of getting into the pose right away and squeezing every muscle. Easing into the poses requires so much muscle control and strength.
- Using yoga as a tool for relaxation and not just another sweaty workout and lifting heavy but not maxing out every set in the gym.
In such a short time, yoga has taught me that there is so much strength in ease…That mental strength is more important than physical force and that less really is more. My advice to you if you’re already practicing yoga, especially from a strength training background – you don’t have to force your way into a pose for it to be effective. Your muscles are multidimensional and respond to varying levels of tension, and less force allows your body to work through its full range of motion in due time. Forced muscles will only respond by getting tighter. And for those of you not practicing because you think yoga is all about intensity, extreme stretching and flexibility, I encourage you to give it a try and see what it’s really about! You’ll see firsthand that the mental strength it takes to get in a pose and hold it beats force any day. Standing in Mountain pose, relaxing your mind and engaging your muscles to hold your body upright is work and it’s yoga – yoga is for every body.
I’d love to hear from you! Are you new to yoga and finding your groove? Do you have a weight training background and if so, how does that influence your yoga practice? Tell me how you’re redefining strength – comment below or tweet me @trinperkins