Strengthen - Muscular Endurance Exercises in the Yoga Practice
I realize that muscular endurance exercises may not be the first thing you think of when you think of yoga. To me, having come to the practice with very little of it, developing physical strength looms large among the many benefits of yoga asana. But it's true that mostly, when people think of yoga, they think of stretching, and flexibility.
The word yoga can be roughly translated to union. When we practice yoga, opposing or complementary qualities and energies in the body unite. They reconcile, to create harmonious integrity within that body. The art of yoga hinges on balancing effort with surrender, openness with boundary, softness with strength. Strong muscles help us to rest well, to age gracefully. Our immune system is reliant on our muscle mass, and an active relationship with our bodies is an important part of improving our self esteem, and developing self awareness.
Practiced with good alignment and a yogic attitude, a yoga pose not only builds muscular endurance, it exercises our mind, improves mental focus, deepens our self knowledge, and helps us access the courage to transform and grow.
Power is Found in Strengthening, Not Hardening
Yoga postures are exercises. And like any exercises, they work the muscles and build strength. What makes an exercise an yoga pose, especially in the case of Ansuara Yoga poses, is the attitude we take when we perform it. When we practice with mindfulness, the body and mind and spirit line up with each other and with the rest of the world that we're a part of. That is where we find the juice to sustain our strength - even our physical strength. Agreeing with our nature, rather than fighting it, is how to build muscular endurance. And that kind of collaboration requires that we cultivate sensitivity.
In order to perform these exercises as Yoga Poses, we begin every asana, or posture, with the practice of softening, and expanding the inner body. This is important if we are to become strong rather than hard, or tough. Think of the difference - under external pressure, hard things eventually break. Strong things, and strong people, are able to bend and give, to go with the flow while retaining their integrity - their inner power. If you haven't already done so, read the section on softening now.
All the yoga poses are, to some degree, muscular endurance exercises. Some of the most powerful of these are the standing poses - see warrior two below. The core strength exercises like plank pose and navasana, together with developing awareness of our gut intelligence, build endurance in the core body and thus support the entire musculoskeletal system. For more advanced practitioners, timed holds in handstand, headstand, arm balances, and so on, are powerful strength builders.
The instructions for mountain pose explain how to work your muscles in all of the poses. The degree of effort, and the length of time you hold the pose, will determine the degree of muscular endurance the exercises develop.
Here is a list
of other yoga positions to explore.
Muscular Endurance Exercises for Arm Strength
Believe it or not, you can build a lot of arm strength and endurance for many of your life's activities without ever lifting anything. Many very strong people, when beginning a practice of yoga, are amazed at how challenging it is just to hold the arms out in basic standing poses like warrior two. Below are directions in getting the most for out of the pose, specifically how to build endurance in the arms while developing foundational strength in the legs, knees, and buttocks. These are the basic instructions for the arms in any yoga pose where they are held out to the sides in a "T" position.
1. Read and follow the basic instructions for warrior two.
2. With loving attention to the balance of strength and softness, rotate your arms such that the triceps roll forward and up. I sometimes tell students to pretend that they are trying to point their armpits upward, or even behind them. This is impossible, of course, but it encourages a strong action.
3. Pause and notice what you're feeling. There is very likely and expansion across the upper chest. Quite possibly, that physical sensation of expansion will be accompanied by an uplifted quality of heart, even a kind of happiness. With each breath fill up with more light, imagining a limitless source of energy and peace.
4. Maintaining the action of rotation in your upper arms, turn your forearms in the opposite direction, so that your palms face the floor. Like the balance of strength and sensitivity, these contrasting and complementary actions of the arms bring harmony and integrity to your pose. They make union, yoga.
5. As with any of the Anusara yoga poses, the final piece of the puzzle is to shine out from the focal point to through all your many parts, like a star. Root down through the four corners of your feet and spread your fingers and breath deeply and steadily, keeping our jaw, your skin and your spirit soft.
6. Increase your timing until you can hold the pose with integrity for one minute. All muscular endurance exercises require steadfastness and commitment, but also self honoring, and patience patience patience.
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