strength and flexibility, the eternal (internal?) chase

A theoretical picture of strength and flexibility, but which is which?

my yoga practice is starting to get a little bit jealous of my parkour practice. and my parkour practice is a bit self-centered right now and doesn’t give a flying monkey’s tit, it’s trying to learn how to kong properly if you don’t mind. which brings me to the topic of the eternal, internal chase between strength and flexibility.

i reassure new students to ashtanga yoga that if you’re flexible you will gain strength and if you’re strong you will gain flexibility. everyone comes out of primary series on a level playing field if you can endure it, that’s why they call it yoga chikitsa (yoga therapy). this usually divides men and women practitioners, though there are exceptions. men and women practice beside each other and you see them occasionally glancing across the gap between mats and sighing. women are always disgruntled over the men’s strong jump-backs and jump-throughs and their deep chaturanga dhandasanas. men shake their heads when women tie themselves into the marichyasana D knot or place their chin on the floor in uppavishta konasana. when will that be me? they ask themselves.

no, not pinch-a my ass-ana!

the truth is, the chase never ends. because strength and flexibility are in an eternal cosmic death match- at least that’s what’s going on inside me right now. my current challenge is pincha mayurasana. i’ve been practicing this posture almost daily, trying to develop duration (strength) for when i finally get to that point in intermediate series. pincha (aka: the peacock feather) is considered a romance posture (it’s related to that big wow asana: scorpion), it takes a lot of concentration, determination, and open shoulders. i had been slowly opening my shoulders in preparation and then along came my parkour practice. due to all the strength training, my shoulders have shut down like steel traps.  good-bye pincha mayurasana.

but it doesn’t end here. because i do need strong shoulders to bring stability to pincha mayurasana and to make my jump-throughs smooooth in my yoga practice, and i need flexible shoulders to assist me with going into and following through on jumps and climbing elements in parkour. so i have to accept the complex interplay between strengthening muscle, which temporarily shortens it causing loss of flexibility, and lengthening muscle requiring strength to be redistributed over a longer distance. and this little dance is going to happen every time i learn a new asana or parkour element. this is what makes it fun, right?

i see this strength/flexibility chase as one of the main reasons why one day we’ll be able to do a posture or an element and the next day it is gone. we opened into a deeper flexibility or gained a new-found strength on that day, and now the body has to work in that new awareness and sometimes compensate elsewhere. for example, one day shoulders and rectus abdominus were open and back-bends were lucious; drop backs were no problem! the next day…utter and complete failure, the shoulders have seized and rectus and legs don’t seem to want to work together to get you back on your feet. the shoulders strengthened and tightened in a new position and the stretched rectus isn’t used to working along a longer area. so what do we do? we keep practicing, and trying and find that balance, or union between the two.

since strength and flexibility are always going to be chasing each other, we should just sit back and try and observe the bigger picture. overall, the gains and losses we’re feeling on a daily level should be accepted as part of a work in progress. some days we’ll be stronger, some days more flexible, but remember- there is no end result! we’re always going to be moving and growing and adapting to what life throws at us, or what we throw at ourselves. move beyond these moments of frustration, of feeling ‘weak’ or feeling ‘tight’, and investigate this new feedback and knowledge your body is giving you, let it take you deeper and further in your journey.


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