Yoga for Strength, Flexibility and Recovery

by Alice Dommert
September 3, 2019

Yes, we’re now past Labor Day and back-to-school. While you may or may not be buying new school supplies, almost all of us are looking at our fall schedules and know we have a long stretch until Thanksgiving. How do you feel about that?

I used to loudly and in a very grumpy manner declare that September was my least favorite month. It was hard to shift from the more relaxed days of August to the rigor and routine of September. At that time, I lacked the tools to make my way through the transition of the seasons and my schedule.

It was a time when I approached yoga as exercise, not as a toolbox for life. Here I want to share more about three different types of yoga so you can see how these tools might support you.

Yoga for Strength

Building strength is often not the first reason people come to the practice of yoga. Often they want to become more flexible or desire better balance. Yet many people are surprised to learn that yoga is considered a weight-bearing exercise. How does it work? You’re using your own body weight as you position your body in a variety of shapes (poses) to activate different muscles. Then you hold the shape and breathe. It’s that simple. No extra equipment or experience needed.

You may have tried chair pose in one of our Yoga@Work classes to strengthen your leg muscles. Or perhaps in a mat yoga class, you’ve practiced boat pose to activate core muscles or side plank to build arm and shoulder muscles. With each pose, there are variations of arm and leg positions to increase the intensity. You can also intensify a pose by holding it for a few more rounds of breath. These are poses practiced in a hatha yoga class or a vinyasa flow yoga class.

You will feel the body’s overall strength increase and often this happens quickly with a regular practice. You’ll notice you can lift, pull or push something that you could not just a few weeks ago. Yet more is happening—you’re building resilience. Quickly the mind recognizes this new resource.  What else might you be able to do now?

Could you say yes to leading that new project at work? Could you begin to write that story that has been in your head for the last year? Sign up for that course that has been of interest? Begin a difficult conversation with your partner? Being strong and resilient in mind and body in the foundation of a solid belief in yourself and all the possibilities available for you.

Yoga for Flexibility

The most basic understanding of flexibility is the ability to move muscles and joints through their complete range of motion. With a more and more sedentary lifestyle and the tension from stress, flexibility can be lost quickly. Stretching is a big part of a yoga practice and can help with flexibility.

With a deeper understanding of flexibility, however, the three types of connective tissue; tendons, ligaments and muscle fascia are considered. Working with muscle fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds individual muscles and muscle groups is the most fertile ground for increased flexibility. Yin Yoga is a unique practice to work with muscle fascia.

The poses in Yin yoga are all floor poses. While they appear easy, they are held for 1-5 minutes which adds to the intensity, though in a different way than in the strength-building poses. With Yin poses, it is about surrender with a focus on the breath. Then allowing the release that gravity and time in the shape provides.

Here again, is another hidden gem of yoga. Physical flexibility and a relaxed body translate to mental and emotional flexibility. Being supple around life’s constantly changing circumstances takes practice and allows the ability for a better bounce back when the unexpected happens. It also shifts your expectations around the belief that you can control the happenings of life. Instead of bracing and resisting life’s changes, a more flexible body allows you to respond and flow with changes in a more fluid, in-the-moment way.

Yoga For Recovery

Here I use the word recovery, not as it is used when referring to overcoming an addiction, but as a form of deep rest. Yet in a way as a culture, we are addicted, to doing too much. We are busy and proud of it. We set goals we can measure and then push, trying to make it all the way through the 13 weeks to Thanksgiving.

We forget. We are beings that are intimately connected to nature and her cycles. Effort and rest, growth and recovery. Yoga is a practice that allows us to join back with, to yoke back to, that origin. We ride the breath to reconnect back into our own natural rhythms to sustain energy and growth consistently over time, even as the clock marks the span of our lives. This is the capacity to thrive.

One of the other biggest illusions of our consumer-oriented culture is that with age we will inevitably fall apart so we try and run ahead of the ticking clock as a part of our doing. This is not a predetermined destiny of the body. Yes, over time things shift and change. But with a sensitivity to your own unique geography, there can be a different story and experience around time and rest. With intentional practice and awareness of the need for deep rest and recovery, your body can experience time like the beautiful copper patina of Lady Liberty.

Yoga Nidra, also known as yogic sleep, is a practice of yoga that elicits a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. You get cozy on the floor with blankets and are guided to deep relaxation for 20-40 minutes. Your body shifts from the active sympathetic mode of the nervous system to the rest and recovery parasympathetic nervous system mode as you experience the mood-regulating hormone, serotonin flow through your body. Your brain also shifts from the awakened and active beta brain waves to the more calming alpha brain waves. This yoga sleep is deeply restorative for mind and body, helping you restore energy and reboot your body’s systems for your next cycle of effort.

Which tools are you ready for?

Which practice might provide the tools you need most?  Or perhaps you’d like a sampling of all three?

This Sunday, September 8th, Meg Townsend and I are offering our first LIVE Workshop; Yoga for Strength, Flexibility and Recovery. We’ll be in Ardmore, PA for this workshop and it’s open for all levels. No experience needed.

In the Workshop, we’ll practice several hatha yoga poses, with variations in addition to a basic vinyasa flow sequence that you can practice at home—all to build strength and overall life resilience. In the second portion of the Workshop, we’ll sink into some Yin Yoga poses to surrender to gravity, time and the breath to explore some new horizons of flexibility. And in the final segment, Meg Townsend, with her lullaby voice, will lead you in an extended Yoga Nidra.

I hope you can join us this Sunday. The tools of yoga are ready and waiting for you.

Alice Dommert

Alice Dommert

Founder, Wholebeing Architect

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