Yoga – the true meaning of core strength

When Yoga is presented as a fitness routine, or, a workout for ‘core strength’ I find it a little distasteful …Christians don’t go to church because singing hymns is a great ‘metabolism booster’ after all. And yet- there is good reason why people promote it in this way. The kind of strength that is developed through a challenging asana practice like the Ashtanga sequence is strength on another level.

There is a huge difference between a Yoga asana practice and working out in a gym. There is a feeling with asana practice of building strength from within- a very contained form of strength. It is a very different feeling you get from when you have worked out in a Body Pump class for example. When you are in a gym the emphasis is about imposing external forces on your body- lifting weights, doing bench presses, and thus building up a ‘tolerance’ to these external forces so it is as if you toughen up your shell. Inside you remain the same, albeit with boosted levels of serotonin and other feel good chemicals produced by the body, and certainly it is better to exercise than not to. With the physical practice of asana however, it is if the strength is built from within and then in time expresses itself through the outer physical body- almost like one of the darker characters from the ‘Terminator’ films who have cores of what appears to be molten steel rather than internal organs. It is a strength which does not rest on peripheral factors.
This type of strength comes from focussed practice over time. From having patience with yourself and taking it slowly. There is no point in sacrificing function for form, in fact that will slow you down. Non attachment is the key- Vairagya. Accepting where you are and trying not to do anything stupid. However, sthira (strength) and sukha (softness) are classically equally important within a posture. Iyengar writes that ‘As pointed out in the Mundakopanishad the Self cannot be attained by one without strength, nor through heedlessness, nor without an aim. Just as an unbaked earthen pot dissolves in water the body soon decays. So bake it hard in the fire of Yogic discipline in order to strengthen and purify it’.

And as above, so below, we train the body to train the mind. It is as if when it becomes possible to iron out the kinks in our bodies through regular practice, the mind begins to follow. Something will happen in your life and without even thinking about it you will react in a completely new way. A couple of the little voices that used to haunt you and taunt you will have packed up and left the building…. and so quietly that you didn’t even notice them leaving…….

And what about the space and time these nasty little bullies used to take up while they were camped out in your mind like squatters? Well- you’ll have time for whats important to you again, time to be creative, to learn and to grow…

Time to be free…

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