In a recent article, written by a highly experienced Hatha yoga teacher, it outlined how Hatha yoga is a balance between strength and flexibility. It went on to explain that strength and flexibility work in equal measures and that some people need to work on their strength while others need to work on their flexibility.
I do not understand how it possible to work on increasing flexibility opposed to building strength? You cannot. Through your yoga practice strength and flexibility are developed side by side; it is not feasible to isolated one over the other.
This ill-conceived relationship between strength and flexibility I've heard expressed many times before.
To say that something is a balance between to entities implies you are able to control the two entities. So, when someone says that Hatha yoga is a balance between strength and flexibility suggests that they can control the amount they use their flexibility. Such a statement tells me the person is naturally flexible.
As a general rule naturally flexible people tend use their strength purely as a means of gaining stability in a posture, but never too much that it would affect their ability to use their flexibility. What the writer was actually saying was, for them it's about finding a balance between stability and the use of their flexibility.
"Some people are born in a steel factory, and others are born in a noodle factory" is a classic, provocative quote from the man himself, Bikram Choudhury. During my grueling 9-week teacher training program, Bikram used this quote to highlight that some people are naturally flexible. He then went on to his main point that naturally flexible people are the hardest of all to teach because they find it hard to engage their muscles. He emphasized that we must encourage flexible people to apply their strength and not let them rely on their flexibility, especially in back-bends, where they just fearlessly collapse into the posture.
Now with over ten years of teaching behind me, I think that Bikram understated this point. Flexible people aren't hard to teach; they're impossible to teach. They don't want to hear they are collapsing into a posture. Asking them to work harder by engaging their strength any more than they need to and focus more on lifting up in a backbend means they don't come down as far which their ego just cannot endure. Their ego loves the fact they can go all the way back more than anyone else in the room.
Hatha yoga is not about using flexibility; it's about using strength. As a result, you will become stronger and more flexible.
I started yoga due to chronic arthritis with zero flexibility - the only way I gained the flexibility I currently enjoy today was through the application of strength, focusing purely on engaging my strength in such a way as to feel the body open up, lengthening, expanding.
There is no such thing as a balance between strength and flexibility; there is just the application of strength. Yes, the amount which someone goes into a posture is governed by their flexibility, but purely as a result of the using strength with control and precision.
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