Yoga Promotes Flexibility, Strength and Balance

July 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Chaturanga dandasana, Pushups

PHOTO: Sonia Monteiro of DeRose Antas School, Porto, Portugal

When I first started doing yoga, decades ago, many people thought it was a slightly feminine undertaking. And I have to admit, even today the majority of the students at my local yoga school are women — although that is changing. But the only people who think yoga is not a rigorous, difficult, often even aerobic activity are those who have never taken a class.

I’ll never forget one class I took in which there were three men among about a dozen women. It was a very ordinary, relatively basic class. At one point, the instructor guided us into chaturanga dandasana, the “plank” or staff pose. It’s basically like doing a pushup halfway down — and then holding it. The young woman instructor remained in the pose, calming issuing little tips and giving suggestions, her voice calm and not betraying even a hint of strain.

Most of the female students in the class, as well, held the pose easily. But the men! We men were sweating profusely, our arms shaking, barely able to hold the pose as the seconds turned into a full minute. My masculine pride was on the line. I remember thinking at the time that I wasn’t about to collapse in a heap on the floor when this young instructor could so easily hold this pose without any effort or strain. After all, I could do pushups… lots of pushups! At last, the instructor had mercy on us and calmly told us to relax. I eased myself onto the floor with what I can only describe as great relief. But this is what I love about hatha yoga. It’s one of the few physical activities I know of that builds strength, flexibility and balance all at once. It doesn’t give you the heart-pumping aerobic exercise that we in the west value so highly — although anyone who has been in an upper-level vinyasa or Ashtanga class might dispute that!

But in a typical 90-minute class, you get stretched in ways you never even knew were possible. You hold poses that challenge your physical strength. And, in most classes, you get a kind of balance training that isn’t seen anywhere else outside of, perhaps, a ballet studio. That’s why I truly believe that a committed yoga practice really is the closest thing to a fountain of youth you are likely to find this side of heaven. When you think about what physical “youth” is, it’s really flexibility, strength and balance — and perhaps “energy” thrown in for good measure. All of these things yoga gives you, no matter what your age. I think that is why the Christian Yoga movement is sweeping the globe. Millions of ordinary people are discovering that physical, psychological and spiritual benefits of yoga — and do not see any conflict between their Christian faith and these healthy, rejuvenating practices. If, as St. Irenaeus said, the glory of God is Man fully alive — then we should take advantage of the 5,000-year-old science of yoga to remain “fully alive” ad Majorem Dei gloriam.

Thanks to Sonia Monteiro, who teaches at the DeRose Antas School in Porto, Portugal, for graciously allowing me to post her photo as an example of effortless grace. Obrigado!

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