Are you a fitness enthusiast? Do you feel good about your practice only if you push yourself to the max and feel your muscles straining a bit? Maybe you feel you do not do enough if you do not feel that stretch or that muscle power working “effort-fully”? Is that feeling of muscular tension what you consider “pushing your edge”?
When do you know that enough is enough? What do you think of the fitness enthusiasts below displaying their ability to squat with pride because they feel that edge big time?
The man, back and shoulders rounding forward to not fall backwards, is overstretching his back and compressing the back of his neck as he is pushing his edge to stand on one foot while squatting. The woman has the ball of her feet partly off the ground because her weight mainly situated over her heels is not evenly distributed above her whole two feet. It means that to not fall backwards, she is compensating by overdoing in her leg muscles building unnecessary tension while building up strength.
Both are also stressing ankles, knees and hip joints which are constricted by the excessive muscular tension required in their legs to keep some sort of balance. Is it worth it to push your edge in a way that creates these issues?
Is there a holistic way to push your edge that allows you to stretch and strengthen all the same yet does not translate into building compressed joints and muscle stiffness on or off the mat?
For starters, think children and tribal cultures! Look at the individuals below. Notice how their head neck and torso relationship works perfectly as their weight is balanced above their well grounded feet: some of their body weight past their toes, some of it behind their heels. A good example of what to be respectful of while you are exercising so you do not hurt yourself while you are trying to be good to yourself.
In many cultures more connected to the natural way to handle daily movements, it is actually common to see men and women of all ages squat with ease or carry heavy loads on their heads gracefully. Since such flexible strength and ease is possible among some humans, it must be accessible to all, including you!
In the animal kingdom as well, you see creatures who can display powerful and precise flexible strength without building any excess muscular tension so they are totally relaxed when not in action. If they stretch, it is a whole body happening done usually once.
These examples are all about efficiency and it is precisely that efficiency that allows them to push their edge safely. Excess tension is seductive but misleading. It makes you feel like you are being productive when in fact it decreases your efficiency and creates stiffness that will backfire on you on or off the mat, sooner or later.
How can you still push your edge and develop efficient flexible strength?
1) “Flexible Strength” is the opposite of “Stiff Strength”. So stop focusing on holding and tightening (a mind need to control), and instead release into your support and allow yourself to expand into your space (trusting mind). As you engage in your pose, stay in it even when it is demanding as long as you can still release into your support. If there is no room to release all the way into your support, you are already overdoing because your pose stopped to be integrated from head to toes.
2) “Flexible Strength” is “Integrated Strength”. You are still challenging yourself and building strength when you release into your support, only you then do it in an integrated fashion that benefits your whole body and connects you to its innate wisdom. Even if some muscles are being challenged more than others, they won’t be pushed past their safe limit because you are respecting the integrated synergy of your body.
3) “Pushing Your Edge” the “Holistic Way”: When you brace yourself grasping your skeleton to keep it in a specific pose no matter what, you are actually interfering with the best functioning of your body because your joints are locked and your muscles tensed unnecessarily. On the other end, staying in the pose and constantly releasing and expanding through it despite this being challenging is how you push your edge in a holistic way!
CONCLUSION & IMPORTANT DISTINCTIONS
Necessary Muscular Tension can grow into “Flexible Strength” when challenged to do so during physical activities while connected to your support in a released way. Unnecessary Muscle Tension only grows into “Body Stiffness”. Since your unconscious daily habitual patterns tend to show up on the yoga mat, your poses may include habitual skeletal misuse or habitual muscle overuse (often a compensation for skeletal misuse). It makes it harder and sometimes impossible to do a pose in a safe way. With unnecessary muscle tension, you may feel like your body is a battle ground and you cannot find peace within it or you blank out the tension till it catches up with you.
Also, when you are mistaking the “Feeling of Muscle Tension” for the “Feeling of Strength”, you keep pushing muscularly when you ought to be letting go and releasing into expansion. Hence the stiffness lingering in your muscles and joints over time on and off the yoga mat and the constant need to stretch recurring or chronic tension.
To be safe, you must cultivate awareness of how what you do affects every part of your body as you do it. Otherwise you run the risk to create muscle tension while you are working to build up strength.
Developing an awareness of functioning in an integrated fashion is your safety net. It allows you to keep your “Postural Mechanism” fully functioning as it is its job to secure balance, coordination and fluid movements within your integrated self. It is your “Inner Teacher”, always there to guide you, and all you need to do to activate it is to release into expansion. The best way I know to develop such awareness is the Alexander Technique. If you have not yet explored it, don’t wait. Treat yourself! You will be happy you did too.The next workshop for yoga practitioners of all levels is on December 13, 2014. To sign up go to https://offthematyogablog.com/. Be well! And Happy Holidays! Cecile