Resistance: A Benefit or an Obstacle to Optimal Health?

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During a yoga class, as we were in a challenging pose, the teacher made the following comment, “your body wants the path of least resistance; in yoga, you want the path of most resistance.” Is this really true?

Not all yoga teachers would agree with this statement. Yet many people do associate yoga with a strenuous practice of some kind. In fact, there is a trend for resistance training that encourages this approach. And yes, it appears logical and practicing this way can yield results as well.

This may seem an appropriate way to do Cobra/Updog because it is a widespread way of doing it but it does not mean that compressing the neck part of the spine is a good thing to do in any pose.

Is it really necessary to intensely go against the guidance of your whole-body intelligence to build up strength? Is there a price to pay if you don’t have an effective tool to assess when to stop (beyond your own subjective notion of what is enough or not)?

The truth is that without an objective tool, it becomes too easy to overdo and create excess tension while you are building strength. So, yes, you are getting stronger, but you are also getting stiffer in the process like the yogis compressing the back of their neck to expand the front.

Neck tension does not come from stress but stress enhances misuse and overuse of the body. So stress reveals neck tension more than it creates it.

What are the signs you may be overdoing unknowingly?

  1. You need to stretch your muscles constantly, whether on or off the mat
  2. You experience sensitivity or pain in your joints periodically
  3. You struggle with frozen shoulders or poor posture
  4. You behave in an unflexible manner more often than not

If you experience one or more of these challenges, you may be getting more than you bargain for while working on strengthening using resistance to an extreme.

This is an integrated expression of a pose. Head poised over hands.
No neck compression, yet she is working her body as a whole and getting stronger in the process!

In truth, you can challenge yourself and work with resistance in a way that does not have such side effects. How?

  1. Approach all forms of exercise as a whole-body experience in the same way you approach walking, running, going up the stairs or riding a bike. In these activities, you don’t tell each body part how to do their job. You trust they know what they are doing.
  2. Discover how your skeleton and muscles can work as team partners to develop flexible strength. Your muscles don’t need to steal the show as if your body strength was their exclusive responsibility.
  3. Realize that challenging yourself as a whole is more efficient and effective than focusing on isolated body parts alone. For instance, doing a squat while still fully balanced above your feet benefits your whole body instead of just your quads.

Resistance becomes an obstacle that tends to backfire when you focus on individual muscles, isolated body parts, or pushing to an extreme while losing track of whole-body harmony.

It creates excess tension that shows up sooner or later and promotes injury.

Resistance is a benefit serving all of you when you practice resistance as a whole-body experience (whatever body parts you hope to strengthen). It works from head to toes in a mind/body partnership.

The fact is that the whole is designed to take care of the parts 
which is not true the other way around...

Would love to know your thoughts and experience with this.
Let me know what you think?

2 responses »

  1. You don’t mention the breath- sustaining a long smooth breath throughout asana will give you valuable feedback about how your whole system is responding.

    • Excellent comment Helen. Yes, breath is very important. And at the same time, as you are moving on or off the mat, you can be aware of your breath and still not use your body in a way that is aligned with your whole body intelligence (as it pertains to balance, coordination, and posture). The fact is, when you activate your whole-body intelligence, it unleashes your breath at the same time. So breath awareness is definitely an important part of the picture!:)

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