Why do we practise yoga? To judge by many illustrations in books, DVDs etc it would appear to be so that we can bend backwards to
touch our feet to our head, perform a perfect handstand or other contortion. In
reality of course yoga exercises are essentially to allow us to live more fully, freely and effectively with awareness.
Flexibility, strength and stamina
are simply measures of our ability to function as living physical beings. All
three aspects are essential if we are to function most effectively, but strength and stamina are often missing from the average
Strength, the ability of the body
to support daily (or extra) activities is needed not just to carry heavy bags of shopping, but for apparently easy movements
such as rising from a chair unaided. A recent study showed an alarmingly high
proportion of 60 year olds needing to assist their legs by pushing with the arms as well.
Related to strength is `power` the ability to use expulsive strength – strength translated into action and movement. Both of these aspects often fail to be developed in the holding of static stretches
or even the strong holds of some of the standing poses such as Parsvakonasana.
Stamina is just the ability to keep
going! Correct breathing is important but for most people it is the tiring of
the muscles which becomes the limiting factor. If you are daunted by the thought
of a 5 mile walk, or even find cleaning your windows too tiring, or digging a few square metres of garden, it could well be
that stamina is a facet of your training to which you should give more attention.
Functional training, whether in
yoga or any other form of exercise aims to address all aspects of fitness for living.
Functional movements work on all levels, and on all parts of the body. A
flexible back is of no use if it and your core strength are weak. Pranayama is
irrelevant if you cannot breath according to the needs of your activities
Fortunately Indian exercise systems
have the answer we need. In `Yoga and Health`, Yesudian describes the practice
of Dhandal and Bhasky; slow motion exercise with maximum muscular contraction. Taking
a basic movement such as chopping a log, digging, or lifting up your shopping bags and placing cans on a high shelf, the aim
is to move with total awareness of each muscle being used, and with every muscle of the body being tensed as though you were
moving through the resistance of thick treacle. Each move should take up to a
minute to complete. Ten to fifteen minutes of intense effort (after warming up)
and good free breathing should leave you feeling as though you had been performing the action for two to three times that
length of time. So the next time you fill your bags with 2-4-1 offers
be grateful your yoga practise has given you the functional ability to throw the bags into the boot of the car.
Derek Osborn / Shiv Giri