Yoga, football, earthquakes and you.

I was at a yoga training recently (the one where I learned about PTSD) and our trainer mentioned that, in our culture, while we obsessively work to strengthen our core, the truth of the matter is that our core is most likely too strong! This really got me to thinking because pretty much every one of my private clients and loads of my class-based students, if given the chance, will pick a core emphasis. I must admit, I really like to talk about the core and emphasize it, too. So, I’m kinda thinking her observation is probably right on target.
After hearing this, I decided to try an experiment with my Monday/Wednesday class. For two weeks, we explored the concept of “enough” in our practice. We would find the basic support needed for each pose and then spend the next few breaths releasing all the muscular effort that wasn’t absolutely necessary to hold the pose. It was a fascinating experiment! While we did not walk away from those two weeks feeling like we could scale the Grand Canyon or complete a 100-Mile Ultra-Marathon, we discovered an entirely different type of strength.
We noticed that we became more internally-focused. We felt deeper sensations in each pose. We began to breathe more deeply. We started to understand what “enough” in a pose feels like. And we became more philosophical. Well, at least I became more philosophical.

As I recognized patterns in my own body that had me clutching my quads and toes in every pose, I wondered what my body could be telling me. Here are some of the things I wondered about:

  • Could it be that true strength comes from allowing movement and flexibility rather than rigid support? I thought about high-rise buildings constructed in earthquake zones. The buildings that are rigid topple over when the stress of the earthquake comes. The buildings that survive are the ones with the ability to sway and move with the shifting of the earth.
  • Football players and other professional athletes who practice yoga and/or ballet (or any activity thatyoga football earthquakes and youcounter-balances all the hard strength work on the field) seem to have more resilience and less injuries than their counterparts who only pump iron and continually push harder and longer. When we balance strength work with flexibility work, does this create a deeper, truer strength that is more functional and keeps us more injury-free? The answer to this one is yes and is actually pretty well-documented and accepted. I just felt it and realized in my own body to a much deeper degree during this practice.
  • When I was able to come to the place in each pose where I had truly released all the unnecessary work in my body, I noticed something very intriguing. My body would start to gently sway from side to side or forward and backward. Sometimes they swaying would go pretty far, far enough that I wondered if I might actually fall out of the pose. But, I never did. My deeper core muscles seem to be quite responsive and as the swaying would get to the place where I thought I would certainly come out of the pose, it would gently begin to sway the other direction. This sensation actually became very comforting as I allowed it to happen.
I’m not saying that we should only meander through life and never strive for anything at all. But what I do wonder is if there are areas in our lives where it would do us some good to release the unnecessary effort and explore what “enough” effort is. What can I let go of that isn’t really needed? Can I allow the movement in a situation to happen freely and trust that my deeper core will know when it’s time to sway the other direction?
What do you think about this? Have you experienced anything like this before? I would love to hear your thoughts!