True Strength

In yoga, especially in some of the standing postures, and particularly the Warrior sequences, the topic of strength figures prominently as an intention for practice. Regardless of whether it’s a gentle or challenging physical practice, instructors speak often of finding your inner strength, moving from the inside out and connecting with your true self. Far from contributing to self-involvement, true strength, whether it has to do with physical strength or strength of character, always involves flexibility. As Kundalini yoga master Yogi Bhajan (1929-2004) taught, “Strength is about how calmly, quietly and peacefully you face life.”

Off the mat and outside of the studio, this definition meets its challenges. Tune into the media and some of the recent rhetoric of presidential hopeful Mr. Trump, and you would think otherwise. In the public arena the culture of vitriol is on the rise, with no limits of decency. Aggression and insults are the order of the day. Apparently, it’s a sign of strength to fly in the face of “political correctness” and tell it like it is. No matter if this is actually just an excuse to spew racist or sexist insults in the name of bigotry and misogyny, or if political debate has devolved into ad hominem arguments (personal insults) as a substitute for knowledge and true debate about facts and issues.  For all the smug satisfaction that seems to fuel this kind of behavior, no one is any happier for it, and evidence of any calm, quiet or peace is entirely lacking.

So if bullying, aggression and dominance are more an indication of bad behavior, and arguably bad character, than strength, how do we redefine strength? I am reminded of e. e. cummings’ words that to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.  So, we learn to listen to ourselves and the sound of our inner voice of truth. This is the voice that leads with a moral compass guided more than anything by kindness and compassion. It can be difficult when dealing with others who believe in the world’s definition and dismiss such traits as an indication of weakness.  The trick is to find your clarity, engage only as much as necessary, and to stand firm in who you are and what you know. True strength is something you develop over time as you forge your character. It has to do with keeping your word, following through on your commitments, facing life and its challenges even when it’s uncomfortable, sometimes profoundly so. It means showing up over and over and letting what you do speak for itself. The flow of water cuts through rock; it’s a seemingly softer force than the blunt impact of a sledge hammer, but it’s an incredibly effective power all the same.

The African American cultural critic and feminist Audrey Lorde  (1934-1992) inspires us with her words, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in service of my vision, it becomes less and less important whether I’m afraid.” And so our strength emanates from a larger vision of who we are. As we learn to move and act from this place of strength, it becomes more and more apparent that strength is not about defending ourselves or those in our immediate tribe; in fact it’s not about us at all but rather about using our power to realize the larger purpose of lifting others up and impacting the world–the web of life–in a positive way. What we do to the web always comes back to us because we are an inextricable part of it.  In the face of so much negativity and mean-spiritedness we encounter in the world, we can choose another way.  We can choose true strength.

What is yoga and how does it work?

There are classic text books which answer these questions (i.e. Bhagavad Gita or The Yoga Tradition). But, in very simple terms: yoga has been ‘translated’ to mean union and this union is often thought of in the terms, ‘mind, body and spirit’.  Yoga as we know it is a personal wellness practice in which the goal is to create the absolute balance of ‘mind, body, and spirit’. What separates yoga apart from other health and wellness practices is the mindfulness approach to the  ‘setting’ of our intentions, the connection of our breath throughout the practice and the actual physical postures themselves.

Historically, it is believed that the practice of yoga originated approximately 5000  years ago, and that this practice has eight paths of which Hatha yoga (i.e. physical postures) is only one. However, the ‘beginning’ of the Hatha yoga path and practice (i.e. physical postures, asana’s) did not begin to evolve as we know it until around 1920-1930’s. And since this time yoga has become a practice, to be done while working towards self-improvement (i.e. benefiting our minds through goal setting and  our bodies through increased balance, flexibility and strength, etc.). The ‘spirit’, spirituality, or general connectedness that you experience while practicing completes the union of the individual practitioner’s mind, body, and spirit.

Still skeptical? Let’s take a quick look at two common and current, exercise principles that we are being taught today (i.e. physical education classes, personal fitness industry, etc.). Warming up, before we exercise, think that was the creation of your personal trainer? Think again, warming our bodies up for the physical practice (Hatha) is a major component of most styles of yoga (i.e. Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga) and is commonly practiced through Sun Salutations. And at the end of your exercise program, there is commonly a ‘warm down’ period or exercise. This principle very closely mimics the intentions of our period of time that we spend at the end of our yoga practice, Savasana. Namaste.

‘A Warrior’s Vinyasa’

A new class beginning September 7th
Sundays, 7 – 8pm

‘A Warriors Vinyasa’, As a veteran, a veteran’s caregiver and family members, we are personally aware of the adversity in which we share. The practice of yoga has been proven to improve an individual’s emotional and physical health and well being. Our empowering practice together will include breath work, mindfulness skills and physical postures, creating your own moving meditation practice.

As a veteran who has accepted the practice of yoga into his life, I want to share with you this life changing practice. Take a deep breath and step forward, breath into your personal wellness practice. I want to thank Jill F. the owner of Sunflower Yoga Studio, Indiana, PA for opening her heart and the doors to the studio for this empowering practice. This blog will be utilized to present and provide further information and yoga opportunities within our veteran community and the studio.  Our first practice together begins at 1900 on September 07! Namaste.