A teacher of mine once told me: 'Using great force, you may defeat one enemy. Using little, you may defeat all enemies.'
He was a pretty smart and capable guy, and among many things, a formidable (retired) athlete. He was also a master of yoga. Not in the sense that he cared about contorting his body into odd pretzel shapes for entertainment purposes, but in the useful sense. He could accomplish anything he wanted, through being easy and controlled in his body and mind.
In my experience, this translates into pretty decent ability to live a good life. It also results in being able to climb at over 20,000 feet with no strength or cardio training aside from my yoga practice. And jump easily into triathlons and randonnee, similarly, nothing but yoga training. While this tactic doesn't help my tendency to sink in water, it works consistently for delivering some surprises on land.
Why is yoga so good for these things? Done right, yoga helps us clear the most challenging hurdles while staying easy and ready for more in our bodies. It's pretty rare that we need to run directly through a brick wall. In most athletic life, the ability climb over or run around that wall is more valuable than simple force.
Yoga practice gives us the ability to choose how we move, easily in any direction, for as long as we want. When you can be easy in your body and mind, you shift away from going to war against your tight immovable muscles, to doing with minimal effort whatever you can imagine. This means far greater endurance, as well as the ability to sustain power in any direction, for as long as you choose. Think easily pulling yourself and a 60-pound pack over that wall, rather than trying to hammer through it. Also useful for arm-wrestling.
How to get started?
Here are my Top 3 Tips for Transforming Power & Endurance with Yoga.
1) Breathe deep. Think of it this way: every breath in opens a door, every breath out lets you walk through. The more air you move, the bigger doors you can open. I got this one from Tara Stiles, who accomplishes great feats like she's doing nothing at all, in both her yoga and work life. It's all in her yoga practice.
2) Strong on the inhale, easy on the exhale. If you want to lift something heavy, rather than furrowing your brow, holding your breath, and demanding that your muscles make the first move... draw in a very full breath, letting your muscles follow while the air is moving. Similarly, if you want to sustain effort, take each exhale as a chance to drop out some of the effort you don't need, and get ready for the next strong inhale.
3) Make it yours. Yoga isn't all about the poses, so it doesn't matter what the person next to you is doing. You want to figure out how to move your body easily in any direction. So start easy. If you're tense and working hard right from the start, the smallest things will defeat you. If you stay easy and keep a sense of humor about things, soon enough the hardest-looking things will also come easy for you.
With great force and effort, you might hammer through a wall once. With great endurance and control over your strength, you can scale unlimited walls. Even ones as big as Denali.
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