When I used to lift weights on a regular basis, I learned about muscle overload to build strength. Basically you work a specific muscle until it gets tired and over time and repetition, the muscle gets stronger. While I vary my cardio workouts, the strength building poses I do in my asana practice remain relatively consistent. While your goals for building strength may be different, I recommend that you include poses that strengthen your quadriceps and also the muscles that stabilize your shoulder joint as a main focus.
What is a good way to do that? Warrior poses are my favorite to strengthen the quadriceps and help with the hiking I like to do. For the arms, downward facing dog is one of the best if you invert. If not, try working with a well-trained alignment based teacher to learn the best way to lower down from plank to build arm strength. Do these on a regular basis and you'll find that you also build strength for things you do less often, like handstand or chair pose. The idea that we need to mix things up in our strength practice is mostly a myth.
"You will never change your life until you change something that you do daily." -- John C. Maxwell
You probably already knew that you can change the strength of your muscles, but how about your bones? This week I watched the 3 part free webinar, How can yoga help build bones? If you are interested in or work with people who want to maintain healthy, strong bones throughout life, this is a great source of information. In teacher trainings, I've told my students that bone is living tissue, constantly remaking itself based on the demands we place on it. What I learned from the webinar is that our bones are also constantly being broken down by our own body so that we maintain bone quality not just bone density. The cells within our bones form links to support each other and if the weaker links are allowed to remain--something that many medicines that increase bone density do--we form weak spots prone to future fractures. Yoga on the other hand, teaches the bones that we need them and in a recent study outperformed the drugs in building bone density in the femur.
The most amazing thing I learned about how our body adapts is through the training I've done in MELT. In essence the connective tissue of our bodies--and it's everywhere!--forms a mold of our most common postures and movements so they can be done with minimum effort. This is great if we are doing things optimally to begin with. The problem is we aren't.
We sit hunched forward at our computers all day and then wonder why we struggle to come up in a backbend when we get to yoga class. But connective tissue, like bones and muscles can be changed. The key is staying well hydrated and learning to move in ways that encourage healthy molds to be formed. While looking for articles on how adaptable our fascial system (the mold) is, I found this: The thing you do everyday that's setting you up for shoulder injuries. Watch the two videos at the end of the article and you might recognize some things we practice on the yoga mat. The one on posture is great and goes along with what I've been experimenting with in my own practice and will be sharing in upcoming classes. I've finally found something that addresses that niggling pain I get at the weak link in my spine.
Okay . . . enough typing for me now. While it isn't true that if you make a face at your mom for too long it will freeze that way, it is true that if you hold a posture on a consistent basis, your body will make that the mold you live in.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson