By Cheryl Hansen
When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, exercise meant running, throwing a ball of various shapes and sizes, aerobics (remember leg warmers) and those white-knuckle presidential physical fitness tests we took every year. The notion of getting strong and powerful had everything to do with cardio and barbells. I didn’t take a yoga class till years later, and even then, I was there for the stretching and breathing (and I wasn’t there a lot).
It didn’t really hit me until recently why I have long admired yogis. I’ve always noticed their spectacular posture, clear eyes and peaceful expressions. And I covet the yoga body. But I didn’t really appreciate what it is about the yoga body that makes it so appealing: strength and power.
They’re words I’d always associated with football players and marathon runners, body builders and gymnasts. But the instructors I’ve been watching at YogaPod are every bit the athletes as LeBron and Simone. The podFLOW 1 summer series features about 150 chaturangas. During each class, the instructor demonstrates the proper form, lowering down from plank position halfway to the mat—and holding—plus an upward dog and a downward dog. Now I may be a rookie (I’m still working the modified version), but this stuff isn’t easy. Yet they make it look easy. How? Strength and power.
Once I tuned into that, I began to hear things in class that I hadn’t really heard before: prompts like “squeeze those triceps,” “strong arms,” “press your thighs to the back of the room” and “bring those shoulder blades together.” Seemingly tiny tweaks to my feet bizarrely fired up my leg muscles; a cue to try to touch both walls with my hands magically ignites my arm muscles in way I’ve never felt before. And if you listen, you’ll hear those words—strength and power—a dozen times per class.
I always knew that yoga could make me strong on the inside, but now I understand how it’s making me stronger on the outside, too. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise, mind you, because approximately 18 hours after each class, my muscles—they’re in there somewhere—tell me exactly what yoga is doing for me. And right on cue, I straighten up a little bit and drop my shoulders, showing off a little bit of the yoga posture I admire so much.