Strength is the outcome of need.
— H.G. Wells, The Time Machine
via The Quotations Page
When I think of strength poses in yoga, I picture poses where the focus is on a large muscle group contraction. I see my quads burning in a long-held warrior II or both sides of my core working against gravity in navasana. I envision asanas where my instinct is to give a lot of active effort.
But effort isn’t necessarily the same thing as strength.
To be sure, strength’s Old English root strengþu means, “power, force, vigor, moral resistance,” which is pretty close to the meaning of effort. That said, the current definition has expanded to include the “capacity for exertion or endurance.” In other words, simply having the capacity for exertion — or force or vigor or effort — can be called strength, whether or not I’m actively calling on it at any given time.
(Strength also often encompasses more than just the physical, but we tend to have other words that address that more directly, so I am holding off.)
Does this change the mental imagery I associate with strength? A little, yes. I mean, I’m not going to stop thinking of vasisthasana as a strength pose simply because it does require a lot of active vigor and muscle contraction. But I do think it makes sense to expand my ideas about strength postures to include (among others):
- pigeon, because sitting with my hips as they first work through and then release tension is pretty much a lesson on “capacity for endurance.”
- hanumanasana, because the strength in my quads and glutes is what lets my hamstrings (in front) and hip flexors (in back) relax.
- bow pose, where judicious use of my arm strength perfectly illustrates the difference between a capacity for exertion and when it is wise to exert.
In yoga, we sometimes talk about the balance of sthira (effort) and sukha (ease). And maybe strength is the cultivating a capacity for both.
Note: Thoughts on a Word series is blatantly stolen — not even just “inspired” — from Autumn Whitefield-Madrano over at The Beheld. If you like the concept, you should definitely check her out.