Being strong as a woman is not only okay it’s incredibly good for you

One of the benefits of a more dynamic style of yoga like ashtanga is that it will build strength. Some women may be scared to be strong fearing that they will somehow make you less attractive. Don’t panic, women build strength differently to men in fact it’s more difficult for women to build strength so chances are you won’t end up looking like Arnie especially not with the bodyweight exercises in Ashtanga Yoga.

Why challenging your strength is good for women

  • Photo by Nata Moraru

    Builds stronger bones and reduces the risk of osteoarthritis

  • Muscle burns fat at rest so increases your metabolism helping to build a lean healthy physique
  • It’s incredibly empowering and fun to be able to lift your own body weight
  • Challenging your strength physically challenges your mind mentally making you stronger and more resilient on the inside and the outside
  • It looks beautiful, whoever says woman can not be strong has an outdated view of what a woman is in my opinion, we are many things and some of us are incredibly strong
  • It helps you do stuff like lift things and have a stronger core and thus be less prone to injury

Women face a few challenges when building strength. The common thing you will hear is that because we don’t have as much testosterone it is harder for us to build strength. This is true. On top of that our hormones change throughout our monthly cycle. During the two weeks just before your period the levels of oestrogen and progesterone are elevated. During this phase of our cycle it is harder to build up strength.

Just keep going, it is possible for women to get strong it will usually just take longer than a man takes. My husband seems to grow muscle overnight that I swear it would take me months to build!

Building strength in Ashtanga Yoga

Helen doing yoga arm balance Karandavasana

Photo by Nata Moraru

Yoga isn’t about being stronger or achieving the next pose it’s more about learning to relax and accept things as they are. That said ashtanga yoga is physically demanding and it will make you stronger so it makes sense to consider your physiology and work with it. Your muscles get stronger when you challenge them and then allow them to recover. Both the challenge and the recovery are equally important here. If you just do what you normally do and don’t challenge yourself then you will maintain your strength which is great but you won’t get stronger because there is no challenge. Also if you challenge yourself everyday then your body will struggle to build muscle because it doesn’t have enough recovery.

If you practice yoga 2 or 3 days a week your body will have plenty of time to recover. If you practice Ashtanga Yoga six days a weeks as I do then make some of the days easier from a strength perspective by just doing the movement using your current strength rather than challenging yourself further. It’s fine to keep moving whilst recovering, and stretching everyday is really good for you.

Have you gotten stronger through practicing ashtanga? How has this changed you?

 

Guest Post – Nata Moraru tells how yoga has changed her life

“Home is neither here nor there, home is within you or nowhere at all.” Herman Hesse

One of my favourites quotes. Always liked it but never felt it 100% even if I thought I did. It was just after I started to do yoga (about a year ago) when I truly felt it. With all my bones, chest and water.

I felt in love with yoga the first time I went. I went for the body, stayed for the mind and soul. Because at the beginning I didn’t feel much changes in my body (the body changes came later and they were amazing), but my mind and soul was like a cherry tree in spring. During Savasana (relaxation) I started to feel that “home within” that Hesse is talking about. And it was amazing. I felt the whole universe is in my chest. I felt like I was lifted from the mat and at the same time was melting in the floor. Never felt that before. It was truly amazing. I always had a “special relationship” with water but since I started to do yoga it became stronger. When I am doing yoga I feel like I’m the whole sea and a boat that is floating on it. Both at the same time. Very interesting feeling. One time during Savasana I had tears in my eyes, totally unexpected, like the sea I was feeling inside me, that I always see an feel during yoga flowed through my eyes. Same water, same salt. At that moment I felt one with everything. I felt home. The “oneness”.

The breath is the bridge between mind and body and a very powerful tool.
I started to feel my body differently. I wasn’t ashamed of it anymore (as I’ve been my whole life, because of my twisted spine and because I was always very skinny and so many people were reminding me about it every day and telling me I should eat more).
And I think that’s why it started to respond to all the exercises. Because I started to feel my body differently. I also started to become more aware of my body and how I was standing outside of yoga.

Nata-before-and-after

Before and after photographs show how Nata has gained weight as she has become more in tune with her body

I stopped hiding my back (as I’ve been always doing, with long hair or hoodies). I’m not ashamed of my back and body anymore. It feels really good. I gained about 11kg since I started to do yoga, even my eating habits didn’t change. I feel healthy and feel good in my own body.

Then the pain disappeared. The back pain, I had my whole life, especially past 5-6 years when I couldn’t stand up for more than two hours without having killing pain in my back. I few weeks ago, after a very long day at work, about 12 hours standing up I noticed that I have no pain in my back, at all. Yes, my feet were hurting my arm was tired from holding the heavy camera, but no pain in my back. My lower back that was always in pain.
It’s an amazing feeling – not to be in pain, after so many hours of standing up, when a year ago I had to crawl out of bed because of the pain (it hurt too much just to sit up from lying so I always had to crawl out to the floor then stand up).

This x-ray of Nata’s spine shows her scoliosis clearly.

I had a twisted spine since I can remember. I think I was about 7-8 years old when my mum noticed that my back was just a little bit uneven, and we had the bad luck to go to a doctor that didn’t really know what he was doing and only cared for the money. I started to do some exercises with him, and some pretty “violent” and painful massage when he was pushing my bones, I found out later that It was very bad for my back and in no time from a slightly uneven back my spine became S shape and nobody couldn’t help me.

Unmeasurable gratitude to Helen for all her help. I am very lucky and thank the gods to have decided that winter day of 1st December to go online and look for yoga classes in Liverpool and to have found Helen’s class. Over the last year I have tried to go 3 times a week because I think it’s important to go regularly. There are many more things I could say about how yoga makes me feel and how it changed my life but sometimes there are not enough words…

Don’t just go to church, be the church. Don’t just go to yoga, be yoga. Don’t just lay on the grass, be the grass. Don’t just. Be. Be.come one.

Bless.

Namaste x

This post was written by Nata Moraru. As well as being a dedicated yogini, Nata is also a photographer, you may have seen some of the photo’s she has taken of me on instagram recently, you can find her photography here on Facebook.

May I Be Happy by Cyndi Lee – We Are Not Our Weight

I was given a copy of ‘May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga and Changing my Mind’ by Cyndi Lee in exchange for an honest review. The book is about the author, a yoga teacher in New York, and her path towards her self acceptance. I decided to write the review because I thought the book dealt with an important issue that of body awareness and issues arising from that. Cyndi’s biography is very honest and she talks in depth about her struggles to accept her own body image. I love the way that she freely admits her own failings.  Yoga teachers are sometimes expected to be radiant beams of ultra health and inner peace and whilst yoga is amazing, we are human beings too and Cyndi deals with this in a candid way. Cyndi writes informal style  which makes you feel you are somehow engaging in conversation with her.

 

There are some good gems and conversations with friends and teachers along the way. I like biographical writing as I always learn something about humanity and how we are similar as well as how we are different. As a yoga teacher the issue of body image does come into conversation with my students and I have learned a lot from listening to how people feel about it. Some people, of both genders, experience issues surrounding their body image. I have to admit I have never given it as much thought as Cyndi has and my heart goes out to her. I also felt that much of the book explored her struggles and not enough of the solutions and as such I wonder if it may not ultimately be a good choice for somebody who is experiencing similar issues. 

 

Yoga is great for your health and wellbeing and physical styles of yoga such as Ashtanga Yoga can also help with weight loss. You have to combine this with a healthy lifestyle and diet in order for it to be effective. For some people weight loss is a good step towards a healthier body and is a great thing. I feel the health and fitness industry occasionally exploits this a bit and I am frustrated to see the numerous fad diets and fitness regimes which people seem to torture themselves with. I feel that these extreme behaviours seem to often become a cycle whereby someone puts on weight then tortures themselves with an exercise regime and diet which they hate and so do not maintain and then they repeat the cycle. My advice, if you need to lose weight,  would be to find an activity you like doing and make gradual changes to both your eating and exercise regime.

 

Unfortunately, the situation sometimes runs deeper than this. The author Cyndi Lee honestly illustrates how some people who are in healthy active bodies can still struggle with their body image.  There are also people who are overweight who are concerned with their image of themselves.  Who you are as a being is not defined by your weight. There are many people, just like you, who are waking up to this possibility and are learning to enjoy their bodies, and themselves as beings, for all the amazing things they can do.  It is my hope that through yoga you can take steps towards self acceptance and begin to make peace with yourself one breath at a time.

 

What has helped you on your journey to self acceptance?