Real Yogis, Real Stories
July 29, 2015

Evolution of Strength by Nica Hechanova


It is quite a feeling practicing yoga…. and I wish that every single person in the whole world knew of this! Probably 95% of my experience on the mat has always been a humbling one. And the degree of humility varies with each time I flow through a sun salutation, balance in an inversion, breathe fully through a backbend or relax completely in a fold. The one thing I find though that is if you just keep on practicing consistently, the one thing that remains consistent is…transformation—that your body, your mind, or your soul (or maybe all of the above) evolves each time.

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 “Practice and all is coming.” — We yogis know this phrase all too well.  Just being on the mat, completing a practice unlocks tension and opens the mind. I’m currently entering another transition in my practice. When I started out a few years back, all I cared about was getting from point A to B, without caring if I was powering through just so I could say, “Yes,I did yoga.” or “Yes, I did those poses”. But with the practice of asana, you can only power through for so long before you hit a wall.  And boy is this wall pretty hard! When I hit my first wall, that’s when everything opened up and I felt as if I started evolve and transform, albeit slowly. In the 3 or so years of consistent almost everyday practice, I’ve felt my mindset about yoga evolve from just getting physically stronger and learning poses to becoming  more curious about my body, to figuring out what it is exactly I needed and how yoga can work for me. The more I practice, the more I study, then the more tangible, palpable the transformations have been.

One idea that seems to constantly evolve for me, which i wanted to explore here, is the definition of strength. I discovered more layers each time I got stronger physically and “conquered a pose” and yet more layers unraveled the more I learned to sit still or just be in a pose.  I had a chat with YogaWorks Teacher Trainer David Kim and asked him his thoughts on this and how the practice evolves the yogi.


Nica (N): How would you Define Strength. What is strength for you ? 

David Kim (DK): Strength is a definition of character, not physicality.  Strength of character requires the ability to stay connected to our personal truth and ethical values — even if it’s not fashionable to do so — and to practice discernment in our interactions with others, by acting with compassion, kindness, and empathy.  Physical strength is important for our health, but physical strength alone does not ensure a strong character.
N: What does it mean to be a strong yoga practitioner?
DK: To be “strong” as yoga practitioners, we must be both determined and able to acknowledge our vulnerability.  “Strong” doesn’t mean doing endless arm balances and inversions.  Rather, truly strong yoga practitioners recognize that they must honor and confront their weaknesses, and that the ego is always in danger of getting attached to the postures.  Strong yoga practitioners are not looking for approval from external sources; rather, they’re seeking the sense of internal balance – of equanimity — that comes from taming the ego.
N: How has your yin training and practice plus your many years of teaching altered your perception on strength or being strong? What was it like when you started out and what is it like now? 
DK: There’s a typical arc to asana practice, which I noticed in my own yogic evolution.  When many people first learn asana, there’s an initial awakening, a connection to body and breath that is new, invigorating.  For many, it’s the first time we’ve realized how much tension and difficult emotion we carry in our physical bodies, and it’s exciting to release them!  As our asana practice progresses, however, we often become enamored of our growing physical agility, which can easily develop into a form of attachment, of greed for ever-more difficult postures.  For me, practicing Yin is an important reminder of releasing that attachment, of not allowing my ego to push me toward injury or a constant sense of grasping.  Practicing Yin is my way of creating greater energetic balance, both physically and mentally – knowing when to challenge myself more, and when to slow down.  It’s a marathon approach to life, rather than a sprint.
N: When practicing on the mat, how do you know when to draw the line between perseverance and not being kind to yourself?
DK: Constant internal observation is the key to discerning between perseverance and self-harm.  Physical signs of pushing myself too far are pretty obvious: difficult breathing, tensed muscles.  The emotional and ego signs are somewhat subtler, but readily familiar to long-time practitioners.  Do I feel frustrated that I can’t do a certain posture?  Am I labeling myself, based on how my practice is going – strong, weak, better, worse?  Is there a nagging idea of what I “should” be doing?  Ultimately, the asana practice is simply a moment in time, in which the body is our template for self-observation.  We can watch the waves of ego and emotion dance across the postures and get pulled into the stream.  Or, we can traverse the physical challenges of our asana, just as we traverse the challenges of our daily lives — with a sense of purpose, curiosity, and clear-eyed observation that allows us to respond thoughtfully to challenges as they arise, as opposed to habitually reacting to fixed expectations.  We have to live our lives, but suffering is a choice.
N: As a teacher and teacher trainer, how do you encourage your students to persevere in their practice?
DK: Perseverance means constant awareness, which is what I tell students.  What we practice on our mats is simply a training ground for what we do during all the other hours of the day.  Observing how our ego wants to run the show should be an eye-opener for any yogi, as this attachment to ego identification — how we define ourselves in the world — is what ultimately separates us.  This is a big idea, however, so it’s easier if we can begin this deep process of self-awareness simply by showing up for a dedicated asana or meditation practice.  Through this persistence, our habitual patterns — both good and bad — become evident to us, and we begin to see more clearly how they’re reflected in other areas of our lives.
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David Kim (E-RYT 500) is a Los Angeles-based Vinyasa and Yin Yoga teacher, who leads 200- and 300-hour YogaWorks Teacher Trainings, and conducts workshops and retreats around the world. His growing passion for yoga drew him to the YogaWorks Teacher Training, where he became certified in the YogaWorks method; he completed additional trainings with Paul Grilley, Ana Forrest, Sarah Powers, Shiva Rea, and Jill Miller, and InsightLA’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program. Delving deeper into the Krishnamacharya lineage, David studied with the Iyengar family in Pune, India, for one month, and with Ashtanga founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois during Jois’s 2005 American tour. 
He will be here to teach another 200-hour teacher training program at Urban Ashram Manila.
By Nica Hechanova
Nica teaches vinyasa flow and kids yoga at Urban Ashram Manila. She’s started practicing Bikram back in 2008 and fell in love with vinyasa flow when Urban Ashram opened. She recently wrote and illustrated a yoga book for kids called, Amazing Me.