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Forget about the Borg: resistance is utile

arms in Iyengar standing poses

Yes, those triceps could be even more assimilated. Give me time.

The Borg is quite possibly the most thought-provoking alien species ever to populate science fiction.

“Born into a collective consciousness, they are collectively aware, but not aware of themselves as individuals,” as the article on the StarTrek.com database tells us.   They’re never alone, always in the company of thousands of voices; deep in a hive mind that encompasses the knowledge of every species they have assimilated in their search for technological perfection.

And their message, once heard, is indelible: “We are the Borg. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.”

Happily, yoga is not science fiction. Resistance in yoga is not only utile – if you’ll excuse the obsolete word for useful – it’s necessary.

Here’s a case in point.

One of the prevailing mysteries of Iyengar yoga, for me at least, is: “how do other people hold their arms up for so long?”

I’ve been led any number of times through a long preparation for, say triangle pose, legs turned and working, arms out to the side, chest lifted, waiting for the cue to hinge at the hip and take the pose – and waiting, and waiting.

I understand the use of a long preparatory holding. We’re learning to maintain the actions in a neutral position, so they’ll be set when we move into the full pose.

Sometimes of course, teachers just get caught up in talking through the pose, and forget that the students are holding it.

In either case, I’m the one discreetly bringing my arms down, relaxing my shoulders and bringing my arms back up again. 

It’s not so much that my arms get tired. I’d stick with that, as much as I could, knowing it was strengthening.

But the sensation in my upper back and neck doesn’t feel healthy. It’s not the slightly pleasant pain of working a little past your previous limit. It’s a contracting, buzzing, disconcerting grip at the base of my neck.

 Lately I’ve stumbled upon a partial answer: resistance.

 With my arms horizontal, I press my palms down into an imagined hard surface.

I use that resistance to help me lift my triceps. In Borgian terms, I assimilate my triceps into my upper arm bones.

Those two actions trigger a third: I exhale and lengthen down the sides of my neck, and out my shoulders and upper arms, while simultaneously releasing my shoulder blades.

The grip is gone, and my arms feel stronger.

It doesn’t last, of course. A few breaths later, the grip at the back of my neck sets in, and I have to do it all over again.

Still, it’s an improvement.

But if you’ve never felt resistance under your hands with your arms spread, how do you find an imaginary hard surface?
One option is to ask a willing helper to stand behind you, put their hands under yours, and resist when you press down.

An inanimate object will work too.

If you have a sofa of the right dimensions for your body, you can sit tall, spread your arms on the back of the sofa, press down and lift your triceps.

No right-sized sofa?

Try kneeling in thunderbolt pose between two chairs. Put a wood brick on each chair, turned to the side that will support your hands with your arms horizontal at shoulder height.

Once you have the memory of real resistance in your hands, you’ll be able to take that sensation into your standing poses.
Just remember: We are yogis. Our triceps will be assimilated. Resistance is utile.
Photo by Mary Balomenos

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Loura November 16, 2012, 4:31 pm

    Hi Eve,
    I like the subtle movements of palms pressing down and triceps lifting. Very empowering. I have another version for my students. All movements come from the heart centre, so, when we lift the arms to shoulder level, our arms are extended from our heart centre and armpits stretching toward fingertips. Energy flows through all the joints of the arms and fingers. Triceps are wings of the angels, lifting up to the sky. Physical body (especially upper body) expands and spirit heart centre, opens.

    • Eve November 17, 2012, 11:19 am

      Hi Loura,
      Thanks for this! I love the image of the triceps as “wings of the angels, lifting up to the sky.” You wouldn’t imagine that angel wings could get tired, no matter how long they lifted.

  • sarah bates November 16, 2012, 8:05 am

    Hello Eve,

    I was taught to stretch from my sternum to each of my elbows, then stretch from my elbows to the end of my middle finger. I imagine that my sternum is being pulled apart by both my arms. This technique seems to work and you can keep your arms in position for quite some time.

    Sarah x

    • Eve November 16, 2012, 10:21 am

      Thank you! I just tried it and it’s lovely. I’ll be working with that.