I recently read a story - perhaps, testimonial - of a professional bodybuilder's discovery of and eventual conversion to yoga practice. In this case, Ashtanga yoga. At his "best" during the bodybuilding, he weighed 245. After 5 years of yoga, he now weighs 145.
I cannot deny that yoga has crippled this man - he's lost 100 lbs!! It's like some kind of wasting disease...Oh yeah, he also said he feels stronger that he has ever felt before.
My experience has been similar, though not as dramatic. It was painful to leave the gym, and it took some time to do it. But without question I am far stronger now than I ever was then.
Strong is a relative term. In using it, we may mean the ability to move our own body, or to move an external object. Yoga is the former; bodybuilding/weight training the latter. Through yoga, the body becomes increasingly lean and efficient, while bodybuilding, by definition, adds mass with strength. Very quickly we encounter the law of diminishing returns, as the bulk becomes cumbersome and the strength to move it easily falls further and further behind.
Clearly I'm biased.
The perfect example is the Ashtanga vinyasa. It is really quite simple. Sit down on the floor, draw the legs in and cross the ankles. Press the hands into the floor to lift up the sitting bones. Tuck in the feet and swing the legs back through the space between the arms, landing in a push-up position, arms bent (Chaturanga Dandasana). Oh yeah, and do it very slowly, no cheating with momentum, please. Go ahead, just swing back...whenever you're ready...just SWING back...no?
This chick makes it look easy.
Somehow, crunch after crunch at the gym does not translate into the strength to simply lift up the legs with the abs. It eluded me for a long time. How is that? I can do over 100 lbs on the ab machine at the gym...clearly my legs don't weigh 100 lbs (they seem to weight at least 500)...somehow the math doesn't work out. What is missing from the equation is an integration of the body toward this movement, all of it working together toward the common goal.
Developing this agility - in part or whole - is how the body becomes en-lightened, strong and efficent. It is able to easily carry, balance, and lift its own weight. There is a sense of freedom in it that shades past fitness toward well-being, contentment. The psychology in addition to the physiology. This is called sattva in yogic philosophy. It is the quality of light, clean, clear, and peaceful, as opposed to the extremes of overactivity/anxiety and inertia/lethargy. Classically, these qualities are applied to the workings of the mind, but they are just as true in this age, when yoga has flowered in the form of fitness.