Resistance Makes Stronger

What would life be without resistance?  It is the stimulus, the catalyst, and the very thing that opposes our current state.  Isaac Newton once said that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  So by definition, we measure the effectiveness of a stimulus by what happens to the person, place, or thing or idea that it could potentially affect.  For instance, the effects that a drug has on one person may be different than those of another.  A doctor has to decide the type of drug, the dosage of a drug, and the frequency of the drug administered to their patient, taking into consideration the overall health of the individual.  People in health and fitness professions have to constantly evaluate their clients to see if they can deal with certain external loads on their skeleton in exercise as well as other therapeutic techniques.  We have phrases built into our culture such as “No pain no gain” and “What we resist persists” but what do these phrases really mean to people?

In all the years I have instructed physical activities to individuals like yoga, pilates, weight training, etc, I have found that people are most interested in avoiding anything that is too challenging or that causes too much discomfort.  There are a few that really love to be regularly challenged, but even these people tend to gravitate towards things in which they can excel,  whether that be a sport, a type of practice, a kind of relationship, or even a specific profession or skill.  No one wants to be shaken to the point of being uncomfortable or having to change certain things about themselves.  For example, ask a group of people in a fitness class to go and select dumbbells for their use.  You will see that the lighter weights are gone quickly.  It is rare to see someone walk up and grab a heavier weight without first asking the question “what are we going to do with them today?”  Of course no one should ever work to the point of injury, but just how does one come to decide one day “Well today I am going to try to do a little more?”  There is always a fear that the challenge will be too much for them and that the result will be soreness, muscle bulk, embarrassment, or fatigue.

We do the same thing in our personal lives.  We stay in relationships that are safe to avoid the unknown, such as the married person who is afraid to leave their spouse even though they are unhappy because they don’t want to have to learn to live at a different level of income, live alone, or go through the process of finding a partner who is more appropriate.  We stay with our current profession because we are too afraid to go after what is really inside of us for fear that we might fail or not be good enough.  People even stay overweight or addicted to something to avoid the pain of not only going through the withdrawal of these things, but the having to face everyday life without these coping mechanisms.

I took a course called “Analytical Chemistry” back in college during my twenties.  There was a comment made by my professor really struck me back then.  She said that all states of energy strive to move towards  the lowest state in a chemical equation, as a strong reactant/s will yield weaker products and not the opposite.   I often thought that people do the same.  Ever find a teenager that actually wanted to keep their bedroom clean?  It takes effort.  We avoid pain at all costs.  Many would rather take an injection or a pill to keep their shoulder from hurting than to do the work necessary to uncover the root cause and strengthen the shoulder through consistent, strategic exercise.   I have even heard in a mediation class that the goal was to “avoid  the resistance” but what if avoidance actually diminishes our experience?

Resistance is the very thing that makes us stronger.   The principle of inertia is a measure of an object’s resistance to any change in its state of motion.  This includes speeding it up, changing its direction, or staying at the speed its moving.   So, if there is a greater the inertia (greater overall mass), it takes more effort to change it.  To me, this means that it is more important to us.  I have noticed in my life that when I finally FACE a challenge that keeps coming up, it results in a great change in me.  In the end, I come out stronger than I could have imagined before.  For example, I can remember teaching these barre classes for the first time.  These classes are based on high repetitions but specifically adding challenges at the most difficult part of the joint range in terms of shortened muscle fibers while performing the exercise in the position where the joint is at the greatest distance to the opposing resistance / force line.  It was uncomfortable and new.  I was sore a lot and kept thinking “Why am I doing this to myself?”  I knew the market demanded it so I kept on doing it.  What happened?  Well, my legs got stronger, my muscles started contracting better at these ranges, and I eventually did not get so sore anymore.  I now have to work harder than I did before to get the same result.

I have also seen this in my relationships.  I can remember hurts in my life that were so devastating that I thought, “How am I going to move forward from this?”  I have had days that I couldn’t get out of bed.  I have had times where I sobbed for weeks on end.  I have had my life completely turned upside down where I felt as if my breath was gone.  But now, I look back with such gratitude.  I am so much stronger now than ever before.  I know myself better.  I am aware of my ability to push forward.  I am different, I am older, I am wiser, and I am more aware.

While it is true that resistance can be uncomfortable, it is necessary.   I know as a teacher that if I want a student to learn something or experience something, I have to set up the necessary challenges to stimulate that individual to change.  I know there is a value in progressively loading a joint in various planes of motion, offering a variety of resistance challenges using elastomers, friction, redistribution of mass, and cuing various isometric challenges while a person practices hatha yoga.  I hear students’ remarks, groaning about being uncomfortable while I am teaching.  I also see people who commit to FACING the resistance challenges every day for six to eight weeks and tell me that their joint pain is gone, that they feel like they have more energy, and that they are starting to like themselves better.  I see them committing and I know that the resistance challenges made that happen!  One thing that is for sure…. RESISTANCE MAKES STRONGER.  It is the very thing that makes us change and improve.  Our job is to face the opposition with courage, persistence, and determination.  Maybe the reason that we want to avoid certain things so much is because they are just that important for our own growth.  I will end with a quote from Stephen Pressfield in “The War of Art”

“The more important a call to action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel about answering it. But to yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.” (Pressfield, 2002)

By: Lauren Eirk, MS, MATRx, C-IAYT, E-RYT 500
Founder, Yoga I.S.®

Reference:

Pressfield, Stephen (2002).  The Art of War.  Rugged Land LLC.  New York, NY.
Retreived July 6, 2017 from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/s/stevenpres679154.html