Popular culture, mainstream media and even ancient mythology have historically portrayed attractiveness, health and power through the lens of having strong, muscular, bulging arms. They are the universal symbols of physical prowess and desirability.
Hence the popular gym sayings, curls for the girls, tris for the guys.
Or the often quoted rap lyric, if you ain’t got guns, you better cop some, cause the new world order is around the block, son.
But although strong arms were certainly evolutionarily advantageous for millions of years, today, they’re not the primary indicator of strength. In fact, my yoga instructor loves to remind us that our arms are merely accessories. And that the purpose of our practice is learning to rely on the muscles in our upper back, hips, chest, legs, shoulders and core to support us, not just our bronzed, oiled up, veiny, quivering biceps.
In fact, I once practiced yoga next to a professional body builder. The guy was a monster. His arms looked liked legs. But halfway through class, he collapsed into a pile of tears and pain due to a severe lower back injury, and had to be carried off to the hospital. So much for arms being the universal symbol of health.
The point is, each of us has our own assumptions, biases, misconceptions and expectations for what we think success looks like. But just because something appears attractive in the mirror, on the balance sheet, in the marketplace or on the screen, doesn’t guarantee its strength. Or its efficacy. Or its impact. Or its capacity for happiness and fulfillment. Never assume other people are measuring by the same yardstick as you.
What if you kept on practicing until you didn’t need your arms to support you anymore?
Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.