Finding Your Bengal Tiger Strength

By P.J. Stuart I remember attending my first-ever Bikram yoga class and finding myself in shock when, at the end of the standing series, the teacher said, “Alright everyone … we have now just completed the ‘warm-up’ portion of the class.”

WHAT?!  Warm up?  That was more intense than most workouts I’ve done recently, and it’s only the warm up? In that same class, I heard the teacher remind us all to call upon our “Bengal tiger strength.” It suddenly dawned on me this yoga class was something else.

I’ve finally decided to find out more about what “Bengal Tiger strength” entails.  (A few months ago, I embarked on a similar quest, when I wrote a post explaining how to conjure your English bulldog determination.) There are lots of interesting attributes I could provide for you about Bengal Tigers to help you create a picture in your mind. Next time you hear those words, you’ll know exactly what they mean.

Turns out, Bengal tigers are known as the “silent hunters” of India’s forests – amazingly stealthy even though they weigh more than 550 pounds and stand more than ten feet tall on their hind legs. Bengal tigers have heavily muscled bodies, with the highest muscle percentage of muscle of any mammal (along with their friend the Jaguar). When they pounce, Bengal tigers can leap more than 20 feet to catch their victims. They’ll chase down their prey at speeds of 40 miles per hour and above, even fast runners like the ostrich.

Everything about them is strong. Their razor-sharp claws are retractable, to grasp hold of their victims more easily; and their tongues are rough, to help scrape the meat off the bones of their prey.  Their canine teeth are five inches long to sink deep into the flesh.

Yep, there’s no messing around with the Bengal tiger. Get scary, people. This is more than just a wildcat – this is a ferocious beast. Mr. Bengal tiger doesn’t care who is watching or what time of day it is; he’s strong and determined all the time.

What I found most interesting when conducting my research is that Bengal tigers have actually had a direct impact on the way we exercise today. (Not just when a BYPV teacher tells you to draw on your Bengal tiger strength, but in an even more fundamental way.)

Charles Atlas, also known as the grandfather of the modern fitness industry, popularized a form of exercise called “Dynamic Tension” simply by observing cats such as the Bengal tiger.

In the 1920s, Mr. Atlas wanted to understand how these cats developed such large muscles without -- you know -- lifting barbells at the gym. In their play, he noted the tigers became strong by pitting their own muscles against themselves. In other words – tensing a particular body part and then moving the body part as if a heavy weight was being lifted. (Imagine firming your bicep and lifting an invisible dumbbell over and over again).

I couldn’t help but think of all the tensing and firming we do in Bikram yoga class, lifting our own heavy muscles in the air against the force of gravity. Training the natural way, like Bengal tigers do. In Locust pose, aka Salabhasana, for instance: “Lock your knee, tighten the quads and gluts, and LIFT your legs into the air.” Are those some Bengal tiger legs I’m starting to see?  ;)

There are many postures which fit the bill – but maybe that’s a good place to start consciously drawing on some of that amazing Bengal tiger strength.   Go get ‘em, tiger!