Investigating Pain and Discomfort.

This week while teaching a class, I noticed one of my regular yoga students move from downward dog position to her knees. I immediately went over and asked if she was alright. Without missing a beat, she said something along the lines of “Yes, I’m fine… My arm was just hurting. I was doing what you told me to do!”

I often tell my students “If you are feeling pain, stop what you’re doing.”

Now, some of you Ashtangis out there might disagree with this. The “No pain, no gain” mantra seems to run deep within our community of yogis. Some people believe that the only way to progress within this practice is to move through pain when it arises. To each their own… If you dig feeling pain and potentially hurting yourself by always trying to push through, go for it. If you believe that you need to feel pain in order to advance spiritually, keep doing what you’re doing. To each their own journey. 

But that’s not how I roll.  

Pain is a generic term. It means different things to different people. I believe it’s important for students to quantify what pain means to them before proceeding with their yoga practice. Ashtanga yoga is very physical in nature. Therefore, muscles will almost always be slightly sore after practicing. Sometimes more so if your practice was particularly intense. For me, there is a very serious difference between sore muscles and pain. My muscles are sore ALL THE TIME. When I feel pain, however, I stop what I am doing. Sometimes I stop entirely. Sometimes I investigate the pain and switch tactics. Sometimes I realize that the pain isn’t really pain, it’s just discomfort. Regardless, I stop what I am doing, take a moment, and figure out how best to proceed.

This method works for me. I could easily go about my yoga practice all “gangbuster” style, but it’s just not worth it. Injury can happen easily and quickly if care isn’t given. I want to be doing this practice for many more years to come, and I want to do so injury free. Don’t get me wrong, I am under no grand illusion that injuries are fully preventible, because they’re not. That said, I do believe that with a combination of common sense and body awareness, injuries can be mostly avoided. Our bodies speak to us constantly; it’s up to us to listen.

I’m not perfect. I’ve pushed myself beyond my limits on my yoga mat in the past. I have ignored pain signals, only to cross the threshold of pain to injury. It sucks, but it has also been an incredible teacher. I have learned more about my body through injury than by any other means. Although I definitely DO NOT recommend that style of learning for others. Because of this, I will always be the teacher who says “If you are feeling pain, stop what you’re doing.”

Trust me, you’ll thank me later.