“if you get injured doing yoga, it wasn’t yoga that you were doing!”
…these were the words of one of my first yoga teachers. An indian man called Dr Senthil whom with I studied my 500 hour Yoga Teacher Training certification in Tamil Nadu, India 2008.
His words have always since then resonated with me and echoed in the back of my head, keeping me in line, whenever I found myself edging towards a little too over-zealous practising ‘the party-trick asana’ from which I, like many contemporary practitioners and teachers have a taste for.
good pain bad pain
Ok there is some ‘good pain’. Good pain is characterised by a definite experience of temporary intensity or discomfort, a warmth or tingly sensation of stretch and also a fire of strength in the belly of your muscles. Please distinguish this ‘good pain’ from ‘bad pain’, which is characterised by that pain which hangs around for extended periods of time, is around joints or muscle insertions, feels twangy or twingey, dull and nagging.
You may or may not agree, but as the postural repertoire trends towards the more adventurous and extreme within the yoga community, with it tends to be more comments and stories of people ‘working with/ around’ their injuries’. This concerns me. Yes indeed nobody arrives on the mat with a perfect balanced body and yes everybody has injuries, don’t get me wrong, I am constantly visited by the pain caused by an old snowboarding injury, not to mention the aches from the toll of pregnancy and labour. But what concerns me is if injury arises from the practice of yoga itself. This just simply shouldn’t be happening full stop. If it is the case, ego and lack of diligence is to blame.
In summary, pain has its place in yoga, but I argue that you should NEVER become injured if you are practising yoga because that would be an oxymoron! Contradictory to everything that yoga practice stands for. Yoga is intended to be mindful meditation because each breath and movement, in each moment should guide you into a position of ease and grace and expanded awareness of what it is you are experiencing in the body.
If you force a backbend at the expense of the vulnerable parts of your spine in order to create the illusion of advanced back bending, you fool no one but yourself. And really, what is the point of flexibility for the sake of flexibility?
If your chaturanga is continuously creating a twingy grind in your shoulder or your upward facing dog is creating a burdenous dull ache in your lower back but you continue to ignore these body signals and power through, then what messages are you continuously feeding back to your subconscious? That you hear your body but you don’t care or respect it?
So you may have sweated your through a badass class and completed the full sequence for which you take some satisfaction in but at what cost? The drowning out and ignoring of the subtle but persistent twinges and discomforts only creates more dichotomy in your being and takes you further away from the goals of yoga. So its infinite steps back for your 12 -jump-back–to-chaturanga- forwards.
If in doubt, leave it out…
My advice, to anyone that has a suspicion that something in their yoga is causing them ‘bad pain’, is to go back to your basics, whatever they are, revisit the fundamentals and spend time cultivating your core. Don’t be greedy trying to increase your range of mobility and flexibility before it’s time and don’t get sloppy with your basics and your vinyasa because this is the place where real progress is made. Go back to basics with the principles of yoga.
Go full throttle into mindfulness, focus and concentration in your class rather than full throttle at bending and contorting.
Much love, take care of your bodies, see you soon, tuesdays 6:30-7:30pm geffrye hall, shoreditch £8 drop-in