You feel a twinge, maybe a burn. You want to stop but no pain, no gain. Right? Ehh…not so much. When we are working out do we push through the pain? Or do we completely stop?
For today, we are going to be specifically talking about yoga today since it is, after all, a Wednesday. Of course, each type of workout has its own pains and its own rules to follow when it comes to feeling those pains. For example, running seems to have the one-mile warm-up rule where if it goes away in a mile, it’s okay. If it doesn’t, turn yourself back.
Yes, that’s a massive generalization but we get the point.
Yoga is the same in the way that it has its own pains and feelings that we need to pay attention to if we want to practice safely. The problem is, there are lots of opinions out there and I say…rightfully so because there are lots of different bodies out there.
We’ll start with this. This is me in a position that makes my quads and butt burn. If I stay in it long enough, I’ll even feel my back muscles burn from use. But it’s honestly very comfortable. My face isn’t scrunched up in pain, my breathing isn’t restricted, and I feel no back or spinal pain. I built myself up to this pose safely which means that I can do it comfortably.
And that’s how I feel most yoga poses should be like. My muscles will tremble. They will burn. It should be challenging but there should also be an overarching sense of calm, a focus on the ease of breath.
How do I measure if I can do a pose or take a pose to the next level?
Honestly, one measure. Cramping.
I’m not sure why this is the case, but I generally don’t get a cramp anywhere unless I’m overworking my body. For example, the first time I did camel posture several years ago I felt my hamstrings start to cramp. So I came out of the pose and instead did stretches and poses that were easier but focused on building my hamstring strength.
I’ve noticed this occur in other people as well. We hold a pose a little too long or jump into something we might not be ready for and we get a weird cramp. But we’re hydrated! We’ve eaten right! What’s going on?
I think that it’s your body’s way of telling you it’s not possible to do that pose without injury. You’re pushing it too far.
Before moving onto the real heart of the article, whether we should push ourselves through pain or not, let’s address one more thing:
Accept where your body is today.
First off, it’s a day by day deal when you exercise a lot or if you exist. Diet, soreness, weather, hydration levels, sleep quantity and quality all affect you and your ability. Sometimes you won’t have to be able to do a pose. Sometimes you’ll have to modify. It’s easier and safer to accept that and work with what you have rather than push yourself through pain and resistance and get yourself hurt.
So, do we push through pain?
We suffer through discomfort but we do not endure pain. Burning muscles (and to me) the pain of a stretch are okay. But if something is really hurting, we back out a little, modify, or stop altogether.
Pain in the joints, the spine, and sharp pains are all ones that we do not ignore. Individuals need to learn about their body. That’s part of what yoga is about. We don’t know enough about ourselves, generally, and yoga gives us the ability to learn about that.
Each of us have our own unique limitations that we need to respect. That doesn’t mean we can’t push past them or improve but it does mean that we need to be more gentle with ourselves.
Now we know not to push through pain (the bad kind). What next?
We learn how to press on comfortably.
This means we have to focus on our form. We have to focus on the basics like Warrior I and II. Simple balancing poses like tree pose. Planks and chaturanga with great form. When we practice sloppily we practice getting ready to hurt ourselves. It’s much better to “lose” some of the flexibility or strength that you have because when you continue to practice with good form, however hard it is, you will begin to experience the unlocking of your body. Most of my plateaus in my yoga practice have come from not using my body the way I am supposed to and instead just wanting to hit a pose.
The second thing is not to rush the poses, even if they are uncomfortable. Hold the poses, focus on the breath, and keep pushing through. Wait until you find the place of comfort before moving onto the next pose especially if you have an at-home practice. There’s nothing wrong with taking a slower flow.
We aren’t doing yoga to lose weight or look good. We’re doing it as a challenging form of self-discovery that promotes peace…at least that’s how I look at it.
Take this and remember that yoga like anything can hurt you and if you practice it for any amount of time you’ll probably fall, get a bruise, or even stretch a muscle too far. And that’s okay. There is no “perfect” form of exercise that is without pain or danger.
Practicing with mindfulness and calmness will help give you the best rewards from your time on the mat. It also helps lower your chance of injury. So go ahead and try a slower flow, try just picking out some poses and a warm-up. Try something new! Try something slower! Let your body struggle in a place of discomfort for a while. You never know, maybe today you’ll find that peace, a place where you can find extra space within yourself.