Off The Mat

Navigating Through Pain in the Practice

AshtangaYogaOBX — April 29, 2014
Off The Mat

Pain is, unfortunately, a part of life and it manifests in our practice.  If it is not felt in the body, it may be felt in the mind and in the emotions.

There is a lot of debate about how to work through pain in the practice within the lineage.  Everybody seems to have their own approach.  As a teacher, it is important to have some experience with this to help guide your students in a healthy way.

I have heard Nancy Gilgoff often say that you must teach from your own experience.  You cannot teach from someone else’s experience.  Therefore, different teachers have different approaches and that is okay.  I do not believe there is only one right way to do anything.

My personal approach is that pain is a message of some kind.  It is not to be avoided or ignored. You should listen.

I encourage my students to keep up with practice.  On a physical level, it is healing to keep the blood moving and the breath flowing towards the space of injury.  I do not, however, see that there is any benefit to pushing through pain or causing further damage to the body.

Pulling back your practice is not always a bad thing.  I find that it is necessary sometimes.  David Garrigues calls it “mining” a sequence when you are in a sequence and you have to step back to work on the prior one.  Maybe there is something you must go back to and re-evaluate.  Maybe the work you were doing in a more advanced sequence has brought you to a new awareness to apply in the previous one.  Maybe you just need to ground.  If this is the case, Primary Series is the best sequence.

My advice is to keep practicing but modify the postures you need.  If you stop practicing, you may never move through the mental aspect of the pain or injury.

If you are truly dedicated to your practice and stay with it for an extended period of time, you are bound to hit an obstacle.  This obstacle may manifest as pain in the body.  This is where insight comes into play.  Step back and take a deeper look. I am a big fan of emotional psychology of the body, and I keep a Louis Hay book at the studio for my students to refer to at any time.

As you deepen your practice, the feeling behind it may change from bliss to pain.  This pain may arise as you are confronted with the uncomfortable spaces within yourself and your psyche.  This is the point when transformation is most likely to occur, but, unfortunately, it is also the time when practitioners are tempted to give up or find an excuse to stop practicing.

Don’t do it!!!!    Avoidance is not the answer. Running from pain and discomfort only perpetuates the cycle.  Here, in this moment, you are offered a unique opportunity to change an unhealthy pattern or way of being.  Don’t be afraid.  Take a deep breath and know that it will be better on the other side, even if you do not know what awaits you.

It is a normal reaction to run from the painful experiences, and again, many teachers and practitioners have their own way of maneuvering at these points.  This is where a teacher comes in very handy.

All I can do is pass on my own advice…

When you get to that point and your physical, mental, or emotional pain is present, stop, take a deep breath…slow down a little bit.  This is an opportunity. Do not let it pass you by.

I would encourage you to sit with it for a moment.  Embrace it, feel it, breathe, and release on the exhalation.  As you allow it to be within the presence of your awareness, you will finally be able to let it go.  Let it go as you exhale.

If you put a pause in there, you will see that you are not your pain.  It was / is a feeling, but it does not define who you are.  If you reached this place you have achieved a higher awareness of yourself. Awesome!

If you do not stop and take some time to be present with your pain, it will continue to be your unconscious driving force.

Take some time to be present, even if it is just for a moment. In this moment, your pain is transformed into a great tenderness, forgiveness will be experienced, and self acceptance will be achieved.  This feeling is transformed into love.  Then love will be your driving force instead of fear.

You can do and crank asanas out forever, over and over again with little to no personal growth.  Grinding, I heard David Garrigues call it once, or you could let it in.   Still, do your asanas, but with insight and love.  Let your practice be a tool to greater self awareness and transformation.  Let love rule.

Love to All Beings.
Michelle Dorer
Owner, Director, Teacher – Ashtanga Yoga Center, Outer Banks, NC

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