One of the great hallmarks of a perfect Yoga Journal cover photo is the serene expression on the face of the model as she effortlessly demonstrates even the most insane of postures.
However as my gaze travels from student to student in my morning Guided Self-Practice classes, I often discover quite the opposite happening. Eyes bulge, jaws clench, and the energy and effort exerted is clearly obvious.
In fact I might even go so far as to say, some people look to be in pain.
But yoga shouldn’t hurt, should it? Well, that can be a tricky question to answer.
If you’ve been practicing yoga for any substantial amount of time you probably know someone who has pulled a hamstring, tweaked a shoulder, or experienced some sort of injury on the mat. Clearly there are risks to the practice, and learning to notice the warning signs of impending injury is an important skill to develop.
But pain is a subjective experience, and how one person describes encountering the natural threshold of their bodies ability may be completely different than another.
Pain is essentially a language of sensation through which your physical body is attempting to communicate something of importance to you. Sometimes it’s saying go slow, please be careful, or I’m frightened. Sometimes it’s yelling at the top of its lungs, STOP!
When your body is sending clear signals for you to stop, then stop. Yoga postures are not meant to create sharp sensations of pain or feelings of instability.
But from my experience this only rarely happens. Most of us have built-in self-protecting mechanisms that would never allow for us to reach this sort of edge. If you can have a conversation (even with yourself) while you are experiencing what you believe to be your limit in a posture, then whatever it is you are feeling is not likely to be injury-producing pain.
Trembling, heat, and dull achy discomfort are typical signs of challenging your body, and fatigue and soreness are the normal and natural results of an effective practice, or any other form of physical activity for that matter.
The human condition is one in which our bodies are always fighting entropy, the natural tendency to break down and fall apart. Your yoga practice is an opportunity to bravely face this relentless force, and this is no easy task.
How you encounter discomfort in your yoga postures can become the perfect forum for how you approach any other challenge in your life, and pain may well become one of your highest teachers.