By Jenn Sturiale
The Rumor: Yoga can sometimes be painful, but that's normal
Experienced yoga practitioners move gracefully from one pose to another, but the reality for many of us can be quite different. Getting into and out of certain positions can be awkward, and it’s hard to know what level of discomfort -- if any -- is acceptable during a yoga practice.
The Verdict: Yoga isn't supposed to hurt
As is the case with anyone engaging in a physical pursuit, people doing yoga can sometimes tweak their backs, pull their hamstrings or hurt their necks. But as Janet MacLeod, a yoga teacher from the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco, says, “Yoga does not have to hurt. In fact, without suffering, students can go beyond their perceived limits. Students should embrace the concepts of steadiness and ease. Being aware of these qualities allows the student to practice in a mindful manner and to be cognizant of when their balance is being lost. My belief is that the practice of yoga, which is based on the principle of ahimsa [non-violence], should not hurt.”
In the 15 years since I started practicing yoga, I’ve learned to appreciate both the beauty of a fully realized pose and the reality of where my own body is in that pose -- which feels a lot better than recovering from a tweaked lower back. Some days I’m more flexible, but most days I’m less, and every day there are different sensations in my shoulders, hamstrings and lower back.
After a few injuries (which were sustained when I pushed past my limits), I’ve learned to pay close attention to my body's subtle signals that it's time to stop. Now I can actually find joy in noticing my limits and pulling back just a bit to where I feel safe and protected. Let's say I can only go so far into a forward bend today. The reward isn't in how far forward I've folded, but in the sense of self-acceptance I achieve when I'm in the pose -- even if I've done it "better" before.
In The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, authorGeorg Feurstein -- who's widely regarded as an authority on the history of yoga -- wrotethat the traditional purpose of the practice is to bring about a transformation in the person through the transcendence of the ego. By letting go of our egos during yoga, we're better able to notice what our bodies are telling us -- and respect our physical boundaries.
So: If you feel pain while doing a pose, stop. Just because the teacher is guiding the class doesn’t mean you need to follow along. Only you know if it is best for you to continue, modify or rest.