Seven reasons “no pain, no gain” is a flawed mantra
By Emily Alp
Ideally, you want to deepen a bond with your practice and approach it as a lover, not a lording, obligatory activity that grants you the right to feel you deserve to live.
Imagine coming home after a long day, and your partner yells at you right away because you’re late (even though you were at the office securing income for you both); how do you feel? When your knee aches and you show it you don’t appreciate it hurting, how does it feel? It speaks to you in pain signals because it needs you to respect a boundary. It wants to continue skipping along in life instead of hobbling to the hospital.
Take this idea into the laboratory of your yoga practice—with all of its rich philosophical insights—and we have at least seven clear reasons why pushing through pain is not a gain.
- Pain is a definite statement. Discomfort is one thing, but there is an edge that you hit when you know you are entering the pain zone. And it just feels wrong to force it. Like when you eat something that is “off.” How magical is the body to have this very clear way of showing us what is wrong? Of protecting us? And yet, we don’t listen, we say “I know you feel this way, but I want to do this now.” What if you said that when food tasted rancid?
- Flexibility is, to a degree, psychosomatic. The body likes to know that the mind is on its side. Then it begins to relax, to open. If it feels threatened, as if something is “happening to it” it will be more rigid. How many times have you heard a teacher say “breath into the space that is tight”? They are not asking you to do surgery on yourself and move your lungs into your hamstring area … they are asking you to pay that part of your body attention. The body recognizes this. Yin practices work well on this premise.
- Discrimination. Philosophically, one point of the asana practice is to work with the second yoga sutra—yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ—informing us that this is a practice to consciously channel the activity of the mind. Part of this process is to first observe our mind and where we automatically let thoughts flow. When we push through pain, our thoughts are habitually channeled toward an external objective—i.e., an ego-based idea of achievement vs. something you’re actually able to do safely.
- The concept of aversion. This one is not always obvious or easy to accept. Yet the principle is very clear and is an integral part of the larger notion of self love. Ideally, you want to deepen a bond with your practice and approach it as a lover, not a lording, obligatory activity that grants you the right to feel you deserve to live. Imagine coming home after a long day, and your partner yells at you right away because you’re late (even though you were at the office securing income for you both); how do you feel? When your knee aches and you show it you don’t appreciate it hurting, how does it feel? It speaks to you in pain signals because it needs you to respect a boundary. It wants you to continue skipping along in life instead of hobbling to the hospital.
- Greater intelligence and subtler realms. We want an intimate connection among all of the subtle parts of ourselves. Yoga implies union—the place to start this is within yourself. When we ignore our body’s needs, when we lord our minds over the body’s most basic messages, like pain, we miss out on the potential to create intimacy between mind and body. This intimacy allows us to tap into the intelligence of the body and work into the subtle realms.
- Ahimsa starts with you. A key concept within the eight limbs of ashtanga Yoga, ahimsa is the first of the yamas. These concepts encourage balance and maximizing the potential of the human experience. Ahimsa means non-violence. How does this relate to pain in the body? Would you continue to do something that hurt someone else if you knew it did? It is now natural to apply this concept to yourself.
- It’s actually your practice. As your practice deepens, you start to realize that your body has about as much to tell you as your mind does. If you approach its message of pain in an open way, with a sense of “how are you today? Oh … let’s have a conversation about this,” you stand to experience a shift. Then, your practice feels like a healing experience that works for you rather than the other way around.
In the end, we all wish to feel increasingly at home in our dynamic, electric, miraculous bodies. We also want the massive amount of yogic wisdom we study to guide us as we assess mental programs and explore our amazing potential for change and growth, sustainably.
See more posts