Chatting to a friend after yoga class the other day made me think of this classic saying. We were talking about the difficulty to get into certain yoga positions – her particular challenge being the lotus. Mine is the end position of the marichyasana-series and I’m sure any yogis can name theirs.
However, our approaches to the problem were different. My friend said that when she felt pain, she took a step back and just let go. In a way this is more in keeping with yoga philosophy: you shouldn’t force anything, but rather accept the fact that development takes time.
My approach is slightly more aggressive: I think that a certain level of pain is necessary. If we never push our boundaries, development will occur much slower – if at all. Which approach works for you depends on what kind of person you are and what you’re trying to achieve.
In beginner’s class, I would never urge anyone to face the pain, because when you’re starting out with something new it’s really hard to tell where the line goes between “good” and “bad” pain – unless you have very good body knowledge from before.
Before I started yoga, I did a lot of long distance running. Most marathon runners can tell you that after 35 km, everyone feels pain. But the pain can be manageable and you choose to go on running, because you see your goal – and you want to push your limit. In most cases, the pain won’t kill you (!). Rather it will make you stronger and faster next time.
The same thing happens in yoga. We’re faced with positions which challenge us – and sometimes they are painful. In yoga, the key is to avoid any sharp, distinct pain, especially when doing twists. But if the pain is just stiffness and normal, muscular resistance, you can try pushing a little bit further and you might be surprised by what happens.