I was happy to hear my student reach out for help because even though she already knew the actions that were causing the problem, like many of us, she needed help to see the driving motive for her actions – why she kept practicing through the pain.
The type of physical injury she described occurs most commonly in transitions from one pose to another, such as from the floor to downward facing dog in a sun salutation, inversions and arm balances. But she also shared a common emotional injury with far too many yogis who practice through pain.
Yoga is about self-realization, but our modern society is often a practice in unconscious living. We have been trained away from listening to our best guidance: our own bodies. This is the reason so many of us keep going, going, going until we get so sick and injured we can’t ignore the need to stop. But when we live in a natural and balanced state of mind, we would never do things that harm ourselves.
If your body is experiencing imbalance, there is always an emotional component that led to the decision-making process that got you here. In talking with my student, we spent far more time talking about the decision to work through pain, or to not stop at the first sign, than we did talking about proper alignment of her hands. In her pain, she found the gift that is giving up an attitude of pushing beyond her body’s limits.
There are two concepts in the Yoga teachings that can help all of us practice with a better connection to our higher selves. They are ahimsa, non-violence, and sattva, balance and harmony. These two things need to be present in your practice in order to reach a more authentic space of connection and serenity. Trying to perform in asana by creating a practice that focuses on achievement as the primary goal moves away from these sattva and ahimsa and toward ego and injury.
Practice with consciousness. Slow down. Be aware when you are moving in and out of poses as well as when you are holding the pose. If you feel pain, back off at the first sign. If you have learned to push your body through pain to so long that you don’t notice it, pay attention to your breath – it should be even and steady. Even when you are feeling challenged mentally and physically in a pose, your breath can still be smooth if you are practicing with integrity. If you cannot keep your breath even, then back out until you can.
Change your attitude and your practice will change along with it. Strive for inner peace and self-realization rather than a look or performance. Make your goal connection to your higher self. This change in how you approach asana will create a more joyful – and pain free – practice.