Thursday, May 5, 2011


What is the best way to deal with pain in your yoga practice?

My strategy, generally, is to treat it like a piece of food in between my teeth: I keep poking at it, seeing if it’s still there. I continually push up against it, trying to make it go away, hoping it’s no longer going to be there when I do the same thing that made me wince last time.

Maybe this is a mistake. Maybe I ought to only go just as far as I can to not feel feel the hurt; maybe I ought to give my body a complete rest and just let myself heal. I dunno.

No doubt there are different kinds of pain, as well. If you’re really injured, then you probably ought not to keep messing with the injury. I’ve got a little rugburn on my upper back, for instance; it’s probably a good idea to refrain from rolling around in garbha pindasana until the scab is gone; on the other hand, I’m pretty sure the clenching in my lower back is just muscle tightening. It seems to me in this case, that I ought not to coddle myself; I should try to resume my regular range of motion as quickly as possible.

Pain is all in the head, isn’t it? So I want to show my body who’s boss here and convince it to stop hurting. Or maybe it’s the other way around: I want my body to show my mind it can just quit sending those pain signals to itself.

The other day, when I did philosophy with middle-school students, I asked them to wonder whether they’d be willing to have a surgical operation without anesthesia if they were given a pill beforehand that would immediately make them forget the pain after it was over. The class was pretty evenly split on the issue.

I am, too. I think I wouldn’t mind the pain I’m experiencing after every forward bend if I immediately forgot that I had; on the other hand, I’m pretty positive that it would be way better never to have the pain to remember in the first place.

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