Pain and the edge


I read recently that injury that is not caused by an obvious trauma (like a fall, or an accident) can be due to a repetitive movement with a lack of awareness in the movement. Interesting statement, but I will elaborate as I found it to be true for me.

My relationship to pain has been a struggle all these years. Being a type A personality who swallowed the whole “no pain, no gain” mentality I pushed myself and my body beyond what it was capable of doing at that time. Every single time. Why? Because I could and because I thought it was the way to get and stay fit.

Do I know better now? Yes. Do I still push? Well…. yes, sometimes. Why? Because sometimes, I REALLY want to see how far I have come towards doing that full bind in Marichyasana pose. I’ve discovered that it’s shockingly hard to truly listen to your body and move it every single day in an optimal way and not what my head tells me “I should be doing”.

Which brings me to the topic of pain and the edge and something I have discussed recently in one of my classes and want to share with you.

I have learned from my students that not everyone can differentiate types of pain. Some can tell the difference between pain that tells you to stop because you are causing damage (bad pain) and the type of pain that comes from effort (how your legs may feel holding chair pose for 10 breaths) or as soreness in the muscles from a previous workout (effort pain). Some cannot make this distinction and to them it’s PAIN. I hear people say “I have pain on the back part of my thigh”. For some this can be soreness in the hamstring muscle from a prior activity for others it is a tear in the muscle. The question to ask yourself is “do you feel the distinction between the different types of pain?”.

The purpose for me to write this is to discuss about the pain one might feel in or past the end range of motion. Pain is always trying to tell you something. The question is: do you know what it is trying to tell you?

Just to be clear here: If you find that you are having pain that feels like it is causing damage, pain that is stabbing, searing, ripping, tearing, red-hot, electric, throbbing, wakes you up at night, impacts your quality of life, etc. – stop what you are doing and see a doctor. A good rule of thumb: If you are making a face because of pain, then it is probably causing damage and you should stop.

This post is not about that type of pain. This post is not to encourage people to experience pain during their practice – quite the contrary.

What I want to talk about is whether you feel bad pain when you go to the end range of motion.

For example:

You are attending a yoga class and the teacher asks you to do some neck rotations as a part of the warm up. “…As you exhale, turn your head to the left”. As you turn your head to the left, do you go as far as you possibly can? Do you feel a stretch or bad pain? I asked several of my classes this and most often the response was that they go all the way to the end and then some-even when there was bad pain. Why? Because they felt that is what they are supposed to do.

Yoga, or any exercise, should not hurt. There is a difference between the pain in effort (effort pain) and the bad pain in moving past the end. If you feel bad pain, you may have asked your body to do something that it is not ready to do at this moment in time. Even if you have been previously able to do it.

What I realized is that the secret here is to not go to the edge where there is pain. You can rest at the edge, or stay right before it. What happens, is that the edge moves. If you mindfully, consistently and persistently practice your yoga, the edge always moves. When the edge moves, you progress. The next time, or the time after that, you can go farther and without pain.

What made me realize this? Since my hip surgery in 2011 I have not been able to lift my right foot off the floor while bending over. A useful skill to have if you want to put your pants on. I needed to pick up my leg to put the foot into the pants. My nemesis pose that uses similar muscles is extended hand to big toe pose (also known as Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana). Basically, you stand on one foot with the other leg straight out in front of you. This pose causes excruciating pain for me in the right hip. You know, the kind of pain that makes you want to pass out. About a month ago, I stopped trying to do that pose and instead practiced lifting my right knee up to the sink while bent over and brushing my teeth. This movement kept the thigh below the pain threshold and I did this every day for 30 days. What I discovered was that after 30 days I could put my pants and socks on without lifting the leg with my hand. I can lift my right knee almost as high as my left. I spent 6 years of pushing myself through pain seeing no improvement to try to achieve what 30 days of gentle, smart consistency did.

Net – net: try stopping before the pain. Flirt with the edge. The edge will always move, until it reaches the mechanical end of movement.

I would love to hear your questions and comments, so please fill them in below!

Namasté and thank you.

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