There seems to be some confusion in the yoga world about whether posture practice should hurt. Some instructors say that there is good pain and bad pain. Others say pain in yoga postures will pass with practice. Some even say pain in yoga practice is a ‘rite of passage.’ To me this is all nonsense.
Gray Cook has developed the concept of functional movement screens to an art form. In the past I have used a series of Cook’s functional screens to determine whether or not a personal training client has hidden weaknesses or injuries. If there is pain in any of the functional movement screens the scoring is an automatic zero, and the client is supposed to make an appointment to see their doctor to arrange for physiotherapy. When the physiotherapist has deemed it to be appropriate for the client to return to exercise, the physiotherapist will often work with me to be sure the appropriate transition is made from physiotherapy to personal training.
Through the years I have developed unique exercise techniques that I have integrated into yoga class as a supplement to physiotherapy. These techniques have been approved by many in our medical community who have taken class here. Combined with a wide array of variations on yoga postures the unique exercise techniques serve as potent exercise prescriptions for health.
In all the time I have taught yoga one very important principle has consistently provided the conditions for overcoming injury and that is pain free range of motion. I’ve never felt that pain was acceptable when performing yoga poses. I’m not the only one who believes that pain has no place in the practice of yoga.
David Williams is the first to bring Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga back from India to North America in 1973. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I have had the very good fortune of having had David as a teacher. He and his good friends Danny Paradise and David Swenson have inspired me beyond my hopes and dreams. David is quoted in an article in the June 2009 issue ‘Yoga: Mind, Body Spirit Magazine,’ “If it hurts you’re doing it wrong. If the asana is even uncomfortable, your body is telling you that you are starting to hurt yourself.”
Contrast this statement with an excerpt from Benjamin Lorr’s book about hot yoga called, ‘Hell-Bent,’ “But there is a reason why people from five to fifty-five avoid backbends. They hurt. If you backbend sincerely – peeling yourself into an arch that is just beyond your comfort zone – you will feel pain. And if you do it repeatedly, the pain will grow: hot, unambiguous, and very, very insistent.” (p. 47) From this opinion to David’s is a wide chasm.
Consider that Lorr is writing about what he calls, “Obsession, pain, and the search for something like transcendence in competitive yoga.” (front cover) It is the practice of Bikram Yoga that Lorr indulges in, which is considered quite intense. David Williams is an Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practitioner and this system of yoga is considered to be the most intense in the yoga world by many accounts.
David says it best in the article from the magazine I mentioned above, “’I have learned from my own practice and observation that pushing your current limitations to get into a position can result in injury, which results in one needing to rest the injury to recover so they can resume their practice. This entire sequence of events is not only unpleasant, it is contrary to my belief that though slow, steady daily practice, one can achieve greater flexibility by generating one’s own internal heat to relax into positions, rather than being forced into a position. I have observed that this slower, steadier method is not only healthier, but it allows one to develop greater flexibility of a more lasting nature than the kind that is forced. Unfortunately, as many have found, pushing one’s current limitations can result in having to severely curtail or limit activity during recovery. ‘”
I am definitely from the school of thought yoga shouldn’t hurt. This was my firm belief long before I met David in 2008. I have witnessed countless students overcoming their injuries through using our unique approach to yoga at Breathe Into Motion, always with pain free practice. Although David Williams did not include this sentiment in the magazine article, I’d like to pass along what David said at the 2008 Ashtanga Mela, “Yoga shouldn’t hurt. If it hurts, it’s not yoga it’s torture.”