Injury management and pain relief are some of the most common reasons people come to yoga. It’s a real blessing that doctor’s now even recommend yoga to their patients. And, yoga can really aid in getting rid of chronic pain and retraining alignment to support healing. I have seen it time and time again work wonders for students of various ages and abilities, and I’ve experienced this myself.
Yes, it’s true I have also seen yoga cause a great deal of injury and pain to people. It can be tempting to blame a teacher for pain after class, and I’ve seen this happen as well.
I’d like to debunk this for just a moment. Stop it.
I do believe that sometimes teachers could do more to protect students. We each have our own way of trying to provide for students who are injured. I can only speak for myself, but I truly try my best to provide a balanced class for my students and to support anyone with an injury to the best of my ability. I am fortunate to have a lot of education and a lot of resources.
I still believe some people leave my class and are hurting.
Here is the reality: your teacher should be trying damn hard to provide a safe environment for you. If you don’t feel safe, I recommend finding a new teacher. However, it is also up to you to listen to your body and care for yourself.
Yoga is so subjective. Each pose has an almost infinite range of possibility and variation. It is a real privilege as a teacher to look around and see many students in the same pose, but each version so different. At the end of my classes, I often give people the option to add their favorite simple closing posture. I love seeing students so connected to themselves that they can instantly pick a twist, happy baby, a simple side stretch or a shoulder stand. Knowing your own body is incredibly empowering and it’s a gift. I believe this to be the biggest benefit of yoga and mindfulness.
The injury part comes in when we are not able to listen to ourselves. Or, we may think we are listening to ourselves but it is really ego or insecurity talking. We are all in different stages of being able to experience our bodies without bias. Awareness is not a given, we build it with years of careful practice on our mats. In the meantime, we go by what we are told, or what we have seen in the room around us and we do our best to replicate it. I am okay with that.
What I am not okay with is pain. Please, I would love for us, as a culture, to let go of the phrase “no pain, no gain.” Let go of the implications that if something doesn’t hurt you it isn’t of value. This will lead us to choosing to be hurt time and time again. In our relationships, our jobs, and on our mats. Especially if you are arriving at yoga with an injury or chronic pain, please don’t be pushy with yourself. If you are in pain, you should be asking for guidance from your teacher. There is absolutely something that needs to be addressed, and it may need to be addressed in an alternative modification.
Let yourself be where you are. That is the space of true healing. You do as much as you can, and then stop trying, just stay right there. This is the space where our bodies are happy to be doing the work we are asking, and we are not getting an internal alarm signal. If you try to do more than your best, you will cause yourself and your body a lot of stress which impacts you negatively. If you aren’t trying your best then you may not be affecting real change.
My hope for us as a community of yogis is to be patient with ourselves, to include restorative and yin yoga into our palate, and to treat ourselves humanely in vinyasa yoga. The best you can do does get better all the time. Offer it up, know that it is enough, and reap the rewards.