What Yoga Teaches Us About Pain

Lately I've been reflecting on how lessons learned on the yoga mat translate into lessons for our daily lives. Specifically, I've been thinking about the concept of pain. Let me start out by saying that no yoga pose should ever be painful. We should always be kind to our bodies on the yoga mat, just as we should be kind to our selves in our daily lives.

I use the word "pain" to mean anything that is something other than comfortable and pleasurable.

One of the main objectives in practicing yoga is to release tension (pain) from the body. As we release tension in the body, we subconsciously learn how to release pain from the mind and spirit. In order to release pain, we need to practice Awareness and Breathing.

Awareness What's going on in your body? Which muscles are strong? Weak? Tense? Relaxed? As we progress in our physical yoga practice and become adept at being aware of how our body is feeling, we begin to realize we can practice awareness in different areas of our lives.

For example, if you have a headache and you are grouchy and unable to focus on your work, take a moment to stop and figure out what's going on and what you should do. You can continue being grouchy and unproductive, or you can take a little break to take stock of the situation. "I have a headache and it's causing me to be grouchy and unproductive. What can I do about it? Maybe I need a glass of water? Maybe I need some fresh air? Maybe I need some ibuprofen."

Or, if you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel unbalanced, uncomfortable, or upset, you might pause and think to yourself, "Hmm, I feel upset. What exactly is causing this feeling? What is it about this situation that is making me feel this way? What do I need to do to regain my balance?"

Cultivating awareness is the first step in managing and transcending pain, both in yoga and in life.

Breathing Breathing, or more specifically, exhaling, is a very effective method of releasing tension and managing pain in the body. Inhales activate the sympathetic nervous system (the "fight or flight" response), while exhales activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" response).

This is good to know when you're holding an uncomfortable yoga pose like a seated forward fold or maybe something more challenging like a low lunge or pigeon pose.

When we work on releasing tension from tight muscles, there is often some degree of discomfort involved. Of course, we should always balance effort and ease in yoga poses, but proper breathing also goes a long way in making challenging poses more manageable. Deep inhales and long exhales send a message to the body that everything is ok. The long exhales encourage the tight muscle to relax and after several intentional breaths, you'll find that the muscle does relax and begins to release and lengthen. It's magical!

It's equally beneficial to breathe well during difficult or stressful life events. You might have heard my story about when I was the first person on the scene of an accident in my neighborhood. A car ran a stop sign and hit a little boy on a bike (don't worry, the little boy was miraculously fine). He was hysterical, but the moment I recognized him I knew I needed to calm down and safely drive up the road to get his mother. I got in my car, and without even thinking about it, I started to deepen and slow my breathing. I managed to control the effects of the adrenaline in my body, calm myself, and safely drive to get the boy's mother. It's a testament to my yoga practice that my body automatically knew how to take care of itself and help me be of service in this emergency situation.

Now I'd love to hear from you! Have you been better able to handle a painful life situation through lessons learned on your yoga mat? Did you use awareness, breathing, and/or another tool to help get you though? Please click over the blog to share.

Until next time!

Lots of love, Zelinda