Fitness Magazine

Practicing with Pain

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Practicing with Pain

Needle and Ice by Melina Meza

When a man has mastered himself,
he is perfectly at east in cold,
in heat, in pleasure or pain,
in honor or disgrace
Bhagavad Gita, trans. by Stephen Mitchell
We get many comments on our blog, but every once in a while there is one that makes me feel sad, like this one, which one of our readers left on a post about menopause:
This will certainly be relevant for me (65). Besides ongoing extreme irritability, yoga is not the joy it has always been for me because of joint stiffness and pain. What little stability I felt in life came from yoga, and feel that slipping away when I need it most.
My first reaction to this was to write to Shari and suggest that she write about menopause and joint pain because I knew that she, too, was currently suffering from joint problems (see Yoga for Menopause: Joint Problems). But even after ensuring that this topic was going to be addressed, I was concerned about the underlying issue:
yoga is not the joy it has always been 

what stability in life that came from yoga is slipping away

The thing is, I don't believe that physical pain means that yoga practice needs to be less joyful, or that the stability that practice brings will slip away if your asanas hurt more than they used to. And I speak from experience. Now that I'm over two bouts of frozen shoulder (which, trust me, were very painful), I'm still living with an arthritic hip that's not going to go away. So for many years, I've experienced pain when I practice asana at home or during a class. And, of course, I definitely cannot practice many of the poses I used to do on a regular basis. However, practicing yoga is still a positive, life-affirming experience for me, and as joyful as it ever was.
Because, after all, what is yoga? Definitions of yoga in the scriptures vary from "yoga is equanimity" to "yoga is cessation of the fluctuations of the mind" but nowhere is there anything about practicing pain-free asana. Indeed, as the quote at the beginning of the post tells us, being a yogi means being equally at ease in pain as in pleasure.
Both Ram and I have written about cultivating santosha as an important part of yoga practice (see Santosha: Happiness and Longevity  and Yoga and the Pursuit of Happiness ). Santosha means "contentment" and TKV Desikachar defines contentment as "the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have." And I believe that being comfortable with what we have and what we do not have must include practicing asana while in physical pain and being comfortable with that. And as for the joy, the Yoga Sutras tells us in sutra 2.42 "Perfect happiness is attained through contentment."
So the path back to joy is not through the elimination of pain, but rather through cultivating contentment. In his post Achieving Stillness in Turbulent Situations Ram told us how his grandfather taught him to meditate in a train station in India because achieving stillness in a noisy, chaotic environment was what the practice of meditation was all about. Likewise, I feel that learning how to find contentment in our asana practice, even while in physical pain, is also the essence of yoga. (Of course, you should continue to use pain as a guide to practicing safely as Shari describes in her post Yoga for Menopause: Joint Problems.)
So dear commenter and all our other readers, while I hope you may find some helpful hints on this blog that will help reduce your physical pain, we cannot remove all pain from your life  But we can offer you something more valuable. For practicing yoga by cultivating santosha inside and outside the yoga room will help see you through life's challenges in whatever form they take. As I wrote in my post Yoga and the Pursuit of Happiness, the Yoga Sutras make it clear which steps to take on that journey:
1.12 Practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness.
1.33 Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene and benevolent.
1.34 Or, by maintaining the pensive state felt at the time of soft and steady exhalation and during passive retention after exhalation.
1.35 Or, by contemplating an object that helps to maintain steadiness of mind and consciousness. 

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog