The Pain of Yoga

Allistair Santiago

Leg PainToday I’m in pain – a not inconsiderable amount of pain. And I blame yoga. Possibly soccer, but mainly yoga.

This week at Sunday night yin class, our instructor felt the need to focus on the upper leg and hip region. Despite it being slow, calm yoga, I found it intense. I was shaking and twitching embarrassingly with every pose. But – and here’s the part where I quote something trite about clouds and silver linings – I learned something out of the deal: I’m not flexible. Not at all.

Being a clever and occasionally observant individual, it occurred to me early on that this might be the sad case. It was the beginning of class, I remember, and we were sitting on the floor with our legs spread out as wide as they could comfortably go (slightly more than shoulder-width for me). Then, with our palms on the floor, we had to lean forward from the hip to deepen the stretch. Despite already straining against sitting like this, I attempted to lean. And nothing happened. I stayed upright, torso refusing to lower any further, hips and back launching an immediate protest. So I stayed incongruously upright, shoulders and spine inelegantly curved towards the ground in the closest approximation of the pose that I could muster. And I stayed there for three minutes.

The rest of the session proceeded in a remarkably similar manner. A pose would be described and demonstrated and, with clockwork regularity, I would fail to accomplish anything even remotely resembling proper form.

The real problem, though, was that I was trying – I mean really straining to get it. Bad idea, I know, but I couldn’t even get close to the pose. I was falling drastically short of even the lower limits of flexibility. But I stubbornly felt obligated to do the poses properly.

The upshot is I’ve injured myself now, so lesson learned. I’m not flexible and I’m paying the price for trying too hard.

[tags]injuring self, trying too hard, straining, yoga pain, yin yoga [/tags]

8 Responses to “The Pain of Yoga”

  1. Can I offer a suggestion or two?

    I teach yoga, and was once painfully tight. So when you say “I’m not flexible”, I would suggest saying “I’m not flexible – yet.” Because with time and persistence, your body will open up.

    The second thing to remember is that “doing the pose” is not what yoga is all about. It’s about being connected to the breath, and allowing your breath to guide you into a place of alignment where you can begin to open up.

    So for example, if while sitting with wide-open legs, just sitting up straight is a strain, the first thing you want to do is find something to prop your pelvis up on. A block, rolled up mat, cushion, phone book… this raising up allows the pelvis to find some forward movement, and brings your spine into correct alignment.

    Realise too, that you don’t have to lean forward. Not at all. If you’re feeling an openness simply by sitting up straight, stay right there and breath into it. Inhale up your spine finding lift and lightness, exhale through the back of your legs and heels finding groundingness and openness.

    Bearing this in mind will completely change your practice.

    We all have different bodies, and we all look different when we practice yoga, so focusing externally on the position of the teacher’s body takes your awareness away from the intuitive knowingness of your body.

    Stay focused on your breath, and your internal processes, and you’ll be surrendering into bliss in no time – regardless of how open your body is.


  2. Allistair says:

    Thanks for your reply! Your suggestions are much appreciated. Thus far, I’ve been finding it difficult to focus internally. I’m usually prohibitively self-conscious throughout most of a class. It’s something I’m working on and it’s coming along… slowly. In the meantime, using props might be prudent. I’ll try using the block for support and see how it goes. Are there any resources online where I can find these kind of modifications and learn where I need to employ them? Or is this something I need to talk to an instructor about?
    Cheers and thanks again,

  3. One way to get a great understanding of the use of props is to
    attend a couple of Iyengar classes. Iyengar focuses on precise
    alignment, and uses a wide variety of props to attain this
    alignment. An Iyengar instructor would definitely be able to
    give you the low down on how to best modify poses for your body
    as it is now, and then armed with that knowledge, you’d know what
    you needed in your regular yoga classes.
    Good luck! Persistence and patience always win the day. So far,
    I’ve never encountered anyone in any of my classes who is as
    tight as I once was… and I’m slowly working my way toward full
    forward bends. It’s taken a few years, but of the joy in feeling
    the body surrender into openness!


  4. Allistair says:

    Not a bad idea. I’ve read a little about Iyengar yoga in passing before. I’ll look into finding such a studio in my area. It’s also good to know that my problem isn’t entirely unique. It’s even better to know that some instructors have had to overcome this problem. I’ll let you know how it goes. Really appreciate the tips!

  5. Yosef Katz says:

    Hi Allistair,

    How is it going now? FYI I have been practicing Ashtanga Mysore for 10 years and I went to Hong Kong for a week and did not practice at all (hotel room was too small, no other place to practice by hotel and yoga classes all started too late or were too far away) for a whole week! Now I just tried to do my “normal” practice yesterday and am quite sore in many places and just wanted to read something so I came across your post in a search! The most interesting part is I have been here before, pretty much know what comes next (if I force myself to practice for a few days the pain will either migrate or disappear, if I do not then must do it later, etc…).

    At any rate the first post by KL seemed like the best way to deal with it, most Yoga practitioners experience varying levels of pain from time to time and anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying, intoxicated or under a cultist spell!

    Be well,

  6. Yosef Katz says:

    ps – I also did do *regular* type stretching within that last week, not the same by a long shot!

  7. Stacy says:

    Hi all,

    I’m relatively new to the yoga practice – I started a little over a year ago. Unfortunately we had a bit of a natural disaster & were relocated out of our home for almost a year, making it practically impossible to practice yoga, although I tried my best to get some time in here & there. (I practice with a DVD at home – we are relatively low income so classes are something I look forward to in the future, although I should also mention that I’m not self-taught, either)

    We now have our own home again & I have the space and time to practice, but since I started a few weeks ago I’ve been gradually getting some major joint pain; my pain is in my hips & shoulders, however, and I surprisingly have no knee pain. I do have a bit of a history of shoulder pain, but nothing like this, and my hip pain is unbearable at times. My husband & I went for a walk last week, and after what was probably *maybe* a mile I could hardly walk at all – it took us at least twice as long to get home as it did to get to that point because I was trying to tolerate it, stretch it back out, do whatever I could to not feel that pain, it took my breath away every time I took a step.

    The only conclusion I came to was that it was due to my newfound regular yoga schedule. I never experienced this when I first began the practice, I had overall soreness but nothing that seemed to severe. I’m wondering if I’m doing something wrong or if this is a somewhat normal experience after not practicing for such a long period of time? Should I stop the at-home practice until I can afford classes or continue through the pain in hopes that it will eventually get better?

    Reading this gave me much better insight into the practice, so thank you. Like Allistair I have been concerned more with doing the poses than with being connected to the breath, although flexibility is not a problem for me – I just want to “do it right”! I am certain that a physical class would be extremely beneficial, and that is on my to-do list.

  8. Yosef Katz says:

    @Stacy – Joint Pain? Root soup! – Make a vegetable soup, you can use olive oil, spices and some onion or other to taste for the base. Then make sure you use roots. Some carrot (not too much), lotus root, all the rooty vegetables you can find at a health food store, simmer your soup until tastes right. After 3 days to around 2 weeks you should get some reinforcement for joint pain from this. Also make sure you have a good source of Omega fat (Spectrum Oil makes some very good vegetarian oils, just put some in the soup or in other foods after cooking, so don’t cook the Omega oil, heat it is ok). This is a long term solution and is not drugs so you’ll want to be patient and work it into your diet over the next few years after your initial experiment. Oh, and don’t use too much beet as it will over power the others. Be well, drink more clean water, Yosef.

Leave a Reply