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No Pain No Gain: a New Perspective with Yoga

You may have heard the saying "open your heart" or "lead with your heart" which is about allowing your emotional side help you in life. In yoga we often speak about connecting with your heart centre, which is both about the physical aspect of opening the chest but also about emotionally opening in the postures. In both cases it is important to stay in a state of compassion, kindness & empathy to what comes up in your physical & emotional bodies.

When you move through the asanas (postures) of yoga you will meet discomfort that comes from the body & the emotional states. With physical movement we often hear the statement "no pain no gain". I do not transcribe to that philosophy, as I've see that cause people to push through in a way that can be harmful or triggering to your fight or flight response to kick in to keep you safe. Yet I have been thinking of this idea of no pain no gain & am now seeing a slightly different take on it.

When you stretch, strengthen & stabilize the body there will be sensations that come up that are not exactly comfortable. We can try to avoid this discomfort by stopping or try to make it go away by working harder. Discomfort is not the problem it's our response to it that is.

Discomfort happens when something is coming up to the surface that needs to be addressed. If we don't ever go to a place where we are uncomfortable, then we wouldn't make much change but too much discomfort when we are aggressive or combative can make it worse. If we can mindfully learn to meet these discomforts, by finding a way to work with & go through them within a safe, manageable state we can learn from instead of run away from difficulty. The place that allows us to do this can be called the window of tolerance. I spoke of in my last blog In my last blog

Finding a way to meet these "pains" while we are still being kind & compassionate towards ourselves is the key. This keeps us from being pushed into the extremes: fight or flight towards what is happening or to check out or numb ourselves to these sensations. These 2 reactions are our innate way of protecting ourselves against what is perceived to be a danger or too much in that moment. In our stress filled lives, these 2 states that are meant to be temporary ways of keeping us safe, become places we live in more often than not. Soon, we loose sight that we are in these altered states & find it hard to come back to a more nature state. Our response to living in these altered states day in & out is we may become burnt out or become addicted to things that are unhealthy to try to cope.

Learning to become aware of when we are going into these states of protection is important. Through yoga, you can learn to become more aware to the moments when we are changing from a safe place into one that is not & therefore avoid falling into the 2 extremes states. Simple things like noticing when the breath is becoming held or difficult, tensing of our body or become aggravated in our mind. When we notice these things occurring in real time, we can learn to change what we are doing to meet the pain that is arising instead of unconsciously reacting to it. A kinder more compassionate way to be with the pain

Changing our reaction takes a mindful way to regulate what is being felt. Using specific breath practices, moving mindfully or meditating on a focus point can help you to self regulate. You can then use these self regulation techniques to bring you back to the window of tolerance. Back to a place where being kind & compassionate to yourself is a healthier way to meet the pains & discomforts that are arriving.

So I guess the statement of no pain no gain can be true. But we need to change the perspective that we need to push so hard to "feel the pain". We all have pain that we are dealing with already. Do not create pain or run away from it, but gain a new way of being in the midst of it. Instead of thinking things need to be different, we can use our pains & discomforts as a way gain a new way of coming back to balance. It is in this presence that the pain does not control us, but can be used to gain a new way of being that can move us forward into healing. So pain can help us to gain back our lives, when done mindfully with an open heart.


Anne Cox E-RYT 500


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