We use a scale when trying to have people describe pain to us. On a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the worst pain you have experienced and 1 the least. Right? You are all familiar with this? It seems to be that human beings are in pain a good portion of their life. Just spend a little time watching T.V. commercials or flip through a magazine, advertisements abound for the latest pain remedy. Or read the reports on people being addicted to pain pills that they so easily got from their doctor. Are we really just falling apart at the seams? Are we really abusing our bodies that much? That depends on how you define abuse. I think it’s abusive to sit around all day in barely lit rooms with your longest walk being to the kitchen to refill your Mountain Dew that you are using to wash down your cholesterol medicine. Then the heartburn pill you’ll take later because you did nothing to aid your body in the process of digestion just after you finished off a box of Captain Crunch. This is the worst kind of abuse. Running a marathon hurts, I know this first hand. It hurts during and for about two days after. You can lose toenails, during your training and tragically men can have their nipples rub raw if they don’t wear the right clothing during the 26.2 miles. But this is not abusing the body, this is raising the bar. Dare I say, it raises the pain threshold.
Should I be so bold as to talk about pain? Aren’t there yogi’s out there telling you to avoid pain? Isn’t your doctor prescribing things for it? Well maybe if we all worked a little on raising our pain threshold, we wouldn’t be a society addicted to anything other than raising the bar on our expectations for life, instead of settling for this belief that the human body is a place of suffering. But don’t worry, there’s a pill for that.
I know pain first hand, and not just from running 4 marathons. I ruptured L5/S1 about 5 years ago. By the time I finally went to the doctor for it, he said to me “I am not sure how you drove yourself here and your walking around, this is a pretty bad rupture.” It was excruciating for about 3 weeks. I didn’t sleep much at all, or for that matter sit still. As there wasn’t a single comfortable position for my body. But I was pretty damn determined to not be cut open. I never even took any steroid shots which is another popular form of treatment. I was going to, if I could stand it, wait this pain out, and I did. With a year of no running and a slow steady creep back into my yoga practice, with the appropriate backward bending, back strengthening plan. I am as good as new. Probably better because I learned a lot about myself, anatomy and the way to get it right. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as easy I am making it sound. I cried a lot, I was angry a lot and I had setbacks through out. Ultimately I never took anything more than Advil, breathing and exercise to heal.
I remember back in my first year of yoga my teacher saying “yoga raises our threshold to pain.” I remember thinking, “well that sounds strange and what would be the benefit?”. I remember the asana it came up in relation to, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasna – half bound lotus forward fold. When I came to yoga I had been running for about 14 years, so I was pretty limited in range of motion. So when I would try to put my foot in the proper place it would inevitably feel like it was cutting my quadriceps muscle in two. That skinny, knife-like boney edge of my foot not tucking high enough up on my thigh would cause me to wince in pain. Shouldn’t we bail if there’s pain? No, not if it’s something that you can breathe through. Most discomforts can be dealt with this way. If you can stay in the place of dis-ease and experience change, then do. YES, there is pain you need to move away from, but not all pain should be avoided.I’ve heard yoga teachers say if there’s pain you’re doing the pose wrong, what if it means you’re finally doing it right? If someone told you you were going to be comfortable while doing yoga they were wrong. It’s about being uncomfortable and dealing with it. I have seen countless triangle asanas, and I guarantee you, until I come up behind them and fix them, they aren’t feeling anything except the effort of holding themselves up, no discomfort, no change, no enlightenment. We need to shine a light of awareness on areas of our body that have become dull, detached and not put to good use in a while.
We use the word pain too freely in society. For most instances it’s just discomfort that can usually be lumped into the “This too shall pass.” category. There is a great expression “pain is weakness leaving the body.” Ahhhhhh, that to me is the most truthful statement there is about pain. Being able to handle discomfort and pain better makes us less reactive and hopefully more responsive. It lengthens our fuse. It’s good to have a long fuse before you blow up. If we all had longer fuses the world would be more peaceful. It wouldn’t be filled with so much vengeance. The more I am uncomfortable in yoga, the more comfortable I am becoming in life. The more I raise the bar of what I am willing to tolerate, the more opportunities it’s giving me to grow. I want to go to the grave with a worn out body. One that lived each day being surprised by what I was really capable of.
It is possible to get injured doing anything physical with our bodies or emotional with our hearts. Each of these injuries leaves a little scar behind that creates a pathway in the neurosis of our mind. Yoga, by moving us towards our pain helps change this pathway and wipe out the residue of that experience. There comes a moment in yoga, and it’s a golden one with each and every pose you are struggling with that you will be able to say “Pain has just left the building.” It’s never a coincidence to me that the word exercise and exorcism are so similar. Because exercise does release some of our demons of fear, pain and weakness, leaving us feeling pretty cleansed of the things that were holding us down. Give it a try, come to your mat, find the edge where you question “what the heck am I doing?” again and again and just see what happens. Don’t fear what you haven’t even experienced yet. Only fear missing the opportunity to grow.