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When Your Practice Is a Pain
Yes, you can hurt yourself during yoga - here's how to avoid injury

Usually you hear about the many ways in which Yoga heals the body - it increases flexibility, lung capacity and strength. Many doctors recommend it as part of a physical therapy program. Yoga is meant to condition the physical body, calm the mind and refresh the spirit. Practiced properly, that's exactly what it does. But put Yoga in a room with a group of competitive, type A personalities (in other words, your average, everyday Westerners), and trouble could be brewing. Instead of learning Yoga's lessons - flexibility and balance in both body and mind, finding your center, non-judgment - they could be developing bad habits that are the antithesis of what Yoga is about. "I hate that girl - she can do a beautiful Wheel and I can't even do a proper Bridge!" "I think I can get my head to my shin if I just force it a little bit more...." "I wish this Shavasana would be over already. I'm bored and I want to check my voice mail." Such thoughts are guaranteed to diminish yoga's benefits. At the very least, they make a yoga session less enjoyable and, if taken to the extreme, they could cause physical damage (yes, even those nasty Shavasana thoughts...though not necessarily while in that particular posture!).

(Article continued below.)

Yoga is not about "doing it better than the next guy," but a lot of people forget that. We have become so acclimated to that urge to win that the lack of competition in Yoga feels strange. In Yoga we're not even competing with ourselves. We are changeable beings and every time we enter into a Yoga session our bodies have different capabilities and limitations. We don't progress in a forward motion a hundred percent of the time - sometimes it's three steps forward and one step back. It's no tragedy if we're not as flexible today as we were yesterday (at least it's not supposed to be a tragedy!). The focus is on how the body (yours, and not anyone else's) feels right now, what it wants to do and how far it wants to go. To ignore the body's needs in favor of showing off or trying to outdo someone else is to deny the very essence of Yoga. This is one of the hardest lessons we Western practitioners have to learn. Even the most blissed-out amongst us is occasionally guilty of thoughts like, "Yesss! My Warrior II is flawless today!" The desire to win is great if you're running a 10K or landing a business deal, but it has no place in Yoga - Yoga is where we get away from all that. Yoga teaches us to appreciate the place where we are at now. Most of us don't even know where that place is; Yoga shows us. Sometimes we're capable of more than we expected. Other times we must be satisfied with less.

Impatience is closely related to the competitive spirit - they're both goal oriented. Sometimes during a session the teacher will have the class remain in one posture for a few minutes - we're supposed to be exploring the pose, breathing into it, finding out where our bodies want to go with it and, most of all, perfecting our form. We're not supposed to be laying there (or sitting, or standing) waiting for it to be over. That's not living in the present. If you're marking time in a pose, you are certainly not doing it correctly, no matter how it looks from the outside. Each Yoga posture is meant to be active - yes, even Shavasana is active in its own way. When you're holding a pose for a couple of minutes, you're not frozen in time. Make use of those moments to get the most out of the pose. Sometimes an Asana is uncomfortable and that's the cause for impatience. Your mind is trying to remove itself from the situation because it doesn't feel good to be there. This is just when you should be paying attention to the pose and getting inside of it - why is it uncomfortable? Where? Will a subtle change in the position of your hips or arms change the feeling? Are you breathing evenly? How is your form? Is there a way for you relax into the posture? If you're actively working on a pose, the time goes by a whole lot faster.

Next page >> Gain Without Pain >> Page 1, 2

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