It is common that many Yoga teacher pushes you in to your posture in order to make you stretch beyond your normal capabilities. They do it with the intention to make you do all advance asanas soon. Question has always been raised about this method. Is it a healthy way to do Yoga? Does it cause any harm? etc etc. In this blog I am going to talk about this in detail from my studies and experience.
Let us first understand the nature of human body. Pain is a natural feedback mechanism to protect your body from injuries. It is the warning indicator to tell you that you about to cross your limits. It is nature’s way of telling “Boss, you are doing too much, be careful!!”. Limitation can be from any part of your body: muscles, joints, ligaments etc, you first feel the pain. As I explained in my earlier blog: Misunderstanding the pain, pain in any part of the body doesn’t mean that only that part of the body has limitations. You are just getting indication from the weakest link.
When you push beyond your limits too fast, your muscles goes for spasm (sudden, involuntary contraction of muscles) in order to prevent you from stretching/overloading further. Although most of the spasm relaxes in a few days, it can even be permanent. Your muscle remembers these spasms and next time it will occur soon unless you have trained rightly after the first occurrence. All these are natural defense mechanisms to protect our body. Finally, postural muscles (prevents you from collapsing in the field of gravity) act like spring in the field of gravity and with gentle force you can keep them in completely stretched position. Let us move ahead with these concepts in mind.
Many Yoga students and teachers ignore the pain and try hard to work through the pain resulting in injuries. They say “Go beyond pain to achieve and improve in your abilities” , “Pain is merely physical, a material thing. Go beyond material world by ignoring the pain”, “I am not pushing, I am just trying to correct you”. They all tend to push you hard to get results quickly. All these statements are true but conditions apply!!.
Let us do an experiment. Sit in stretched leg position and bend forward till you feel stretch pain. When you hold that position for some time you will notice that pain will disappear and you can go a little forward to feel pain again. This initial pain is the body’s way to warn you “Boss, hold on, you are doing something new today. Let me get used to it”. This concept can be explained from medical world but it is beyond the scope of this blog. Point at which you feel this initial pain varies on daily basis. When teacher says “Go beyond pain”, this is the kind of pain there are talking about. The initial pain which you experience when you body is not ready. You can go deeper in to the posture slowly by holding the posture for long time till you reach your maximum at which point you should stop. In this approach you are being the master and trying to acknowledge the natural responses of your body. Take it slowly and steadily by having patience to hold for longer duration. I have seen many students who are so disturbed to hold the posture longer to experience all this!
Yoga teachers are not linked to your feedback mechanism and they have no clue about what you are feeling. Without the knowledge of your feedback mechanism they push you and their by increasing the chances of injuries. Many teachers even ignore your scream thinking that either you are acting or you are lazy to do more!! This may be true but it can be serious to ignore your scream. In this approach you are making your teacher the master of your body without being aware of the natural feedback responses of your body. So, being pushed by your teacher is always a strict ‘NO’. They may say “You did more last week, so why not today. Let me push you”. Keep in mind that it is not just your physical body but even your emotional pattern decides what you can do on a particular day. As I said, your body is not the same every day. Respect it.
How about teacher correcting your posture? Corrections are done to make you feel the right stretch or to release unnecessary tensions in certain parts. You feel good after the correction. After correction if pain increases, then step back and move forward in the right direction slowly by acknowledging the pain. Having said this there are some teachers who are aware of all this and try to work only with the spring action of your postural muscles. This is perfectly fine but there is a better way to do this. Yoga props used in Iyengar Yoga will enable you to be the master and work to get right maximum stretch.
One of the Yama (self-restraints) of Ashtanga Yoga is “Ahimsa”(Non-Violence). Ahimsa doesn’t just mean doing good to society and others. Follow in even in your practice by not doing violence by yourself or by someone on you. Apart from this many times it is your ego to show off because of which you push yourself or allow someone to push you. Ego is not Yoga. Understand that by getting pushed you are being detrimental to your own progress. Yoga is not a competition but a lifelong process. Go beyond you stretch pain slowly and steadily by staying in the posture for longer duration.
Do I practice this? Honestly, I used to push my students at the beginning but then I experienced the pain by being pushed. This triggered me to do self-study. Slowly I refined my method of teaching to give precise instructions to feel the right and optimum stretch without using much force. I still try to bring the lost awareness by gently tapping at the places where there is no awareness. I do this to deal with passive mind of the students :). This is still work in progress!! English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 coined the metonymic adage “The Pen is mightier than the sword” and now I say “Words are mightier than the force in Yoga training!!”