As you’ll know from decades of life and experience with exercise, sensation—even intense sensation—is a byproduct of effort. And this sensation is often necessary for growth. With no stress stimulus, there’s no adaptive response. No challenge, no change. But the trick is to learn how to find the right degree of stress, so that you grow and don’t break down. I wrote about this in Goldilocks and the Gauge.
Your asana practice—doing yoga poses—can be a laboratory so you can begin to discern between productive discomfort and unhealthy pain. This skill then can serve you off the mat, sometimes in unexpected and useful ways. Here’s how to begin to tell the difference; your body, of course, should be your number-one guide.
Productive discomfort can feel like . . .
- Shaking in the muscles
- Heat in the muscles (“feel the burn”)
- A challenge to keep you focused
- A challenge to keep your breath regular
- Sensation that fades quickly when you leave a pose
Pain can feel like . . .
- Sharpness in the joints
- Aching in the joints
- Too much to keep you focused
- Too much to breathe through with a regular rhythm
- Sensation that continues even after you leave a pose
Use your practice to help you find ways to stay present in the face of discomfort, and to recognize and avoid unproductive pain.