Avoiding pain is one of the biggest mistakes I witness in both myself and my clients in yoga practice.
Don’t misunderstand - I’m not counseling to ignore pain, or worse yet, “work through it.” The keys are curiosity, sensation, gentleness and breath.
Most wisdom traditions counsel to find a different path than either craving or aversion. If you want something so much it reroutes your plans, there’s probably another message for you lying just under that craving. Same with aversion and avoidance: if you’re making an experience off limits because of a sensation that surprised you and you haven’t fully explored, you risk finding yourself constrained needlessly to a narrowing range of possibility unless you change your approach.
Again, definitely listen to your body and its signals. If you have pain in a movement or in a posture, breathe, withdraw from the edge where the pain arose and rest for a moment.
And then, re-approach. Slowly, mindfully. Notice where you get the first hint of a suggestion of the painful feeling and stay there - don’t go further. Breathe and notice. 9 times out of 10, you’ll feel the suggestion of pain fade away. If this happens, go a little more towards where you felt it before in the same manner: slowly, mindfully noticing the first hint of a suggestion of pain, and stay. Breathe and notice. You may feel that fade away. Rinse and repeat, stopping to rest, of course, as needed.
Often a repetition of just three times inside your pain free range of motion will allow you to go back to the once painful movement with no pain.
There are many reasons for this phenomenon and most have to do with our fascia and most of all our habitual patterns of movement and unmindfulness. We all have them. One clue that a sensation is fascial in origin is that it seems to move. Work through it in one area and it pops up whack-a-mole style in another place. Work through that and have it surface again in yet another. There’s not usually a need to hunt down the relationship between the places or find the “cause” or remain in the story. If we’re able to bring kind, gentle, curious awareness to each place in turn, our human suits will receive the maintenance they need.
Now, clearly, if the pain is debilitating, accompanied by any deformity or known trauma, stop, protect and have it evaluated by a health care professional who can order imaging if they deem it necessary, like a Nurse Practitioner, Physician’s Assistant or Physician (MD or DO).
But if it’s one of those, “hey, where’d that come from?” or “oh, you again,” pains, consider having a conversation inside a pain free range of motion, or just at the beginning of where the sensation becomes uncomfortable. Leaning toward discomfort can be healing, when done with a curious, listening mind.
Listening is the key.