Guest post: Why paining?

Note: As we’ve mentioned a few times now, among the many fortunes and blessings from our yatra was the opportunity to practice under the watchful, helpful and playful eye of Kate O’Donnell. Kate’s now in Mysore, and we asked her to send us along posts if and when she had the chance. She responded to the recent string of posts on injuries and sent us the following — you also can find this post at her blog, linked above. Consider this the inaugural Confluence Countdown Crosspost, not to be confused with the CC’s Crossfit.


Bobbie Jo and Steve’s postings on injuries, including the words of a few old-timers, has got me thinking.  As a full-time Mysore teacher, I am no stranger to pain.  The practice first teaches how to move with integrity, to avoid pain, and then one needs to learn how to learn to move others with that same consciousness, again to avoid pain.  If the mind steps out of line while I am adjusting, as it often does, pain will be there.  Pain reminds me: Kate, you are missing the point.

Teaching aside, here in Mysore, on my first week of full practice at 4 a.m., I’ve been meditating on pain anyhow.  As you might imagine.

Its not like I’m getting adjustments.  So, the main difference I am seeing here is the quality of my effort.

Whenever I am wondering about the yoga, I take it back to what I have learned from the sutras.  Two points come to mind:

  • Practice requires a long time, and consistent effort.
  • Future suffering can be avoided.

While here in Mysore, I’ve come to the realization: I am wise enough now to moderate the quality of my efforts.  Effort must be consistent, sustainable.  After 15 years, and seeing postures come and go, and come again — for myself and others — I take it all in stride.  The performance of a posture, well it’s a real treat.  But the proof of the pudding is this:  what is the benefit?

Kate’s Misplaced Effort Indicators:

  • thinking about what the posture looks like on the outside
  • allowing mulabandha to flap in the breeze in order to make some shape happen
  • worrying that I “won’t be able to do it”

Do what, dude?  That is the question this week.  Why paining?  For what benefit?  I get pain when I work too hard.  Simple.

It’s so easy to do here, with the full power vibes of the room.  If I can see the striving before it starts, I can pause and ask:  What is the intention of the present effort?  Isn’t yoga supposed to bring us to the now?  If I pay attention, and notice the three points listed above, I am likely to avoid future suffering.

I’d like to quote what Nancy Gilgoff always answers when asked about whether Ashtanga hurts people: “It’s not the practice, it’s the practitioner.”

Thus far, I have noticed in myself and in many students, that incorrect effort is a result of this weird (cultural) feeling that “I am not OK as I am.  I must bust my ass to be better.” Ashtanga, coupled with this attitude, will break us.  Seasoned practitioners of Ashtanga, as I see it, have come to know a rare sense of humility, and contentment.  Awake students will gravitate towards these old-timers.  Working to the point of injury is not the point, and yet has one benefit: injury breaks the pattern.  Be it Karmic, physical, or mental  (one might argue these three beget each other), the systematic nature of the practice will change the pattern.

New mind is making.

By Kate O’Donnell, posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

10 thoughts on “Guest post: Why paining?”

  1. As someone pretty new to daily Ashtanga practice, I find this balance – between committing to bring everything I have to my practice each day (rather than just coasting through without any real focus or intent) and not pushing or striving too hard – really tricky to get my head around. It’s good to see from this post that perhaps this gets easier as the practice progresses. Right now, as a beginner, I’m not sure I know where that mid-ground is – I can only seem to find two gears – cruising through, not really committing, or all-out charging at it. Thanks for giving me hope that a sensible middle path or ‘new mind’ will present itself eventually.

    1. Seems like making the ujayi breath the central focus is a good way to work towards that middle ground. Really initiate each movement with breath, rather than have the breath just be a mere component of the movement…. Make it the actual engine of movement. Then it’s not so much “push,” but more “allow.” I am no teacher, nor an expert, just offering an idea I had while reading.

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