The point of pain: Progress

My practice on Sunday was one of those practices.

Stiff. Achy. Unusually tight. Lots of things hurting a little.

We’ve written a bunch about pain and injury in Ashtanga (and often, so have readers). We all know that no two people have the same definition or understanding of what pain is, of what “good pain” is versus “bad pain,” of whether all pain is inherently bad, or whether Ashtanga should be pain-free.

On Sunday, the experience wasn’t so much one of a single, major moment of pain. It was little hurts and discomforts, lesser than normal but more frequent, more consistent. My hip in this pose, my shoulder in that, and, hey, I don’t remember my shin hurting like that lately.

It was, in a word, distracting.

And because of those constant distractions, my practice was also one of those practices: with tons of dinking and pausing, too much looking around and lack of focus.

We’ve all had those practices, right?

So, question for you: Do you beat yourself up for it?

I suppose I tend to. After all, all I’m asking of myself is 75 to 90 minutes of focus, of controlled breath, of effort. To dink around, and think about this and that, to muddle things, I mean — c’mon on.

As I was going through that process (is there a Five Stages of Ashtanga Remorse?), something Eddie Stern said during the Moksha workshop last night came to mind. He was talking about gurus (and we’ll get more to that in future posts). It went something like this:

The guru relationship isn’t supposed to be easy. (Think about all the stories you ever heard or about your own relationship to your guru). And the yoga practice isn’t, either. Why? Because without challenges, there’s no progress. (For our Blakean readers, I’ll remind you: “Without Contraries is no progression.”) Nothing grows without struggle, without resistance.

My practice on Sunday was full of little challenges, minor resistances. And thus it was full of little opportunities for progress. (I assume that coming to this realization was that progress.)

On a larger front, more significant challenges during our practices — more difficult moments of pain or injury than I experience (on Sunday, anyway) — offer us greater opportunities for progress. And, the contrary, I suppose, is true: Yoga practices that are easy don’t provide the challenges we need, the lessons that help us peel away our self-misperceptions, our lacks of understanding — avidya — that keep us from liberation.

So, I realize (again, or for the millionth time), yoga practice should be hard. That’s the point.

Posted by Steve

Published by


Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

2 thoughts on “The point of pain: Progress”

  1. 16 Ways to Get Unstuck in a Posture | Article by David Garrigues

    1) Muladhara, Root Support

    > Return to your foundation, connect to Prthivi, Mother Earth. Contemplate her as the giver of support nourisher from the roots upwards, the inexhaustible source of abundance.

    2) Heed Krishna’s Advice

    > Adversity is your ally, your grinding stone. Relish in difficulty. Go inward into the battle and fight ardently to eliminate your internal and external obstacles.

    3) Strike the Immovable Spot

    > Stop the body. Eliminate all movement. Your stance: solid, clear, well founded, unwavering, pure earth, immovable,

    4) Throw the Dice

    > Weight the odds, take a chance, calculate and leap, dare to lay your spiritual fire on the line. Seek the unknown, the new – consciously extend your physical, psychological, and spiritual limits.

    5) Be the Tortoise

    > Radically stubborn, infinitely patient, religiously consistent, devotedly persistent.

    6) A Love Supreme

    > Love your posture, even the asana that challenges you most. It is uniquely your own, rare, original, independent, singular, IT.

    7) Bhuta Jaya!

    > Lose your personality. You are fire, air, earth, water, and space. Your asana’s are simply expressions of pure elemental forces.

    8) Eat….

    > better, smarter, less, not at night.

    9) Vayu Siddhi

    > No matter what, breathe. Breathe through struggle and bliss. Let breath live within you in its infinite variety – let it entirely express you now. Repeat this mantra, “whole body breath.”

    10) Like Mahaveer

    > Ever ready to serve the Self, as dynamic, poised, confident, faithful, and humble as that great, loyal, devoted Monkey.

    11) Crouch and ……

    > Anticipate, get ready, strategize, awaken, enjoy the crouch before the spring.

    12) Blaze like 10 Million Moons

    > Arrange your bones, align your skeleton, light up the glorious axis in the middle.

    13) Steps to Nirvana

    > Find the tiny step in the progression that leads to mastery. Drop ego, forget the distant endpoint, work where you are, neither ahead nor behind.

    14) A Shiva half smile.

    > Be like Shiva meditating, sitting like stone utterly silent, still, impenetrable, except for a sly, Mona Lisa half smile across his lips, a hint of irony, a wink, a nonchalant aura of unshakable cool–no matter what.

    15) Indriya Siddhi

    > Continuously watch, listen, feel, taste, and smell internally. Experience your inner world with lucid clarity. Your voice, hands, feet, loins, and bowels are instruments for awareness, and for confining prana inside the body.

    16) Thy Will Not Mine

    > Drop resistance, trust in another source, let go of your will, break apart, loosen, soften, release, receive, become free. Asana vidya comes effortlessly.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s