The question of pain — perhaps even more precisely, the value of pain — in the Ashtanga practice has been a popular one here. I think our most popular post on the topic was this one: “Why Ashtanga won’t ever be popular.”
David Williams probably is the most famous for promoting a pain-free practice.
Bobbie and I have, for similar but not exactly the same reasons, staked out a position that pain is a necessary aspect to the Ashtanga practice.
Arguments about this idea tend to fall into one of two categories: There are those who affirm or deny that pain is inevitable in the practice, and there are those who want to dissect what someone means by “pain.”
I suppose that latter argument strikes me — to be fairly blunt — as a yogic form of Sophistry. I don’t think it is that hard to agree on the meaning: It hurts, it is something one wants to avoid, but it is something that, at times, has to be endured or experienced in order to learn. It can be physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological.
I’m not sure why some people seem so averse to acknowledging there is some pain to the Ashtanga practice.
At our recent workshop with Tim Miller, he touched on this idea of pain in the practice. He even pulled out a David Williams impression, briefly, as he noted Williams’ anti-pain position.
Tim’s of a different perspective. But he made it clear that we aren’t talking about the pain of forcing the body during asana practice. It is the “overall intensity of the experience of the practice.” There is some discomfort one has to endure, he said. (Clearly, pushing the body is part of that experience.)
And he contrasted that to a lot of modern, Western yoga, which doesn’t seem to want to do too deep — doesn’t want to polish the mirror or peel back the koshas — for fear of what it might find.
For fear, I think it fair to say, of the pain of experience and self-knowledge.
Posted by Steve