Pain is the four letter word of the yoga world. It strikes fear in students. It has gotten many a blogger and Ashtanga teacher in hot water. Many yoga teachers have made a fortune by the promise of a painless practice. Even with all this, no one can deny that pain is an extraordinary teacher and a catalyst for achievement. When you think of any inspirational story, heart wrenching movie, or epic tale, there is always an element of pain. Gandhi, Martin Luther King and BKS Iyengar used their pain to change the world. When I think about all the teachers who have inspired me and given me the most knowledge, they all experienced great leaps of wisdom and knowledge through their personal experiences of pain.
In addition to being a catalyst for transformation and growth, pain also forces us to preserve our bodies which are the vehicles we use to perceive this world.
What is pain? Pain is a protective mechanism. Right now, you would not have the necessary intelligence to preserve yourself if there was no pain in your body. Wherever there is no pain in your body, look what you have done. Your hair, for example, how could you cut it into different shapes and sizes? Only because there is no pain. Suppose there was no pain in your nose, in the name of fashion, how many ways would you have cut it by now? Wherever there is a little bit of pain in your body, you put a few holes in it, but if there was no pain at all, you would cut your body into ribbons. If you were walking on the street and a bicycle came towards you, you would step back, not out of humility, but because you know the consequence of pain.
So, pain is good for you. Pain is a natural process, but suffering is not a natural process.-Sadhguru
What should be the yogi’s attitude towards pain? The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:16 says that, “pain, which has not come, should be avoided”. It also warns against dvesha or aversion. This seems like a contradiction but it is not. It is simply saying that we should not go searching for pain, but we should not let the fear of pain keep us from living a full and involved life. We should not let the fear of pain keep us from taking risks in our yoga practice. Pain is part of the human experience. If it wasn’t, it would not manifest. It lets us know when something is wrong and needs to change. Pain lets us know when there is a rift between where we are and where we need to be. It lets us know when we are not in alignment with consciousness and have stepped into a space that blocks the receiving of well being. It lets us know when we are headed in the right direction in our yoga practice and when our technique is correct. Though pain is not something to be cultivated, It is not something to be afraid of. It is something to be used to change our actions, the world and to rediscover our true being.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.