Is the sensation you’re feeling pain, or is it discomfort?
I ask my yoga students this questions all the time. What’s surprising is that many people have a hard time distinguishing the difference.
My teacher often says, “Pain is red, burning, searing and sharp. Discomfort is brown, dull, pressure.”
According to individual pain tolerance, isn’t sensation really subjective?
If I rate getting a tattoo on a sensitive area of my body as a pain level of two, that same tattoo could feel like a seven to someone else. What I describe as pain could be construed as discomfort to someone else.
This means that in order to move safely through an injury free yoga practice, we need to know our own body well enough to clearly observe an entire range of sensations. It requires the ability to play on the edge of intensity, to see if there’s room to go deeper, with the intelligence to back off and rest when necessary.
The breath is the bridge that connects feeling to thinking, body to mind, so we can develop the ability to make informed choices about sensation. If we want to release a tight muscle, we must go directly into a pose that stretches and opens that muscle and breath into it, not around it.
We need to face life challenges in the same way—dive in directly, mindfully (in alignment with our highest self) and breathe. If we lose sight of our intention or lose our cool, we’re more susceptible to pain or injury. And when something is suddenly out of our control, suffering (and ultimately, healing) can be our greatest teacher.
Regardless of the outcome, there’s a lesson in every pose and in every situation. There’s a story in every layer of tension that we create and absolution in every breath of surrender.
No one knows your body better than you do. Cherish it and know it well.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Beth Scupham/Flickr