Experiencing Pain without Suffering.

Via Doron Hanoch
on Oct 29, 2014
get elephant's newsletter

Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever been to a yoga class and asked yourself, “What am I doing here? This is so hard. I am dying!”

Or maybe you’ve thought, “Wow, we have been in this pose so long. Did she forget about us? When will this be over?”

When we find ourselves in those kinds of situations, we are turning our pain into suffering.

Pain does not have to lead to suffering.

Hanumanasana—the splits—is not an easy pose for me. When I get into it and stay there for a few minutes, the sensation in my front hamstring is pretty intense. Some may even call it painful. It sure is not a sensation I would invite over to just hang out with.

While I am in my deepest stretch, I take a deep breath and smile.

Wait, why am I smiling when there is an intense sensation in my hamstring?

Well, this intensity, this pain, is what is allowing my legs to stretch, my hamstrings to release and my body to get more flexible and feel better in the long run.

Suffering is only a label.

The sensation is in the body, but it is not good or bad. It’s just a sensation. Once I call it by a name, I also give it a value. Saying it is painful gives it a negative connotation. Once the mind is set in a negative direction, we are on the way to suffering. Then the mind may continue racing, anxiety or impatience may creep in, and the pose will be far more exhausting than it needs to be.

If, on the other hand, I stay present and maybe focus on my breath going in and out or notice the one point my gaze is focused on, then the sensation is there, perhaps just in the background. It has no label.

You can try this yourself the next time you are in a difficult pose. If it is difficult to stay with the breath and the mind keeps jumping in with adjectives of the negative kind, consider counting the breath, and perhaps deepening your exhales.

A basic technique to minimize suffering.

Counting the breath is the basic Zen technique to focus the mind and keep it steady. Simply count: inhale—one, exhale—two, inhale—three, exhale—four. Once you reach ten, start over. If you lose your count, go back to one. It’s that easy.

You can also count your breaths to the duration of time you would like to stay in the pose, maybe twenty slow breaths. This practice helps cultivate dharana—concentration, focus, or one-pointed mind. Dharana is the ability to stay with one thing even if the circumstances are not ideal or joyful.

You may say that simply staying with the sensation of pain is focusing on one thing. Indeed it is, and that is fine too, as long as you are focusing on the sensation and not your interpretation of the sensation. In other words, you may interpret the sensation as good or bad, but the sensation itself is just a feeling.

What to do when the labels keep coming.

It is not easy to notice something and not add our personal story to what we are sensing. We almost automatically label what we receive through our sense organs with an adjective. The moment the adjective is added is the moment we lose touch with the reality of what is actually happening or give the reality a different color.

If you find your mind keeps interfering and starts adding adjectives or telling stories, stir it towards the positive. For example, you may think, “This is such a good stretch. This is exactly what I need. I am so happy I am doing this; I am doing great; stay with it!”

You can try this technique not only with your yoga practice but with anything in life.

Any time you are tempted to suffer by giving a negative label to a challenging experience, remember that feeling pain does not mean you have to suffer.

 

 


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

Author: Doron Hanoch

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

1,068 views

Elephant:Now
...is a new feature on Elephant Journal—enabling you to instantly share your mindful ideas, photos, art, YouTube videos/Instagram links & writings with our 5 million readers. Try it Now.

Write Now

About Doron Hanoch

Doron Hanoch was introduced to yoga and meditation in 1992 while traveling and studying in the Far East for two years. He is an artist, a trained chef, a certified nutrition consultant and a yoga instructor. Doron plays in yoga and explores the mind and all the shades it tends to add to reality. He believes that tradition is a great source of knowledge, but that we should be careful of rigid dogmas. He is an avid thinker, dancer, laugher, meditator, and green smoothie drinker. He dances for no reason and eats healthy without being fanatic. He loves to write and share his discoveries and is the author of “The Flexitarian Method: Practical Tools for Total Health and Happiness.”  Visit Doron on Facebook, on his website and on YouTube. He loves to share free tips, recipes and articles on how to master yoga.

Comments

12 Responses to “Experiencing Pain without Suffering.”

  1. Adrienne says:

    Thanks Doron, I needed this today! Good article. Adrienne

  2. Rachel says:

    So true. Thank you, Doron!

  3. Gil Hanoch says:

    Beautifully written!. This is a great idea that can be applied in many situations throughout life. It can even go beyond physical pain – any type of stress can be reduced or eliminated with the mindset you described. Thank you!

  4. Marta says:

    Good work Doron. I like Gil's commentary too 🙂 It's all in the mind.

  5. Kendyl says:

    Thanks Doron. Really great 🙂

  6. Terry says:

    Thank you, Doron!

  7. hbksloss says:

    Can't say that I'm successful transforming pain/discomfort into feeling positive yet, that is the goal. But even when I'm in pain I always smile in yoga class because I'm grateful to be on my mat and glad to be in a class that 'stretches' me, pun intended!

  8. Dainuri says:

    I learned a lot.

    I am dealing with sciatica and i have found positive affirmations make a huge difference in going thru the discomfort without turning it into suffering. i like to focus on the 4 sweet abodes of the mind: compassion, loving kindness, appreciative joy, and equanimity.

  9. lauren says:

    After a recent tailbone injury that left me unable to do most yoga poses for 2 and 1/2 weeks, I can, without a question, say that not labeling a sensation or looking at the positive over the negative can be challenging and I thank YOU for writing an article about a subject that is not always talked about by most teachers. In fact, I have recognized over a decade of doing yoga that it is so much more beneficial as both a teacher and a student to stay present with each pose and breath because telling myself it will be easier over time is not necessarily true. Some days it will be harder but the intentional act of "feeling" without the story is what brings me back to my mat every single day and what brings me back to teaching every day. Every pose, every breath, every class I take or teach is an opportunity to be grateful for whatever my hamstrings or hips or back decide is right for me in the moment. Thank you again for writing this Doron. I appreciate more than ever the practical, non-dogmatic, and compassionate ways that you both write and teach. It is accessible in all areas of life and truly transformational.

  10. Doron Hanoch says:

    Thank You for your comment. You are absolutely right. Indeed, it is good to learn to be in discomfort sometimes, yet we should absolutely be careful of pain the persists as well as all pain in specific poses such as inversions.. Yes, many people push too much. I was not thinking of them, but rather on those that were too vata – fidgeting – to hold a simple pose for a bit. Mostly because of their mind, less so, because of their true pain. I will add a note about this, as I may have not addressed this correctly.

    Less is many time more – you are right.

    Thank You again for your enlightening comment, much appreciated.

    Love,

    Doron Hanoch http://www.doronstudio.com http://www.doronyoga.com
    I received a comment that gave another look at pain, and I wanted to share the highlights:

    Dear Doron,
    Yes I do agree with you there can be pain without suffering, however your article in my humble opinion does not go deep enough to cover the difference between good and bad pain, or between discomfort and pain, and why so many of us do not understand the difference. Let us say we leave out suffering. And I do agree absolutely with your using the breath and so on. Even so, and if we are fortunate to have completely perfect alignment, it is OK to have discomfort, specially if it eases up after a few moments. Pain that stays is an indication something is wrong, and we need to back off, as well as pain that occurs every time we do a particular pose. At my age, 64 and having practiced Yoga for over 30 years, I have seen and experienced a lot. I am increasingly seeing practioners my age with physical problems that I suspect are due to their yoga practice, particularly hips, too many hip replacements for advanced practioners, shoulders and knees, particularly pain from headstands, handstands is dangerous. I myself learned the hard way, less is sometimes more, better understanding of anatomy, better use and knowledge and practice of breath. Teaching how to breathe, most important.
    Just a comment, much love,
    Sidsel

    My Reply:
    Dear Sidsel,

    Thank You for your comment. You are absolutely right. Indeed, it is good to learn to be in discomfort sometimes, yet we should absolutely be careful of pain the persists as well as all pain in specific poses such as inversions.. Yes, many people push too much. I was not thinking of them, but rather on those that were too vata – fidgeting – to hold a simple pose for a bit. Mostly because of their mind, less so, because of their true pain.

    Less is many time more – you are right.

    Thank You again for your enlightening comment, much appreciated.

    Love,
    Doron

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.