Difficult Asanas and Working Through Pain

[QUOTE=reaswaran;44947]Yoga is a tool for the yuk (union) of the jivatman with the paramatman. This also implies that success in yoga means Viyog (separation (of identification) of the mind from the body).

With this backround, all asanas , however, difficult they are, provide us with the opportunity of getting into the asana and then concentrating on your mantra (or breath etc) thus enabling the mind to ignore the body’s protests. Needless to add this requires a high degree of accomplishment in the asanas. But it is very much possible to comfortable in the most difficult asanas. one is established in the asana only when there is true skill -and true skill implies lack of effort.


I took this quote from another thread because I’d like to see some other opinions on these issues. First of all, I think that getting into a difficult posture in order to give your mind an opportunity to ignore your body’s protests is not a very good idea. It’s a good way to hurt yourself. I think that a better approach is to become finely tuned to what our bodies are telling us. If your body is protesting a posture, you should probably be doing something else, like something to prepare yourself to do the things you are not yet ready to do.

Personally, my practice is basic, and I have a hard enough time trying to do that with any kind of regularity. I use asanas to help me focus and clear my head, sometimes as preparation for meditation, sometimes as preparation for work, or just to relax. I don’t really see much of a need to get into more advanced poses, and I wonder what is the motivation for people who do advanced poses?

So I guess my question is twofold:
[li]What advanced or difficult poses do you do and why do you do them?
[/li][li]What is your practice regarding working through pain?

I have been practicing yoga for many years now. I can do some difficult or advanced poses but, in the beginning I never even thought about doing them. I never really tried to get into poses that I didn’t think I could do for a long time. Eventually I felt stronger and I tried them and eventually they work out.
I think it important to do poses that you enjoy doing. The harder poses will happen eventually. Truly some poses may never happen for you either. For example, I can do a full splits (king of the monkeys) but I many deep backbends are difficult for me. That is fine by me. I will advance in my own time or I will not.
The thing is, when I let go of the outcome of my practice, that is when things really started to happen. Just keep showing up to the mat. That is what my teacher always would say.

I wonder Asuri, if you’ve colored Reaswaran’s comments with your own bend. There was no mention of pain in the quoted text and yet that is one of your two primary questions.

Our “protest” can take on many natures. For example one form of protest is our block(s) to practice daily - as you mention. That is not painful in the musculo-skeletal system (at least not in the moment) thought it surely leads to suffering.

I personally differentiate between pain and discomfort and at the same time there are different sorts of pain which require different sorts of approaches. One of those approaches is to move beyond it, whether “beyond” it means a second or an hour is another issue entirely. Another approach is to not do any harm. Ahhh but when are we doing harm and when are we simply allowing ourselves to be bound by small thinking? That is the question.

Again from the personal perspective, I don’t bother categorizing my asana practice in terms of advanced or rudimentary, beginner, or expert. Each pose should provide me an opportunity to know myself, an opportunity to go within, and opportunity for self-exploration, discovery, and living of my dharma, an opportunity to move light into the cells of my being. This can be Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana or it can be Tadasana.

Asana is only the bait, a bread crumb trail to a much larger clearing.

I was a runner, swimmer, cyclist, and weight trainer for the better part of twenty years, so I know about moving beyond pain. I also know about different types of pain and the consequences of ignoring the wrong kinds of pain. But you are correct, Reaswaran did not use the word pain, he used the word protest.

thus enabling the mind to ignore the body’s protests

But please note that he also used the word ignore. What you have described is far from ignoring. You recognize what is occurring, and are able to differentiate not only between pain and discomfort, but between different sorts of pain. Doing so, you are able to respond appropriately, whether that means continuing to press on or stopping altogether.

In my view, ignoring the body’s protests is, well…ignorance.

Perhaps just a poor choice of words on the OP’s part.
Often, it seems, the concept of not being attached is misinterpreted (or misstated) as being DEtached. Perhaps this is a similar occurrence?

Indifference doesn’t seem to be a synonym with ignoring.

I think we may have issues with semantics or translation of sanskrit words into English ,often English is not sophisticated enough to have direct translations of sanskrit words , sanskrit addresses us with more profundity if you like.
I have found my body protesting in postures over the years , and still do ,if i sit in dandasana for ten minutes it can be extremely challenging , I have never injured myself or pushed too hard its actually usually my mind that rebels first ,it seeks all sorts of reasons to avoid perceived discomfort , the body is ready to go but the mind is lazy or having aversion or attraction . If I had avoided the protestation of the body I feel I would have missed out on some wonderful side effects and , good health in body if not mind , I would not have sat through hours of meditation and pranayama when I wasnt overly clear as to why I might be doing this thing , on most days I can now sit without this discomfort which is a joy.
I feel grateful that I have practised in systems / schools that have at time gently challenged my perceptions of what is possible at other times I have been fiercely challenged its all be fine .
Im not sure what advanced postures you might refer too , one of my main teachers has said that tadasana is the most advanced , or it might of been savasana , either way one of them . So called advanced postures will inform the important asanas for example my experience of tadasana will be completely different at the beginning of a practise session as to my experience of tadasana after a session of deep backbendings , New understanding and intelligence can come . Often the more so called advanced postures are practised in the spirit of play and joyfullness why hold back if something can be expressed ?
I dont like the expression of working through pain , it seemed to be popular in the ashtanga vinyasa system a few years back , perhaps working with perceived discomfort or stretch might suit me better , working with minfulness seeing its changing nature and not overely focussing on it grasping to it , not seeing the whole picture .
Im sure lots of therapuetic disciplines involve some discomfort talking and physical therapies , I have never found it helpful to avoid this , sometimes I like a deep massage at other times cranial sacral therapy is more profond , depends where im at , we can all approach the practises according to our nature temprament and where we are in our lives .
I have a couple of friends who wont do yoga because "it hurts "they dont mind a bit of step or running on the treadmill once or twice a year, That would hurt me , both of them are finding that their bodies are rebelling , backs and knees are often giving pain , weight is being gained not helping back and knees , it is actually quite painful watching them avoiding the pain that yoga or some other holistic exercise might bring them because ironically they are often in pain and it isnt getting better.

Thanks for sharing, yogisamantha. I appreciate your input. Just keep showing up to the mat - that’s good advice.

[QUOTE=InnerAthlete;45040]Perhaps just a poor choice of words on the OP’s part.
Often, it seems, the concept of not being attached is misinterpreted (or misstated) as being DEtached. Perhaps this is a similar occurrence?

Indifference doesn’t seem to be a synonym with ignoring.[/QUOTE]

Yes, it occurred to me too that maybe ignoring was just an unfortunate choice of words. And yes, indifference to pleasure or pain is not the same as ignoring it.

@Charlie Dharma

As I said I’m no stranger to working through a little discomfort, and I’m not really advocating complete avoidance of discomfort while doing yoga. It’s obviously hard to make any progress if you don’t push yourself a little. But I keep getting this image in my mind of BKS Iyengar. I remember reading somewhere that he said he couldn’t stand up straight for years, and urinated blood. That’s farther than I want to go.

I just don’t quite agree with the whole premise of the original post.

This also implies that success in yoga means Viyog (separation (of identification) of the mind from the body).

This again could be a question of semantics, but if you read Patanjali carefully, that’s not what the sutra says. Success in yoga means no longer identifying the [I]self[/I] (atman, spirit, or soul) with the modifications of the mind. The sutra doesn’t really say anything about separation (of identification) of the mind from body. So if the premise is wrong, any practice that is based on it is also likely to be wrong.

Ive not heard that about BKS Iyengar , although I have heard stories of him pushing himself and causing pain and injury in his body, making mistakes as he was in a way entering unknown territory in the field of asana , in an effort to understand ,I believe he was a true explorer , also of course of his guru forcing him to do hanumanasana when he had not done this before , he certainly injured himself then , the guru was then of course to be obeyed . I beleive he was quoted as saying that when his guru (brother in law ) agreed to teach him it was that day that the misery started.
I would hope that nobody nowadays passes blood in their urine , although ive seen a few people pushing the asana thats resulted in busted knees and damaged backs , mostly through a complete disregard of sensible alignment and general ignorance, hence I suspect the rise of yin yoga as all those that damaged themselves need to heal the body many of course dont practise yoga anymore. As so far we all seem to agree, Kindly awareness is of paramount importance .
Am I this body ? now there is a question !

Just my $0.02

I was reading about David Williams on his website and his message is clear; “If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong” His message is to do what feels good and focus on the inner, invisible parts, the breathe and bandha.

From my experience, I can have some really pleasurable experiences by observing that mantra, you get to a point which is pleasurable and breath and observe it. Ahimsa.

For instance with me, cow face pose is difficult, so I don’t try to injure myself to reach the text book version, I just breath and open up…correct form in yoga IMO is paramount, after all we’re not competing with anyone, it’s an inner peaceful journey.

I think the advanced poses will come naturally when you’ve done enough groundwork, and when you’ve got enough heat in the body from the sun salutes. I don’t do advanced poses, but have done in my mid 20’s - gradually working my way back there…


Interesting that you should say, we’re not competing with anyone. After all, it’s sort of a natural inclination for some to try to be the best at what they do. Ostensibly there’s no competition, but I suspect that a lot of the people who do the more advanced stuff are out to show that they are the best, and to gain the recognition that comes along with it. But I really have nothing to base that opinion on, and here’s really nothing wrong with that, except that practicing yoga isn’t supposed to be about building up your ego.

I was looking at the Ashtanga.info site, and I think the names of the series are an indication of what the motivations are supposed to be.[ol]
[li]Primary Series - Yoga Chikitsa- yoga for health[/li][li]Intermediate - Nadi Shodana - cleansing of the nervous system[/li][li]Advanced - Sthira Bhaga - sublime serenity[/li][/ol]

That’s all we really want, right?

To be the best at what you do, you could also take motivation from the person you’re competing with is yourself, maybe? Competing with myself to feel the most love, joy, compassion and realization, oh and flexibility.

Like you say, maybe there are people into gaining recognition for looking good, or walking the walk, talking the talk. To me that’s neither here nor there.

Sublime serenity sounds good to me. I felt kind of like that earlier, after taking three yoga classes today :stuck_out_tongue: I’ll take sublime serenity, over looking good in an advanced yoga pose any day.


Asuri it is interesting that you seem to be encoraging people to plunge into pranayama
on thier own , without guidance of a teacher , yet to somehow , not be so encouraging of
somebody perhaps plunging to a deeper expression of asana. "Just go ahead and do it "
i think was the advice in the pranayama thread ,or words to that effect.
In my experience pranayama is a lot more challenging and problematic than asana , a pulled muscle can repair itself a damaged nervous systen can be beyond repair, and effect the brain and the phsyche in damaging ways . I do acknowledge your caution and the fact that you practise the safer pranyams for yourself , and no personal criticism is meant by this observation .
Pranayama is an incredibly sharp tool and to be treated with great respect , BkS Iyengars teacher would not teach him pranayama even when he had a externally strong practice . Of course BKS Iyengar Just went ahead and did it anyway , from my understanding of what he has shared.
I have heard second hand that one of the most advanced ashtanga vinyasa teachers if we can use that definition , said that the primary series was for householders , the secondary series for teachers , and the third for showing off. I guess that this could come from from a time when yoga was not popular ,( hatha yoga ) and demonstrations were given to attract people to the art , science and philosophy of yoga , so fancy postures , might do the job , watching someone for thirty minutes in a sublime tadasana might not have been so effective.

no personal criticism is meant by this observation

Of course not. I don’t mean to discourage anyone from doing advanced yoga. Anyone who is inclined to do so would not listen to me anyway. My original question was about the motivation for doing so. There could be many, some pure and others not so pure. Personally I’m not experiencing advanced states of Samadhi, so maybe there is a reason to press on, or maybe there would be a reason if I had the time and inclination.

Different teachers have different philosophies about pranayama. Ashtanga teaches Ujayi from the start. Not only do thy teach it, they integrate it into the asana. I think the dangers of damaging your nervous system from Ujayi or alternate nostril breathing are pretty slim, and would have no problem recommending them to a beginner, if I were a teacher. Beyond that, there are only two others that I practice, and would not recommend for anyone else to do anything different.

You are right of course about different teachers/ schools/ gurus having different philosophies around pranayama , although nearly all caution on pranayama , some start relatively soon , others when one has some mastery of asana . Most would say to practise under guidance of a teacher for example , so at least one can refer to said teacher when issues arise , as they do.
In the ashtanga vinyasa system im not sure ujayi breath as practised whist jumping around is pranayama or even classed as such , yes it is given in first lesson . I beleive in the old days , pranayama was taught relatively early on in the system by pathabi jois ,
presumably he had few students so he could oversee such teaching. I also beleive again from hearsay that the asana sequences were alot more challenging , ie counts were longer and one would practise more than one series in a day.This was of course in India
of the 60’s / 70.s with people who had to concentrate on nothing but yoga , and perhaps kick back after with a few chillums .(the last bit is my fantasy of this time in India by the way.)
but I have heard / read that now one needs to be advanced practitioner of first series
or in other places that one has to be competent in second series before Pranayama is taught in that system . These "rules " teachings change as i guess society changes and as people change nothing is too fixed , and there may be elements of making it up as we go along .

om shanti

@rechaka Three classes in one day? You are super yogi. Were they similar classes or different somehow. Why do three classes in one day? Do you do that often or was this a one-time thing?

I agree with yogisamantha that you do what you can and as your body gets stronger and more flexible, you can try something more challenging. When I first started, lotus pose was impossible, but now I can get into lotus pose (though not for meditation!) I think that advanced poses are there to continue to make things interesting in your practice.

Also different bodies are more comfortable in different asanas, which is why I believe yoga has so many various poses. My husband can easily do crow, but has a difficult time with any shoulder stretch or monkey pose. I am the complete opposite.


You don’t have to take my word for it. Check out this page. I consider this to be an authoritative site. He mentions Ujjayi before you even get to the asana page. Or, check out this video of an awesome ashtanga teacher. She also mentions Ujjayi very early on. I’ve never gone to any of their classes or formally trained in their system, so all I know is what I’ve read and heard, and practiced. And for what it’s worth, in my opinion the hype about people injuring themselves with pranayama is very much overblown.

Asuri , as I said in the above post Ujayi breath is given in the first lesson in ashtanga vinyasa system , so i concur with you on this . I have back in the 90s practised much Ashtanga vinyasa with senior teachers in this system , as the man says breath , bandha , drishti . I still occasionally practise with one of the few authorised teachers in this country.
But ujayi in this way as far as i understand it is not in itself pranayama . In the ashtanga vinyasa system pranayama is , according to Patthabis grandson ( he said this recently in a workshop in London ) to be taken up after becoming proficient in second series , as I say it was not always this way .
om shanti