As the old adage goes, no pain no gain, right? This culturally pervasive idea has made its mark on virtually everything – our jobs, our personal lives, and very prominently in the way we treat and move our bodies. If you don’t wake up the morning after an intense workout barely able to move, did it even happen? And if you did wake up feeling the burn from yesterday’s efforts, did it somehow make it more worthwhile?

Photo curtsey of John Suhar

Photo curtsey of John Suhar

I used to believe it did. I spent my childhood and early adulthood playing soccer and running long distances, and I knew what it felt like to work hard and feel it the next day. I enjoyed the feeling of soreness, because it gave me validation and a sense of accomplishment. When I started yoga in 2007 I applied these same beliefs to my practice. The yoga classes I chose had to be sweaty, challenging, and feel like an incredibly intense workout or I had no interest. I also favored poses where I felt excessive stretching and sensation — pigeon, deep backbends, arm binds — you get the picture. I applied the idea of ‘no pain, no gain’ to yoga, and after a few years of practicing this way developed pain and injuries, particularly in my joints. I conceivably pushed past healthy ranges of motion in my joints due to a lack of awareness, understanding, and my own forcible sense of competition. While in hindsight I wish I knew then what I know now, my personal experience has led me to investigate the how’s and why’s of injury, and has set me on a path of uncovering ways to regain joint stability and better overall function of my musculoskeletal system.

One thing to make clear — flexibility is not about being able to touch your toes or bring your head to your foot in a backbend. What many of us regard as images of flexibility are often more akin to contortion and involve expressions of hyper flexibility (pushing past a natural range of motion.) Healthy ranges of motion (ROM) vary between individuals and can be limited based on the shapes and articulation of our bones, as well as by tightness, constriction, or adhesions in the muscles and connective tissue of our bodies. Thus, the very idea of achieving poses or shapes with the body is flawed, because a healthy ROM for one body is not necessarily a healthy ROM for another body. When the body is pushed into a position that requires its joints to move past a healthy ROM, it causes stress in multiple systems of the body (musculoskeletal and nervous system to name a few). The joint stress that is incurred often comes in the form of over-stretching ligaments, whose major function is to stabilize joints. Unlike muscle, which has the ability to stretch and then return to its resting length because of its elasticity and vascularity (meaning it has a rich supply of blood), your ligaments are collagenous and avascular (poor blood supply). Once they are overstretched, they cannot easily return to a length necessary to best support the joints. This is why a sprained joint is so difficult to heal — the ligaments of the joint have become overstretched leaving the joint with a weakened support system. Therefore, instead of focusing on achieving yoga poses, we can work on facilitating a healthy joint range of motion in our joints. This is best by performing diverse and targeted movements, whilst building strength and stability in the body.

The Yoga Tune Up® system is extremely intelligent in uncovering imbalances and injuries in the body, and then providing students the tools to heal them. YTU Therapy Balls act like a magnifying glass — as you roll on different muscles and tissue they highlight, as Jill likes to say, “the issues in their tissues!” YTU therapy balls also offer an increased understanding of where different structures are located in the body, which is an integral part of the practice of self-healing and self-care. Along with therapy ball rolling, Yoga Tune Up employs corrective exercise techniques that are designed to move the body in all different planes and in all different ways. Instead of trying to fit your body into a pose, you get to customize movements and poses to your body. Thus, the focus becomes creating an integrated, stable, supportive system.

Come back on Friday, when I will share my favorite Yoga Tune Up® pose for stabilizing and strengthening the shoulders and core. For now, check out the Quickfix RX: Upper & Lower Body DVD to begin uncovering your body blind spots and treat yourself to a full body massage!

 

Enjoy this article? Read This Joint Is Jumping – Getting Comfortable in an Unstable Body

Learn more about flexibility.

Stream a free Quickfix video!

 

Amanda Winkler

Amanda Winkler, RYT-200, teaches vinyasa yoga and Yoga Tune Up ® in New York City. Through continuous study of movement and the human body, her teaching is strongly based around anatomy and alignment. Amanda aims to teach poses with a purpose, and to inspire her students to play creatively in their own bodies! Follow Amanda at winkyoga.com for more information about her and her classes.

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Ellen S.

Same! When I started practicing yoga in 2003 at the end of college, I was introduced to hot, sweaty vinyasa. It was what I knew and what I felt comfortable seeking. I practiced this for 3 years before starting to feel joint pain during yoga, and sometimes off the mat too. I sought teachers who could explain to me what I was doing that caused me this pain, and ended up with one of the best teachers in NYC who forever changed my practice. I’m grateful that I didn’t push on with the same style of yoga that caused harm… Read more »

Markella

My history with yoga didn’t start with sweaty and intense vinyasa but it did start with a style that is rigid in its alignment focus. While I wasn’t necessarily seeking sensations I was seeking an ideal version of a pose and I think that in itself is what set me down the path towards injury because of the limited, repetitive ways I kept asking my body to move.

David

I’ve had great teachers and instructors in the past that have influenced my teaching in much the same way you’ve shared this information. It’s not about WHAT the pose looks like in the book – it’s about how the corresponding body parts work in your body. My athletic background has me constantly trying to ignore this – and everyday – whether through yoga, or lifting, or any other movement form – I have to remind myself to go by correct feel and engagement rather than try to look like the book. Thanks for sharing.

Patricia

Great blog post! I can definitely relate to this post. I was of the mindset that “more, deeper and harder” were the only way to train as a professional ballerina. When the repetitive stress injuries kept happening in the same areas of my body, I had to take a step back to reevaluate and assess my approach. It is only in the last couple years that I have begun to think critically about movement and the somewhat detrimental mindset of the fitness industry’s “no pain, no gain” motto in cultivating long-term health.

Monica

Love this post, Amanda! So interesting to hear your story from a youthful perspective of pushing the body beyond it’s limits to a wise perspective of listening and respecting your unique body. Your description of society’s warped view of flexibility is so articulate and inspiring. In fact, I wish I had said this exact thing to a student this morning who thanked me for being patient with him when he wasn’t very flexible. Thank you for giving me the tools to help shift the perspective of the next student who feels intimidated by asanas that appear to require extreme range… Read more »

Trevor Gribble

I feel very lucky to have immersed in some very intelligent therapeutic approaches to yoga early in my yoga career so that I didn’t end up traversing too far down the “no pain no gain” pathway. I thought i was “nailing” my arm balances early on in my practice, but in reality I was brute forcing my way through them, putting an insane amount of stress on all the joints from my neck through my fingers. It took about a year for this to show up in the form of severe wrist pain. I was lucky to have many bodyworkers… Read more »

Trevor Gribble

I feel very lucky to have immersed in some very intelligent therapeutic approaches to yoga early in my yoga career so that I didn’t end up traversing too far down the “no pain no gain” pathway. I thought i was “nailing” my arm balances early on in my practice, but in reality I was brute forcing my way through them, putting an insane amount of stress on all the joints from my neck through my fingers. It took about a year for this to show up in the form of severe wrist pain. I was lucky to have many bodyworkers… Read more »

Siewli

Hi Amanda, Thank you for sharing your experience. I was the same way. I took my first yoga tune up class in 2012 or 2013, and you were the teacher in the class. You were a great teacher who really focused on self-care and respecting the body, but the younger me that was seeking an intensity and strong sensations didn’t find self-care interesting. But a couple years later, after a few injuries with a vigorous vinyasa practice, and after completing a yoga teacher training and now being a yoga teacher myself, I realized the importance of understanding the body and… Read more »

Rena

Yes, I understand the feeling.
I grew up in a no gain pain generation. These days though I find myself enjoying quieter longer holds in stretches. I’m going deeper into the philosophy of yoga.
At the same time it’s important to stay in tune with your body and the variety of ways to keep it alive and active.

Heidi Schaul-Yoder

Love your description of flexibility and healthy ranges of motion…and also how the YTU balls can act like a “magnifying glass”! I am hypermobile and also used to seek out strong sensation, and as I study I’m becoming more and more aware of the importance of balancing stability with mobility, and how different that can look one body to the next.

Anna

I think so many people can connect to your story- I certainly can! I was addicted to Ashtanga Yoga and always striving to make my way into the next challenging asana. Injury and pregnancy illuminated a new light for me in my body and in my practice. I tremendously value the message of longevity in YTU. Healthy, strong and proper ROM in the joints.

Jessica Haims

Thank you for being so honest about the “go hard or go home”…I was formerly like this as well and it has led to crippling low back pain. Thanks to YTU my back is on the path to a healthier life and I am focused on finding the stability with in my body. Great job on highlighting the issue that once a joint/ligament is stretched into it is very difficult to go back how it was…meaning once you have stretched into that area the joint won’t have maximal support as it attempts to heal.

Cintia Hongay

The YTU therapy balls work like water dowsing on your body, magically locating tightness and drawing fluidity back. Caution: they feel so good you’ll get hooked!

Chris

I’m forwarding this post to my fitness group right now! At work I’ve finally convinced a pretty regular group of people to join me in workouts, but stretching and self care have been a harder sell. A lot of complaints about soreness for days after have been creeping up, and my pleas for stretching and knowing your limits have been unheeded. You’ve taken so much of what I’ve been trying to say and put it into perfect package. Maybe reading in their own time, from another voice other than mine will do the trick. That and some “magnifying glasses” (therapy… Read more »

Keisha F.

It’s so hard to get people out of the mindset that less is more. I have also been that person that if I wasn’t “really working,” it was completely pointless. I suffered the consequences time and time again until I finally learned the lesson. I love the statement of “customizing movements and poses to your body.” It’s a good reminder to students that we’re not aiming towards a shape, but towards balance.

Jesse Fairbanks

I relentlessly educate my clients that soreness is not the goal to exercise. I have even lost clients, because they felt like they didn’t get what they wanted in class or one on one. Even my co-workers give in to the wants of clients and destroy them and daily basis, but lose sight of there education and better judgement.

Nicole

I feel as though I could have written the article. Coming from a background where failure is not an option, I naturally carried this onto the yoga mat. One of the most important things that yoga has taught me is being mindful, mindful of my body and mind. I am still on my journey and am still struggling with being kind to myself and my body however when I catch glimpses of mindfulness, I am at peace and it feels sensational.

Eileen

I really enjoyed this article. I can certainly relate to being a sensation junky. I learned so much in the training about strength and stability and can’t wait to share this information with my students. There is such a need for the message that it’s not all about how bendy/stretchy we can be. That long term it’s about our bodies holding up and being strong as well.

Sarah

You had my attention right at the beginning of your article when you said: ” I enjoyed the feeling of soreness, because it gave me validation and a sense of accomplishment.” That is me too! In the past, when I have been pressed for time and will only make it to the gym once or twice that week, I would skip my Yoga Tune Up class for something more vigerous that was going to give me that burn. But when I don’t skip it, I always feel so much better and stronger that week over the weeks that I exhaust… Read more »

Catherine Jervis

I’ve often heard that over flexibility leads to instability and can be the cause of pain for individuals but hadn’t understood the biomechanics behind those theory’s until this article. It’s interesting that the over-stretching ligaments actually stabilizes joints and is difficult to reverse.

Alys

I can really identify with this article. Wisdom comes with aging I think. In my younger years my workouts were also defined by intensity and sensation and my quest to have a particular body type. Now, after accidents and the pain I’ve experienced from injury, I just want my body to be able to perform optimally while causing the least amount of damage. Now pain is a message from my body that something isn’t right instead of my former perspective that pain was a badge of accomplishment.

Vanessa Ambroselli

As a former sensation junkie, I am continuing to learn the limits of my body. As you would go for the most intense asana classes, I did the same. It look a few injuries for me to realize that this is not what my body wanted me to do. By finding balance and strength in combination with limiting my flexibility I feel like I am on a road to remove the pain out of my life!

Morgan Macgregor

I think the hardest part of being a recovering sensation and stretch junkie is how much you come to identify with that idea of yourself as the person who can do the splits and go that extra mile in every pose. If you’ve been that person for a long time – the one who creates beautiful shapes with their body with very little regard to long term health – it can be very scary to give up that identity. I’m just starting the process of reigning myself in, strength training, and doing things that are biomechanically safe rather than aesthetically… Read more »

Katie Alba

Total sensation junkie here! Unlearning everything I thought I knew. But grateful I can learn and better way. Great article. Thanks.

Missy

This article resonates so strongly with me. I have a very black-and-white way of thinking about exercise: if it’s not hard-core, then what’s the point. If I don’t leave a class feeling completely exhausted, it was a waste of time. Yoga is teaching me to re-frame my thoughts about exercise and helping me focus on the messages my body is sending. I strained my hamstring in a yoga class a few years ago because I insisted on pushing myself beyond my limits. I decided to ignore the pain and power through the rest of the class. The result was many… Read more »

Crescent Diorio

This is a great reminder for me, but a very important lesson to yogis. I too come from a strong sports background and always wanted to “push my flexibility” during yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga now for a few years and I just recently learned this lesson of balance between strengthening and flexibility, and not pushing past my limits. I think this is very important and not widely discussed during classes. As I finish my 200 hr YTT, I will definitely be sharing this lesson with my classes! Thanks!

Olga

Thank you for sharing. Yoga Tune UpⓇ “uncovered’ some overstretched spots for me. And now i’m on my way to strength/flexibility balance.

Tamar

That is an interesting perspective. I am fascinated that work toward the completed pose with the idea that the journey to it will lead us to heal. Rather we should be working toward health and balance and when we reach that our pose will reveal it.

Stacey Rosenberg

Thank you Amanda for your intelligent post. More people need to be educated about sensation and working toward more flexibility in yoga. I love how the Yoga Tune Up method educates the practitioner to find strength and balance. I have suffered from many injuries in yoga because of imbalances and I am learning to create more stability first. The fancy poses are no longer of importance to me, I am happy to feel great in my body every day and have to tools to get there when I don’t.

Max Bayuk

I can definitely relate about having a “no pain, no gain” attitude from competitive athletics growing up and this initially carrying over into my yoga practice. I’m grateful that some of my first few yoga teachers said things to help me move beyond this attitude, like “yoga is you working with yourself – not comparing yourself to others” and using phrases to tune me into my breathing. Once I learned how to breathe more deeply and rhythmically while performing demanding movements, it became much more difficult to over-exert myself in the ways that I previously did. While it wasn’t an… Read more »

Vincent Farell

Talking about yoga! I find it very interesting since the positions offers great relaxation.