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Identifying Bad Pain and When to Exit a Pose

Updated: Jul 20, 2022

Throughout this article I will use yin yoga as a lens to dissect physical rehabilitation; however, the concepts covered apply to all styles of yoga and/or exercise. Let’s start with a basic definition of yin yoga:

Yin yoga is a style of yoga that differentiates from other yang styles such as Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa, and Hot Yoga by targeting the connective tissue instead of muscular tissue. Yin Yoga uses long, passive holds between three to five minutes to facilitate the stretching of ligaments (bone-bone connection), tendons (bone-muscle connection), and fascia (sheath to attach, encapsulate, and separate muscle, bone, and internal organs).

The practice of yin yoga guides you to your edge: a physical/mental/emotional space where you experience enough discomfort to feel challenged, but also enough comfort to withstand the length of the pose. There is no specific shape ubiquitous across all people and practitioners that is the edge. Instead, the edge is a subjective experience unique to each and every individual. Identifying your edge requires some body intelligence: the ability to recognize good pain and bad pain.

Bad pain may result in injury and unfortunately is often only recognized after having already experience some form of injury before. Common sensations associated with bad pain include sharp, shooting, stabbing, stinging, and localized pain. In contrast, common sensations associated with good pain include a dull throb or ache over a broad range.

Another useful indicator is the breath. If you are struggling to breathe; your breath is ragged; or you are holding your breath, this is an indicator that you may have gone too far. Before exiting the pose all together, attempt to neutralize the breath first. If this is not possible, proceed by backing out of the posture slowly while retaining awareness of the breath. You may be able to find a new, more manageable, edge without having to exit the posture entirely. If neither of those options are acceptable and you still feel bad pain or are struggling to breathe, exit the posture.

Your body is an accumulation of your experiences and changes from day to day. A posture that was accessible to you today may not be tomorrow; likewise, a posture that was inaccessible to you today may be accessible tomorrow. Do not be afraid to try again. Move slowly and stay aware of your breath.

- Nicole Berns


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