I recently taught a yoga class in a space I hadn't been in for a while due to the restrictions of covid and I had some new to me students. After class we got to talking and several of them shared with me how good they felt and how it didn't hurt.
This led us to continue the discussion that I want to share with you.
I know there are many different styles of yoga, but I truly believe that the intention of yoga is not to cause physical pain. When you are struggling in a pose because you think you should look a certain way or be a certain way then you are not being true to the teachings of yoga. One of the major tenants of yoga is Ahimsa, which translates to mean nonharming. We should be moving through our practice in a way that is nourishing to both our minds and bodies. Now this is not to say that you shouldn't challenge yourself and that your practice may not be difficult or even uncomfortable at times, it will be. There is a difference between being uncomfortable because something is challenging and hard, and something that we shouldn't be doing because it is harmful. Sometimes knowing this difference isn't easy either.
In my blog about Practice over Perfection we discussed this a bit as far as meeting yourself where you are. It applies here too. In order to move with compassion for yourself you need to learn where your boundaries are. You also have to recognize that you are in charge of you. If you go to a yoga class and the instructor asks you to do something that you know in your body isn't right, you don't need permission to change the pose to fit your needs or abilities so that you are able to get out of it what is best for you.
I recognize that when you are first starting out you don't know what is going to hurt or not or how to change a pose to better suits your needs on that particular day. If you are new to yoga and still learning how to connect with your body, move slowly and give yourself the time and space to really feel how a pose or position feels. If it causes pain, come out of it. If the structure of the class allows you to ask for an option do so right then. Otherwise, focus on your breath, rest until they move on to something else and ask the teacher after class how you can make the change next time.
This is where building a relationship with your yoga teacher is so important. Let them get to know you, ask them questions and fill them in on what you are experiencing during class and even after class. It might be something that can be addressed in just a few minutes before or after class or you may want to have a private session so you can work together to find variations of poses that meet your current needs. This will give you the tools and confidence you need to go to a group class with any teacher and know what is best for you to move safely through your practice.
I like to share with students that in my opinion your yoga practice is meant to make you stronger, more flexible, adaptable, more connected in mind, body, and breath. The practice is meant to carry over to other areas of your life when you aren't on the mat. Helping to give you a sense of body awareness so you move through life with ease. You want it to enable you to do the things you love to do as well as the things you need to do in life.