No Pain No Gain? … REALLY?
Why NO Pain Means MORE Gain:
On Playing The EDGE of Pain, Fear & Resistance
As a brand new or highly experienced practitioner of Yoga, issues of what to do about and how to work with various sensations — mild to intense or unfamiliar sensations, different levels of discomfort, and gradients of pain — are crucial to the process.
[su_spoiler title=”CLICK HERE for Summary of The Edge, stays on this page” style=”fancy”] Playing the Edge is about exploring and working dynamically within our Limits of Pain, Fear & Resistance. We can do this in yoga, exercise, or in hands-on bodywork therapy. (In bodywork, the Client maintains verbal control over how deep the therapist works.) … The Goldilocks Principle: At any moment, we are either Too Deep, Not Deep Enough, or JUST RIGHT! … The Minimum Edge is very first sign of any sensation at all. (Best for beginners and those with injuries and trauma.) … The Maximum Edge is on borderline just before Pain. We go up to but not into pain. Best for “power” yoga, strength building, and aggressive flexibility. … Moderate Edges are gray area in between. … The Edge is NOT about what we can TOLERATE! We should LIKE or be neutral about what we’re feeling, inviting, not fighting the sensation. … Minimum to Moderate Edges — relatively Low Intensity Yoga — trigger the parasympathetic, self-healing nerve system. … In hands-on bodywork we signal our Therapist with the words such as Deeper (pressure not deep enough), Less (pressure is too deep) and Edge (just right!). [/su_spoiler]
Some believe a little pain or discomfort is okay, even necessary. Some believe in all out No Pain, NO Gain. Others avoid pain at all costs. … Some people avoid any significant sensations altogether. (In some people, any “unusual” sensation triggers some level of fear or concern, or even “recirculated” pain that’s not “real.”)
Regardless, as used by many yoga teachers and yoga students as well as bodywork therapists and clients, distinctions on how much sensation is not enough, too much, or just right, (The Goldilocks Equation), or what kinds of sensations are appropriate or not, and what to do about it all, are often imprecise, even vague.
(Some teachers and therapists use a one through ten number system; but, which exact number means Just Right, which number means Too Much? That should be well agreed upon from the start.)
To many people believe the No Pain No Gain philosophy of exercise is the only way to achieve results. Well, that might be true some things (like maybe pro football), but not all.
However, there are some very simple but powerful perspectives available to manage this process and, as much as possible, keep people out of trouble. In fact, one could say that working with one’s edges of sensation is one of, if not THE, primary and most important focal points of effective physical/mental yoga.
Discovering Optimum Intensity & Depth
This is especially important for people who are new to yoga (or yoga-based bodywork), as they often get hurt or dislike the experience enough to not go back to a given class, teacher or therapist, or any class matter. … One never hears from them again and never knows why.
Regarding such cases, low intensity or Minimum to Moderate Edge yoga tends to activate the parasympathetic nerve system, responsible for stimulating healing & regenerative processes of the body. If HEALTH is more important to you than FITNESS, staying in the Minimum to Moderate Edge range is what you’re looking for.
If you’re more into Maximum Fitness such as strength and endurance, and maximum possible flexibility (bend-ability more accurately), then Maximum Edge yoga will be more to your objectives. As long as you don’t get injured.
Even here, it is doubtful the No Pain No Gain philosophy is necessary. We will below discuss the “pain versus intensity” issue.
You can, of course, move back and forth between both ends of the spectrum.
For Certain Purposes, Too Much Intensity
I’ve had many yoga students or bodywork clients that had been suffering from pains that had started in a yoga or exercise class, or even a therapeutic bodywork session, many years prior. They had to quit (or at least thought they did) because of pain or dysfunction or a sensation that scared them.
Or they would not return to a particular bodyworker because the manual pressure, or the stretching therapy, hurt worse than the condition being treated. … Or a student or client felt not much pressure or nothing at all.
Yet a VERY Key Factor in both postural yoga, yoga therapy, and hands-on bodywork is how much intensity the Client is experiencing. Too much and the Client cannot feel, let-go-of, relax & lengthen their soft tissues. Excessive intensity or intrusiveness triggers many negative reactions.
Not enough pressure and nothing much happens at all. (Yes, there are some “subtle energy” techniques that appear to be effective. But that’s a different conversation for another time.)
Teachers, Coaches and Therapists who insist on the Client “pushing through” pain and resistance — No Pain No Gain — are operating on a more primitive model of how the human bodymind works. The results are similarly questionable.
The point is, how much education on The Edge do most teachers, coach, trainers, or therapists really give their students or clients prior to engaging in their various disciplines? In many cases, very little or none at all.
Most Of This Trouble Is Unnecessary
Many years ago, Joel Kramer, my primary yoga teacher, taught the concept of Playing The Edge of Pain and Fear. He went into great depth discussing and explaining just what he meant by The Edge, in both the physical and mental realms.
And while edges are by their very nature difficult to pin down, Joel’s descriptions were far clearer and useful than most of what I’ve heard or read from most other teachers on how to recognize and deal with such sensations or perceptions.
For Joel, the main objective was to get as close to The Edge as possible without touching or going beyond it. This, what we call the Maximum Edge, is where the greatest intensity of sensation and energy exists, with the least cost.
As one sinks into a yoga posture, the increasing intensity of sensation of the edge draws one’s attention to the area(s) of the body being self-examined through the posture (or hands-on pressure in a bodywork session). In this way, you get interested, engaged & involved in the sensations, even intimately involved, which naturally draw your attention to the area, rather than exerting or forcing attention via willpower.
(Willpower, by definition, narrows your range of perception in time and space, rather than widening your perspective, as in meditation. Willpower is not wrong, it’s just very different. The trick is to experience them both and apply them as relevant to current conditions, interests, or objectives.)
The energy of this focused attention can, in and of itself, bring about tremendous releases of physical and mental tension and stress in the bodymind. This is, in part, because the very act of directing attention is an actual activation of certain nerve pathways producing sensory/feedback responses that can, all other things being equal, reduce tensions and stresses in the body.
This is part of the neurology of the body, not an esoteric phenomenon.
Pain and Fear, from a practical point of view, can be defined
as Anything You Don’t Like; or are not totally neutral about.
This Is NOT About What You Can Tolerate
The object of treating The Edge this way is to prevent any sub- or unconscious reactivity or neuromuscular reflexes from sabotaging your practice. Or if you are therapeutically challenged, or injured, and receiving therapy, the edge can be even MORE useful, even critical, here.
Such negative results from going over the edge can show up as pulled or sprained muscles, loss of energy or interest, pinched nerves, the *I Hate Therapy* (or Yoga) Syndrome, increased pain, or exacerbation of pre-existing or hidden symptoms, and so on.
Pain, Fear & RESISTANCE
In addition to pain and fear, and after many hours of performing one-on-one therapy with Clients, it finally dawned on me that there were many things going on in body that the Client did not perceive, sometimes at all. Something was going on, but it was not registering as pain, as fear, or anything else for that matter.
Yet I would run into “tight spots” or more rigid areas the Client could not feel, and had no sense of pain or fear. That’s what led me to add “resistance” to the mix. So it became playing the edge of pain, fear & resistance.
(To be fair, Joel might have used that distinction as well, however my notes from his program were lost long ago, unfortunately. But for me, there was distinct “revelation” of how it worked in doing both yoga and bodywork therapy.)
When I ran into resistance the Client could not immediately feel, my job was/is to work with the texture of the tissue, stimulating the nerves such that they could begin perceiving something “new” in the area. Just bringing their attention to the area usually opens a doorway of some sort.
Maybe, at first, they’ll just feel that the tissue does not give much. Or they can feel that I’m pressing harder but nothing else is going on. The challenge, then, is for them to begin to perceive such resistance even though there’s no other sensation involved.
Soon, however, either they do feel more sensation that had been blocked, or the area relaxes, the resistance goes down, and we can move deeper or onto other areas of their body.
What To Look For In Practice
In the beginning of learning to practice yoga, some questions to consistently monitor are:
- Am I Too Deep into the posture?
- Am I Not Deep enough?
- Or Am I Just Right?
- Do I WANT to be here?
- Or am I just tolerating it?
- Am I being Honest with myself about all this?
- Do I even FEEL what’s really going on in there?
(Again, it’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, some porridge is too hot, some is too cold, some is Just Right. … And some people are too desensitized, or even in denial, to know what’s really going on with them.)
If you focus on these “edge” sensations, on your interpretations and your reactions/responses, sufficiently in the early stages of learning to practice yoga, your bodymind will learn to monitor, perceive, and respond more effectively & efficiently to your physical, mental & emotional edges; maybe even your spiritual edges.
Joel Kramer once defined spiritual as the breaking down of boundaries between entities. … By that definition, even an atheist can be “spiritual”!
As you become more sensitive and responsive, you will spontaneously move in or back out of the postures as your edges move in or out.
Subjectively speaking, the main difference between Spontaneous and Automatic action is that in spontaneity, YOU run the action. When you’re on automatic, the Action Runs You.
One of the things Yoga is, is going OFF of automatic toward consciously spontaneous action. (~Joel Kramer)
Pain & Fear versus Intensity of Sensation
Here we have an important distinction, that between pain/fear and intensity of sensation:
A paper cut can be painful but not very intense. An orgasm should be (hopefully!) very intense, but not (hopefully!) painful.
Both Pain and Intensity are useful. They are sources of information, telling us something about the body. Yet very often, we discover that what we once thought was a pain, actually was an intense sensation. Other times, the reverse is true.
Pain is a highly subjective experience, although it might not feel like it at the time!
Pain is actually useful as it warns us of many limitations or impending or actually occurring damage to our bodymind system. But pain, unless correctly understood and worked with, can put up barriers — or resistance — to sensation, experience, movement, and action.
Problem is, no one can actually tell us in a tangible way, precisely, the difference between a pain and an intense sensation. Such things we must discover for ourselves, although guidance from those who are intimately familiar with such feelings can be helpful guides in the process.
One clue helping you know the difference is when you are naturally drawn into the experience; there is little or no distinction in your mind between you and your sensations, no resistance to sinking deeper into the stretch. You want to be there — without forcing yourself to do so. You are interested in and entranced by what you’re feeling
You are inviting the sensations, not fighting the sensations.
After playing with mental and physical edges this way for a while, many people soon realize they had NO IDEA where they actually were on the scale of intensity, pain, or willpower, or what their sensations were actually telling them. It took quite a bit of focused, introspective energy and time — and self-restraint if they were used to going very deeply into a stretch — to get clear about it.
Meditation versus Willpower
When your attention is naturally drawn in, it moves you spontaneously toward a mindful, meditative state, rather than having to willfully concentrate your willpower. Your body will move spontaneously in and out of the posture as your edges move in and out.
Willpower is always time-oriented (attempting to make something different in the future, even if only a split-second into the future) and therefore thought-based. (Time exists in past-future experiences of thought.)
Willpower, therefore, removes you, to varying degrees, from an actual meditative, non-linear moment into the thinking, linear mind.
Joel Kramer, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and other “Masters” have often said you cannot achieve meditative mind through its opposites, which are concentration and willpower. They are, at least at one level, diametrically opposed, taking you in opposite directions.
(That assertion flies in the face of some classical yogic teachings stating that concentration is a stepping stone to meditation, but that’s a whole other article for another time.)
Since much of our tension, stress & trauma is rooted in the past and held in place by our psycho-physical processes (which always operate in-the-present-moment * ), increased thought-based activity — such as willpower or visualization — tends to recycle our past trauma, stress & tension. So in many cases, if we use our thinking mind to attempt to dissolve our tensions, we actually achieve the opposite.
* This is why teachers like Joel Kramer and J. Krishnamurti say it’s not the past giving meaning to our present, but the present giving meaning to our past.
We THINK, and even FEEL, as if our past controls us. Yet it is the opposite.
So while it feels, sounds, and appears as if past “stuff” is causing our problems or challenges (because we are distracted by the content of thought), in reality, we are recycling the past in the present moment with our minds and bodies.
Our inner processes, the very structure of thought and memory, operating RIGHT NOW, in the PRESENT MOMENT, are recirculating the Old Stuff over and over again.
This is one reason why one approach to meditation is not to focus on content of thought (although the content might indeed be there), but to use the content to observe the very structure and flow of thought. Discovering how thought works in the instant moment leads to some profound changes in the way one’s thought works, and the way we relate to the content.
While there is indeed an important place for thought-based therapeutic activities, it’s necessary to know the difference between the various approaches and what they work best for. Ken Wilber’s Spectrum of Consciousness was a ground-breaking book addressing that very topic.
In any case, working with The Edge Principle in both Mind & Body is one way to integrate meditative, mental yoga with physical yoga or the bodywork experience.
At the same time, people who are traumatized or hyper-sensitized — or the opposite, neurologically DE-sensitized — in many if not most cases need to work with much less intensity of sensation, aggression, and willpower to give them the results they look for.
In either case, too much sensation can deepen trauma or further desensitize an individual. With such people, I’ve found that working with minimum to moderate edges is ideal.
[bctt tweet=”In Yoga, Minimum Edge is where you feel absolute FIRST bit of ANY sensation of resistance what-so-ever.” username=”dslyoga”]
The KEY is Communication
In yoga, the communication is primarily within one’s self, or secondarily with the teacher, if in a class. In therapeutic bodywork sessions, I encourage my Clients to communicate with me as to where they are with their edges AT ALL TIMES. They should never (with a very few, if any, exceptions) be over their Edge.
This very act of communication also helps initiate and enhance mind/body integration.
That’s because, in order to communicate what’s happening, we have to take a look inside ourselves and “see & feel” what’s actually there. Even if that’s only a brief moment of self-observation, it is an in-the-moment moment. So it is, by definition, a meditative moment, regardless how brief.
Yet even brief moments of awareness can produce great breakthroughs because of the Right Angle to Time discussed elsewhere in my writings.
This communication can be between Client and Therapist, between Student and Teacher or Educator, or between the physical and mental aspects of their own selves. Or even between the right and left hemispheres of their very own brain.
Of course, if the teacher or therapist has not closely worked with their own Edges, there are, because of the very high level of subjectivity here, significant limitations on how much help or insight they can bring to their Client’s process.
I’ve had more than a few therapists and teachers tell me they work just like I do. Yet in working with me, their Clients and Students tell me our differences in style & technique are significant.
One bodywork school owner told me he teaches his students about The Edge like I do. Yet in talking and actually working with those same students, they said my concepts of the edge were very different than what the teacher taught them. That does NOT mean he was “wrong,” only that this is NOT an easy topic to easily pin down to objective specifics.
For the VERY Traumatized
For some highly traumatized people, their Minimum Edge IS their Maximum Edge. …
They need the absolute least amount of stimulation possible; almost anything sends them over their Edge. A few unfortunate people seemingly cannot be touched or even do the simplest of Yoga Postures without locking up, spasming or intensifying the already existing pain or dysfunction.
Yet, my experience is that there is always a way in somewhere, somehow, into their bodymind. You just have to have the patience, the analytical skills, and the insight to find it. … Experience is, of course, a big help here. And of course the Client’s willingness to pursue the possibilities.
For the highly desensitized, on the other hand, you sometimes have to start with the question: What does it FEEL like to NOT FEEL? …
Working from that place can take more time, but it must be done to fill in their gaps of lost self-awareness and sensitivity.
Who Are You, Really?
Another way of defining The Edge is to see it as the limits, in that particular moment, of who you really are in all your physical, mental, personal and relational — maybe even spiritual — dimensions.
Going over your Edge could be defined as an attempt to BE something or someone you are not.
Pain (as opposed to intensity of sensation) tends to cause the mind to isolate the part of the body experiencing the pain. If meditation and yoga are about Being Fully Present With “What Is” and Being In The Moment, and re-owning or reintegrating the fragmented elements of the physical & mental Self, then staying well within your Edges until you’ve built a strong sensory/motor, responsive foundation, is a critical component of yogic activity.
Now, how about reading about THE CAUSE of many of the problems, the reasons people look for things like Yoga to help them?
What is it? … Chronic, Excess Muscle & Nerve Tension, or
==> C.E.M.&.N.T. for short. <==
Click on the Link ^^^ Above and Learn More.
Thanks for Reading & Take Care,
David Scott Lynn (DSL*)
*DSL: Your Hi-Touch Up-Link to the Inner-Net
Inner-Net: The Inner Psycho-Neuro-Musculo-Fascial Network.
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