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No pain, no gain in yoga?

Friday, January 22, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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Back stretch w reflection  
No pain, no gain?

We’ve been trained to think this way – to believe that we have to suffer in order to achieve anything of real merit.

We’ve been taught to believe that things that come easily are not worth as much as those things that we struggle for.

We’ve been educated to believe that being busy is a virtue.

Doing less is one of those great ideas that we all love to ignore. Less is more, we say, while we rush about doing more, buying more, selling more, being more.

So it should be no surprise that we bring these beliefs with us when we turn up on our yoga mat

Steadiness and ease

One of the things I've heard most often from the 30 days of yoga tribe is their relief when I wrote to them all reminding them that their commitment to doing yoga every day for 30 days didn’t mean they had to do a full asana practice every day.

There is real benefit in choosing a clear focus and making a commitment to that focus for 30 days. This is the heart of the 30 days of yoga challenge. We have each identified our intention and our focus and we’ve made a commitment to honouring that intention.

But yoga is about the balance between steadiness and ease. In yoga we are invited to move into that space where strength and flexibility co-exist. It takes strength to honour our commitment, but it takes the wisdom of flexibility to know when we should honour it by doing less.

Doing less

If we are inviting balance into our lives through our yoga then we need to be mindful of what we already have a lot of in our lives. Many of us, especially in the West, already have lots of ‘busyness’, lots of striving, and lots of pressure.

For some of us there is a lot of strength and focus and what we are inviting more of, through our yoga, is ease. Sometimes, we pay attention to the truth about our current state and we know that what yoga is inviting us to do is less.

Intentions and sankalpa

After my post about setting an intention last week I received a lovely email from Swami Karma Karuna of the Anahata Retreat, a Satyananda yoga centre in New Zealand. She felt that my explanation of sankalpa was a little bit casual and kindly shared some great quotes about sankalpa from the teachers of her tradition.

Swami Satyananda taught that sankapla must be very precise and clear and repeated over a long period of time in order to reach the deeper layers of the mind where it can have a real affect. Repetition over a 30 day sadhana might only be the beginning of your work with a sankalpa.

In his book Yoga Nidra, Swami Satyananda says:

"You must choose your sankapla very carefully. The wording should be precise and clear, otherwise it will not penetrate the subconscious mind."

He also says:

"Use only one sankapla according to your needs and inclinations. Do not be in a hurry. Once you have chosen a sankalpa, you must not change it for another. Don't expect results overnight. Time is required depending on the nature of the resolve and the degree to which it is planted in the mind."

No ‘shoulds’, no rush

So yoga invites you to take a break from any pressure you may feel to do the practice that you think you ‘should’ be doing. As long as you remain true to the intention you have chosen, you are honouring your commitment. Some days that may mean a full asana practice, some days it might mean a long savasana.

There is also no rush. Take your time. In my experience the deep changes that come with a committed regular yoga practice come slowly, over time. There is nowhere to be, there is no deadline to get there.


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6 Responses to "No pain, no gain in yoga?"

  1. elizabeth says:

    This is interesting to think about. i didn’t realize it until I was reading your post, but my intention for the 30 days is something that I really want to learn. And the savasana and yin yoga – which is what I’ve done pretty much every day – helps with quality that I really need in my life (stillness, as it happens). It sounds like I should keep the intention in focus until I really learn it, rather than abandoning it at the end of the 30 days.
    I really enjoyed this post. Thank you.

  2. Ahhh…again, Marianne, this came right on time. I’ve been really struggling with the instinct to make things happen, when in fact everything around me, including my own inner voice, says to be still. Today it finally sank in, and then I read this. =) Lovely. Thanks, friend.

  3. Swirly says:

    This is very helpful. All day yesterday I kept thinking, “I have to do my routine!” and then finally let it go, deciding to give my body a rest (but feeling like that decision was justifying laziness). But I think I am beginning to understand that 30 days isn’t about doing yoga for 30 days straight, but about maintaining a commitment to it for those 30 days, which might mean I take a break once in a while. And today – I feel ready for a bigger class, so I’ll be going to YW. Thank you for this!

  4. I’ve been doing less for two and a half years now. I’ve been feeling less stressed for about two and a half years as well. Cooking dinner under pressure is a pain. Having time to walk to the store, carefully choose ingredients and properly preparing them is a pleasure. Lovely post Marianne.

  5. Anton says:

    I shared your website with a devotee the other night in a peaceful temple where i meditate, your words of wisdom bring so much peace and calm to our everyday lives.
    We were discussing Happiness in life, people view happiness in various ways through calm and understanding of Life. Your practice in combination with meditation gives me inner peace of mind everyday.
    I don’t know what it is but there is a sense of good energy flowing through here, all i can say is my prayers are being answered slowly one wish at a time.

  6. leoniewise says:

    nic and i have just back into a bikram yoga practise and were going great guns (4-5 times per week) before christmas. then, i don’t know what happened…. even though i *know* that i feel great after going and my body loves me for it, i was dreading classes; coming up with excuses to not go, or secretly sabotaging us both by just not mentioning the time when it was time to head to class. i couldn’t (and still haven’t managed to) figure out why it was that i am resisting something that i love so much & is SO good for me!
    yesterday, after reading this and learning a little about sankalpa, i decided to set an intention for myself for the class as i was lying in savasana beforehand. my intention was to have a joy-full class and, even though it was really difficult (i was in the front row of a packed class and was really really hot and could have happily stopped halfway through the 90 minute class), i kept going and had the best class i’ve had since before xmas.
    thanks for sharing your yoga journey here, it is inspiring to keep going with my own practise.

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