Yoga Should Feel Good

Recently, at a training with my teacher, Manju Jois, someone asked a question about an assist in Padagustasana (this is a forward fold) and its impact or danger to the hamstrings.  Manju said something that was very profound, and something that–as Americans, I think we tend to have a hard time grasping. Basically, Manju said that, “yoga should feel good.”  This is short, but it’s important, and something I thought you would want to hear first hand from him.

Forgive the sound–this was shot with my IPAD from a few feet back, but you can definitely hear his message.

Check out this clip from the training.

In short, Yoga Should Feel Good.

We come from a nation of work harder, push further, go faster people.  When the 4 minute mile was finally broken, that wasn’t good enough. Recently, Elon Musk was quoted as saying you can’t change the world unless you work more than 80 hours a week. (this is a statement that I definitely don’t subscribe to, but it clearly is indicative of the drive that is shared by many in the world today.  We clearly have a strange fascination with pushing the limits or going beyond.

This drive, this idea of seeking perfection at all costs, it’s wonderful when we’re talking about leaps forward in technology, or exploration of our world or galaxy.  Of course, we should always continue to seek improvement in ourselves–but at what cost? Here’s the thing, the cost of our wellbeing, it is far too great a cost to pay. It’s something you know in your gut, but sometimes, at least in our society, it’s hard to slow down enough to actually pay attention to.

Yoga….well, as Manju says, “Yoga Should Feel Good.”  If it doesn’t, then why practice? Your yoga practice should be something you see as your own personal play time.  When you lose your curiosity, as Manju says, “ lose curious, become furious.” You encourage our children to play–why can’t your practice be seen as some fun play time?

The healing, the growth, the change. It all comes when you move into and out of your postures with your breath and when you are relaxed.  Yes, it’s really hard to be relaxed when your leg is behind your head, or when you’re trying to balance on one foot, or when you’re upside down trying for all you’re worth to keep the pesky belly muscles engaged.  Hard? Yes. Impossible? No. Required to experience the change that comes with yoga? Absolutely.

Two summers ago, during a teacher training semester, apparently I used this line frequently….(because the gals in class teased me about it)  I would say, “make it feel good.” This was in reference to a cue to move into a posture, hold the posture, and explore it with breath. The goal of that cue was to help each person relax and enjoy the posture, even if they were drenched in sweat, or stretching the pesky piriformis muscle (that super tight muscle in your glute that we love/hate to work on during pigeon pose.)

Each posture you enter into in a yoga  practice should feel good. Even when you are exploring your edge, that edge should feel good.  If it doesn’t, then perhaps a modification is in order. If you can’t breathe, there is no way your body will relax and experience the benefit of the pose and practice.  If an assist ever goes beyond that point, SAY SOMETHING!

Here’s the thing: No cue or assist during your yoga class can ever replace what the neurofeedback you’re experiencing in your body.    If you move beyond your edge, then you’re entering into the danger zone. This space where you can’t breathe, where you’re holding on to something, where you aren’t feeling good, this is the area where injuries occur, where burnout can occur, where the yoga practice is robbed of its magnificent ability to change your life for the better.  Like Manju says, “yoga should feel good.”

You’re probably reading this, especially if you’re like me (very “type A” and driven, and “American”) and thinking, if i don’t push it, then I will never get XYZ pose.  Just like Elon Musk, you think if you keep working those proverbial 80-100 hrs–on your body, in poses that you can’t truly enjoy, then something will happen…but it’s probably not what you want to happen.   If you’re lucky enough to not get hurt, then you’re sure to experience burnout –which is horrible on both fronts.

But trust me on this, you can experience growth, meaningful change, and wellness, when you allow the yoga to do what it was designed to do:  When you let it feel good, you experience yoga, the way it was designed to be. When you give yourself a little grace to, dare I say, have fun with your practice, amazing things start to happen.  

If you are very driven, you may even be spending multiple hours a day on your yoga mat, sweating, pushing, exhausting yourself to the very core.  Now, I understand that some teachers actually suggest that you should spend a minimum of two hours a day on your mat 6 days a week–but you don’t have to that to be healthy or to experience the full benefits of a yoga practice.  In fact, Manju says that sort of rigorousness was meant for monks. Why? Because those monks needed to get rid of that (ah hmmm) “excess energy” to remain monks.

I’m going to assume you’re not a monk, and that you don’t want to be, so why push yourself so much that your life is spent exhausted, in pain, and wishing for nothing more than a nice epsom salt bath and long nap?  Manju’s prescription for a regular Ashtanga yoga practice is 75 minutes a day for 6 days a week. Anything more than that is just wasting your Ojas, your life energy–and I don’t know about you, but I want my Ojas to stay with me so I can experience the things the matter–the things like family, friends…life, off the mat.  

We all come to yoga for one reason or another–but it is more than likely because we were seeking better wellness in some form or fashion.  Just like anything else, taken to the extreme, even yoga can lose its effectiveness. To receive the benefits of a regular, healthy practice, make sure that your yoga feels good.

The next time you come to your mat to practice, I challenge you to push yourself only so far as it is comfortable.  If you lose your breath, if you start wanting to curse–back off just a smidge from there, and breathe.  Take SEVERAL breaths. Before you know it (it could be that day or it could be a couple weeks down the road), that cuss word will have gone away, and you may even enjoy the posture!  This comfort during practice–whether you’re in a vigorous Power Class, or a Deep Yin Class, that is the secret key. Pain is not the point of the yoga practice. Uniting with your body–that’s the point of your practice.  If you make your body want to run 100 million miles away –that’s not uniting. Try to enjoy playing with your edge, practicing grace with yourself, and just see what happens. Let me know!  Did you notice anything different about your practice?  I can’t wait to hear from you!