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No Pain, No Gain

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

'Directional movement preference is finding the movements, postures and positions that don't recreate pain symptoms.

Once an individual's directional preference has been established, they can move forward with greater confidence,

And in time, expose themselves to other movements that they previously were avoiding.'

~Tom Waldron

This is why when I see my students doing something different from what I taught or demonstrated, I avoid saying:

"Wrong / you're wrong."

"Bad alignment."

"Stop what you're doing, follow me."

The first thing I do is clarify. I ask WHY you are doing what you're doing.

1. If what you are doing is clearly going to hurt you / cause pain, I will advise you to stop and explain my reasoning so you understand.

2. If what you are doing is preventing / protecting you from incurring pain (and you are not going to hurt yourself doing it) I will go with this and focus on improving breath + control in your current state.

3. In time, as your nervous system relaxes, your confidence grows and you will be ready to practise things that you may have never thought possible for yourself.

We teachers like to tell students: "Listen to your body."

But when you do something differently, we shake our heads and say: "Not like that."

In my twenty years of practice and teaching, I've learnt that when teachers respect students' differences and meet them where they are, students learn to:

  • listen to their body (for real)

  • respect their personal body autonomy

  • gain confidence when they feel relaxed and pain-free

  • learn better / progress more efficiently

  • enjoy their practice and look forward to it

When a student sees that: "My teacher trusts me," they understand that no one has authority over their body except themselves.

My student Daniel in one of our mini flow sequences

When he first came to me, Daniel had terrible shoulder pain and limited mobility.

With regular practice, his shoulder mobility improved and he could raise his arms overhead without pain.

In every class now, he holds his planks for a full minute.

Last year, I began to have him hold small weights in his hands during our core strength sequences and standing postures. We stop when he begins to feel any strain. Here, he is wearing wrist weights.

This was the first time I had taught him this particular mini flow, and he was able to do it for two minutes non-stop.

These days, we are working on his push-ups. Because of his shoulder, I watch closely for when he begins to compromise on his form. This is the first sign of fatigue setting in. After this, it is only a a matter of seconds when he will be inevitably wincing in pain.

"No pain, no gain", he used to tell me.

"Maybe in the gym but not here. No pain in practice", I'd reply firmly.

Now, I have to tell him, "Enough," because as he has gotten more confident and stronger, he likes to push himself.

"No pain, no gain!" he'll say.

I take a deep inhale to reply, but then I spy a twinkle in his eye and realise he is only winding me up 😆

The purpose of a yoga practice is to sensitise and awaken your inner wisdom and awareness.

If I keep telling you: "No, stop. That's wrong. Do it like me," I am turning your focus away from your own experience and onto me / gaining my approval.

You are not a trained monkey in a circus.

There is no gold medal at the end for learning to do everything exactly like your teacher or what you see on Instagram.

Pay attention to your experience of what you are doing.

Be curious about your own body.

Learning to care, nourish and strengthen yourself is truly the best gift of a lifetime.

Practise with a teacher that honours your journey and wants to walk with you, not ahead of you.

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