Work your Magic: how to heal the body with the body itself

Living a pain-free life

Sometimes—even, perhaps, a lot of the time—something hurts. You slept funny: your neck is tight. You lifted that crate of water too quickly: your back is in spasms. You could only get those cute shoes half a size too small: the arches of your feet are on fire. Living ‘pain-free’ is a utopian dream, or something that only happens when you go on vacation.

As a yoga teacher, I hear a lot of sob stories before and after class: “Go easy, Ev, my shoulder is killing me!” or “Be nice, Ev, my knee is all outta whack…” The thing is, if you’re enumerating these ailments and afflictions to me, you’re already on the right path because, hey, you’re about to do yoga. And yoga is, above all else, the practice of creating a situation in which you neither feel nor inflict pain: physical, psychological, or otherwise. 

Because it is a practice, however, this plan doesn’t always work out perfectly. In fact, it can sometimes seem that our practice is causing pain instead of alleviating it. This is the moment to pause and take a look at your practice. This is the time to remind yourself that the yoga, maybe more than other aspect of our lives, should be the one thing that never ever causes us pain. But how can we do this?

Yoga postures as problems to solve with your body and breath

It’s about understanding the basic action each posture is asking you to do and then trying your best to complete that action as gently and with as much awareness as possible. A posture is presenting you and your body with a problem that you must solve with your body and your breath. And just as you may have a different answer to the same question depending on when you get asked, your ‘answer’ to the problem of a posture will, indeed, should change from day to day, month to month, year to year.

Let’s get specific. You woke up this morning, your lower back feels like a solid block of ice. You go to work, it only gets worse. You make it to the evening, decide, wisely, to head to yoga class. Two postures into class, and it’s backbend time. Your first thought: Not today. Just, no. But Teacher Ev has other ideas. He comes over, tells you to pull your navel in and up, tells you to allow your tailbone to grow heavy and long, like it’s going to drop all the way down to the floor. He tells you to lift your chest up, like your heart is a balloon floating up into the sky, lifting your chin with it so that now you’re gazing toward your hands up above you.

So far, so good. You don’t feel anything too terrible, so, continuing to drop your tailbone and let your heart float upwards, you begin to lean more and more backward. You remind yourself to take it easy, your back’s been hurting all day, so you focus more on staying really long, almost like you really are going to “touch the ceiling” today.

Because you’re not pushing too much, your breathing is full and easy. The inhales seem to pull you up out of yourself, the exhales encourage you to move your hips and stomach farther and farther forward. This posture you were, 20 seconds ago, intending to skip entirely is now feeling better than it ever has.

As you are standing right next to a mirror, you happen to see out of the corner of your eye that this is, in fact, the deepest you’ve ever been in this pose! And then, with a long, full inhale, you float back up out of the backbend and it’s over. What’s more, your back pain seems to have evaporated. Ev looks at you and says, “That was a perfect posture.” And, as usual, he’s right.

I’m right because you were letting your body set the terms for the posture, and not the other way around. You used the pain in your lower back, transformed by your own intentional awareness of that area, to eliminate that painLike magic. But it’s not magic. It is your own ability to bring intelligence, humility, and care into your approach to your practice each day.

While living a totally pain-free life is impossible, a regular yoga practice offers us a two-pronged solution: It will make you strong, flexible, and aware of your body, so that injuries and tightness will happen less often; and, whenever they do happen (and they will!), you’ll have a living, adaptable tool you can use to diagnose and ameliorate.

The practice is a problem to solve, a question asked, to which you answer differently each time. When we practice with openness and curiosity, every time the answer will be correct.

Everett

Text by Everett Forrest Mason
Photos by Pietro Furloni

This article is part of the „Yoga Talk“ series where our teachers share their journey in yoga from a personal & intimate perspective. 

Here you find all the „Yoga Talk“ articles.


Scroll to top