From Stephanie Sandleben, at Kula Yoga:
Stephanie: So, in my own practice, I’ve been thinking about the difference between sensation, and tapas. And realizing that they’re not the same thing.
Rough quote, I’m forgetting more of it, but her words hit the spot. It’s taken me years to realize that yoga is not the Marines, pain is not “a sign of weakness leaving the body.” Tapas, the purifying burn that is a big reason we practice asana, is achieved through appropriate challenges for the body. Not masochism and ignorance.
Leslie Kaminoff was another good teacher of this lesson. Ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue are often overstressed in yoga practice. And they get very little blood flow, so they’re slow to heal if torn. So if you’re stretching a muscle, make sure you feel it in the middle of the muscle (the “belly”). Strong sensation in the joints is a warning, not an achievement.
The word “sensation” versus “pain” is a valuable detail. Those of us with a high pain tolerance probably wouldn’t say that little sharp twinges in the knees or shoulders are painful. (Rowing a 2K in under 8 minutes — THAT’S painful.) But we’d have to admit that we’re feeling sensation in the joints. It’s amazing what word choices can do.
Note: This is perhaps a modern lesson. Light on Yoga, (the “Bible” of modern yoga), describes Padmasana (Lotus) pretty intensely:
People not used to sitting on the floor seldom have flexible knees. At the start they will feel excruciating pain around the knees. By perseverance and continued practice the pain will gradually subside and they can then stay in the pose comfortably for a long time.
But Mr. Iyengar, at 91, supposedly has bad knees — which he blames on Lotus Pose. And one of the main models for the Iyengar school’s books has debilitating nerve damage. So, just know that the guys who literally wrote or followed the books on alignment have learned some hard lessons. Yoga alignment is NOT an exact science. So maybe take it easy.