When I was young, the mantra of my gymnastics instructor was… no pain, no gain. I believed it at the time… but then I got older… got married… had kids… and started to question this mantra. Maybe that’s just for kids… or young people… or athletes… (of which I am none!). Perhaps pain is just an illusory signal that progress is being made… but not necessary to actual progress? I became a big fan of small steps… small changes… no pain!
In my yoga class last week, the instructor asked us to feel into the discomfort of holding a pose longer than what was comfortable. He encouraged us to recognize the difference between good pain and bad pain. As I took a deep breath, I thought to myself… huh? Good pain…. what the heck is that?! The instructor went on to explain that discomfort is normal as we learn to move into new positions… as we break down muscle in order to build up more muscle. This is how we build strength… how growth occurs.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Building muscle is a great analogy to building a strong, healthy life. Pain is necessary to break down muscle in order that more muscle can build up. However, and this is BIG… you have to recognize the difference between good pain and bad pain. Good pain helps you grow… while bad pain puts you out of commission. Good pain pushes and stretches just enough… bad pain pushes and stretches too much.
It seems to me that this is perhaps one of our most difficult tasks… distinguishing between the good pain that will help us grow and bad pain that is actually hurting us. In yoga, as in sports, the difference between good and bad pain is potentially a little more obvious. As you bend over to touch your toes… you feel the stretch… the tightness… the discomfort in your legs and thighs… good. As you lean into a stretch or pose and the discomfort becomes painful… well… you guessed it, bad!
In life, this distinction between good and bad pain seems more elusive. I think that others, like me, tend to think that pain, any kind of pain, is bad. And yet… if we apply the muscle building analogy… it’s not that all pain is bad, it’s that we need to distinguish between good pain and bad pain. Easier said than done! How long do I stay in this relationship… job… friendship… when does it change from being a growth situation to a bad situation? How do we know? What are the signs?
Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers. What I surmise from my yoga/sports analogy is that discomfort is ok, but true pain is never good. I think with some things, it could possibly take some time and practice to figure out where that line is drawn and to recognize where one line ends and the other begins.
Here’s to pain… or discomfort, if you will… as a route toward growth!
Love, laughter and light to you!! ~Rashel