No pain no gain. I think Jane Fonda should be put on trial for saying this. Although, I remember reading, she herself has come to agree that it wasn’t a very wise thing to say.
We are extremely fixated by this statement. It is defined even in Wikipedia:
“…an exercise motto that promises greater value rewards for the price of hard and even painful work. Under this conception competitive professionals such as athletes and artists are required to endure pain and pressure to achieve professional excellence.”
Because of this mindset I find it sometimes very challenging in my work to get the message of loving kindness towards our bodies and minds through. Many of us are so conditioned by this line of thinking that the equation of “less is more” sounds ridiculous to them.
Deepak Chopra, for example, is one of the most known proponents of the principle of less effort. More and more people are getting the gist but there is lots of work to do.
Let me put to you the essential facts that are wrong with the above-mentioned motto. Pain is stress. In stress there is hardly no gain. Or, you have to work much, much more if you have pain.
We do, nevertheless, need some stress because it helps us to perform better. The burst of moderate amounts of stress hormones provides us with more energy and can enhance brain functions like memory, momentarily. If stress is at a too high a level or lasts for too long a time the negative effects set in.
So there is good stress and good pain. But how to distinguish between the good and the bad?
Firstly you need to check your thoughts. If you are taken over by negative mindset during a performance you are under some kind of stress. Some seemingly stressful situations can be overcome without problems if your mindset is clear and you feel positive.
I am talking about our intention. When we set up on a challenging task with a clear idea of our motivations the unpleasant things along the way can be overcome with ease. Once we are inspired by what we do and set our intention to achieve something good the hurdles along the way won’t require that much effort to jump over.
Secondly, and this is a very handy thing to remember, is to check your breathing. The way to see if your pain or stress is bad is when your breathing changes towards more laborious one: faster and shallower. Under stress, also, you often start breathing through your mouth. This is especially important to notice during exercise. A safe way to exercise is when breathing flows comfortably through the nose. When we start gasping air through the mouth we are lacking in oxygen and that is a state of stress.
Often in a yoga class you can see people huffing and puffing to get that posture right. It is not right. It is probably painful and uncomfortable. During yoga practice the breath should flow slowly and easily. The postures should be steady and comfortable. If you huff and puff you are not doing yoga, but creating more stress. Some pain in a yoga posture can be pleasant. The stretching of muscles and joints is a liberating feeling. But you have to remember to stop when your breathing changes.
Pain and stress are physical, mental or emotional. Whatever the type, it is still stress. The more pain the more stress. When you go over the threshold of comfort and lose your motivation it is time to stop and change activity or tactics.
When we are relaxed, positive and have the right kind of intention the things at hand become easy to perform. We make better judgements on what is right and wrong, we are more productive and communicate better. If we try to push through with effort and pain everything becomes difficult and nerve-wracking.
The thresholds of pain are individual. You need to work out on a good mental and physical stamina so that you can withstand pains and stresses of life. A mind with clear intentions in a healthy, resilient body with strong resistance and immunity is what we aim for in Ayurveda. It is what nature wants us to be.
Everything is relative. The experience of pain is subjective so it is impossible to measure what is generally an acceptable level of stress or pain. You can only understand it yourself. Take it for granted that if you are not positive about what you are doing and if your breathing changes whilst you perform activities, you are in the bad area of pain. And, there is not much to be gained there.