Dispelling a Dangerous Yoga Myth That Going Deeper is Better
There is an idea that gets constantly perpetuated in the yoga culture: Going deeper or doing a more advanced posture is the ideal; It is better. It lives in the unconscious of many of us, because of the conditioning that there is No Pain, No Gain if we want to succeed and that we should Just Do It no matter what. This conditioning is often even stronger in men since old fashion ideas demand that men be tough and aggressive.
This misconception is a popular one, which makes the likelihood of harming ourselves and causing serious damage to our bodies and our self-esteem greater.
Living in a capitalistic society breeds competition. Many of the times we go into pain are a result of wanting to look a certain way in the pose- maybe it's trying to look like the teacher or a younger student in the class. Pain and injuries are also likely to happen when we are feeling competitive with ourselves and thinking that our pose isn't good enough. When will it be good enough?
Yoga teachers and the larger yoga community also talk in terms of more "advanced" poses. With a name like "advanced" no wonder our ego kicks in. Who doesn't want to be "advanced"? This language pushes us to go beyond what our safe range of movement naturally is so we can get to what we are told is the next level. What is actually the case is that the level we are practicing at is where we are supposed to be in this moment.
Reminder: *Yoga Is Inherently Non-Competitive*
Take a moment to think about how different places on your body feel when you do yoga or other exercise. If you want you could even do a few poses now to remind yourself how they feel. Do you ever let yourself go into intense discomfort a.k.a pain? It could be in places that are especially tight or have an existing injury. Don't get mad at yourself if you do! You have been programmed that way!
Important Concepts to Practice During Yoga
For people with excessive movement in one of more of their joints (hypermobility) I recommend avoiding taking advantage of your extra joint mobility in order to do deeper or "more advanced poses" that may increase your chances of joint injury. Instead focus your asana practice on building strength around your hypermobile joints and improving the feeling of joint stability when you are in your poses, especially standing and balancing poses where you might normally feel wobbly. Contract the muscles around the loose joint while holding still in a stretch, called Isometric contraction. Here's a great video if you want to learn more about muscle contraction.
When stretching specific tight muscles I encourage students to look for sensation of stretch in the center of the muscle body and not near the joints, and become familiar enough with “normal” joint movement that they can visually check to make sure they are not going beyond it. Here are some images and descriptions about what hypermobile joints look like. Working with a teacher who can give you feedback about healthy range of motion of your joints is often quite helpful.