Pain Vs. Pleasure in Yoga

Why does yoga hurt so much when you first start practicing?

How to practice Yoga with less pain.

Throughout my teaching career I have heard clients consistently say how painful yoga is. “Is this supposed to feel good?” Yoga does not feel good at first practice, especially if there has not been a consistent stretching routine. When students first start practicing, it may be difficult to find the pleasure in the asana (yoga poses), and it hurts.

The sensation of pain perceived is the uncomfortable feeling of overall muscle and joint pain when the body has tension and resistance. As humans, we all experience this in one form or another. There are multiple reasons that determine the amount of pain we feel. But it is important to be aware of the difference in good pain and bad pain.

Finding a safe yoga practice is an extremely hot topic in the yoga community due to the increase in yoga related injuries. Our society encourages a “no pain, no gain” attitude. This is exactly the opposite of what yoga is all about.

When teaching class, I am often heard repeating statements like:

  • find the pleasure in your Asana
  • soothe the body
  • do what feels good to you
  • if that felt good do it again
  • rest, recover and relax
  • this is your yoga practice 

A healthy yoga practice is one that moves gradually toward more advanced poses in a logical sequence.

If you don’t take the time to line up the energy, if you don’t fine the feeling place of what your looking for, not enough action in the world will make any difference.
— Abraham-Hicks

 It is quite common to experience students who are wholeheartedly embracing the philosophy of no pain, no gain. The face will say it all, full of strain and effort. After class, instead of being rejuvenated, it will have been exhausting.

When I first started to practice yoga I had a powerful Ashtanga practice (one of the most physically demanding styles). I felt this sense of competition with myself. Can I get to that full expression of the pose? When will I?  I did this with a lot of effort and pushing beyond my natural limits. And of course some of those sessions resulted in injury and back pain. Even recently I pushed myself into fatigue when straining through chaturangas (yoga push ups) repeatedly and injured my shoulder. That's a whole other blog topic.

There are a number of ways to assist in moving your yoga practice to one of more "effortlessness". Breath is definitely key. Check out  Breathe And Thrive post.


One of the most significant and easy physical tasks is to relieve the habit of straining and effort-ing. We can do this by utilizing one of the first 5 steps to less pain in your practice which is to softening the facial muscles and the tension in the jaw.

The tone can be reset by focusing on softening the face. And like magic the body seems to respond mentally the relaxed jaw and face transcends to the body mechanics. It is amazing to watch this unfold

Besides being exhausting, if you find yourself in that intense place where you try and push beyond your limits, it will end with a problem, not benefits . As it did with me a number of times. It is best to error on the side of caution. To be willing to let go of the idea of the final pose, is to encourage Santosha contentment. Not passive, but eager for the inevitable growth that naturally occurs with a regular practice.

Remember to check the ego at the door. To practice yoga is to tap into healing energy, which takes no effort.

Yoga is supposed to feel good.

Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.
— B.K.S. Iyengar

It is the body sensations that are being redirected into recognizing what is good pain versus bad pain. That is why it is so important to have an experienced yoga teacher who is aware of alignment and of ways to modify posture to get to that sweet spot of effortless effort. To truly enjoy your practice comes with softening, allowing and letting go of those habitual patterns within the body that are holding tension.

As you practice asana, those energy lines need first to soften and release. This action comes out as heat, and possibly perceived as pain. The sensation can be described as exhilarating and challenging when it's correct, or short and piercingly painful, when not. Iyengar would describe it as destructive and leading to suffering.

The challenge of yoga is to go beyond our limits – within reason. We continually expand the frame of the mind by using the canvas of the body. It is as if you were to stretch a canvas and create a larger surface for a painting. But we must respect the present form of our body. If we pull too fast or too much, we will rip the canvas. If the practice of today damages the practice of tomorrow, it is not correct practice.
— Iyengar

Good  pain is a deep sensation of elongation growth and expansion, both on a physical and nonphysical level.


tah groen

Tah has been involved with Yoga most of her life. She started practicing as a teenager. Inspired by a mentor to join a class at 16 sparked the yoga fire which has been burning ever since. After launching a sportswear line with her then husband in the late 80′s and becoming a mother of two daughters, it was time for a healing change. Trusting in the age old adage, “Do what you love”, was the consistent echo in her mind. A pivotal time of transition, a powerful period in her life as she realized the path that called her. Do what you love clearly meant that she become a teacher. In 1996 working simultaneously within the health food industry as a reliable source for nutritional council and support, Tah’s yoga business grew. She was able to open one of the first yoga studios in La Jolla. Shakti Yoga was born. After enjoying this prime location for a handful of years she realized the benefit of being a mobile instructor. This was the next logical step for her since the established client base was corporate and private. As she teaches she shares her healing touch of Reiki and Thai Yoga Therapy. Tah lives in San Diego with her partner of 15 years; and besides her two daughters who are in their 20s, has a rambunctious 5 year old son, who instead of a dog to follow him around has a loyal Bengal cat named Jagger.