Why do some yoga poses hurt?

Yoga should never hurt.  

Your back is gonna hurt like hell.

We often confuse pain and stretching

Yoga is all about getting to know you.  Your body. Your mind. Your Self. Much of our daily lives revolve around ignoring the way we feel so we can get through the day and get our work done. We ignore our aching hips on the two hour commute as much as we avoid movements that remind us of what it feels like to live in this body.

When we first start to move every part of our bodies in yoga, the sensations are unfamiliar and we can frequently categorize the uncomfortable sensation of stretching or moving a joint through full range of motion as pain.

Backbending when you haven’t done it in twenty years hurts. Clearing mineral deposits from your elbows hurts. Tensing up when you are trying to stretch hurts. Bringing back full range of motion to a hip that only sits in a chair or a couch hurts.

Ask yourself, is this pain or the sensation of
stretching?  As a general rule, pain means stop and discomfort means go.

Ask any teacher and they’ll give you a strong argument about why one of those answers is correct. With the myriad of bodies and experiences we see on a daily basis, a yoga teacher learns quickly that as we think there is only one right answer, we couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I like to say, yoga should never hurt you. It should never be damaging to your body. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt sometimes.

How do you know when yoga is healing or hurting?

Sore muscles become stronger muscles

Muscles need stress to become stronger. One of the side effects of that stress is delayed onset muscle soreness. While it is certainly possible to over-exert yourself in yoga, DOMS is a natural part of increasing strength. This form of discomfort initiates within 24-48 hours of exertion and should resolve itself within three days.

Tolerable sore muscles mean progress. Don’t be scared.

Cramps

Our brains are designed to seek avoidance of anything that causes us discomfort. Cramps are no exception to this rule. Inadvertent and strong contraction of muscles in a cramp can be abruptly painful. It causes us to immediately cease the activity and often violently avoid the sensation.

There are three main causes of cramps, excluding medications and preexisting conditions:

1. Dehydration. This is a serious condition and is accompanied by a host of other symptoms like the inability to uncurl the fingers, vomiting, confusion and difficulty breathing. Individuals who are dehydrated need immediate intervention. This is not the cramp you get during cobra.

2. Mineral deficiency. These cramps are generally not experienced during exercise. Nighttime leg cramps can often be attributed to a deficiency or imbalance in calcium, magnesium or potassium. Talk to your healthcare provider about an appropriate supplement if you experience nighttime cramping.

3. Exercise intensity. Dr. Martin Schwellnus proposes that as you increase the intensity with which you are using a muscle, it can take time for the brain and body to synchronize, resulting in over-contraction of the muscle. This occurs particularly when the muscles are fatigued. This period is known as “altered neuromuscular control” and was originally theorized because studies have shown no correllation between hydration and electrolyte levels with muscle cramping in extreme athletes.

The first two causes of cramping rarely apply in a  yoga class. This leaves us with muscle fatigue and exercise intensity. We often seek muscle fatigue to get a muscle to “let go” before stretching it, so the cramp is a sign we are on the right track, just maybe a little to far too fast. Deepening muscle strength through increased length or intensity of contraction can, at times, be accompanied by cramps.

As unpopular as this may make me, I am a fan of cramps in class. It means I’m doing something new. Going somewhere I haven’t before. Finding new depth or strength I didn’t know I had.

Keep your breathing regular and slowly decrease your intensity and watch that cramp melt away. In a nutshell, cramps in class are not dangerous. Don’t panic.

Rusty Hinges, Adhesions, and Scar Tissue

After we finish development, it is use it or lose it with range of motion and flexibility in the body. In our adult lives, we sit or stand in the same position for hours at a time, sometimes a majority of our day. It is a rare individual that uses their body through full range of potential movement each day. Most people use much less than even half of potential movement.

Joints that aren’t used through full range of motion are the perfect place for calcium oxalate crystals to deposit. This is a painful form of arthritis. As a rolling stone gathers no moss, so a moving joint keeps surfaces clear from crystalline arthritis. Clearing mineral deposits from the joints is not always a pleasant process. Take your time. It will get better.

Muscles that remain tightened in the same position for long periods of time can form hydrogen bonds between the muscle fascia that get more dense with time. Stretching those long-bonded filaments of connective tissue, like moving a crystallized joint, can feel much more intense than simple “stretching”. Again, move slowly, but don’t be afraid.

Scar tissue forms when the body heals from an injury. Scar tissue cannot be eliminated, but it can be remodeled. Through movement and stretching, one can realign the collagen fibers in the lumpy scar tissue so that it is both stronger and more plastic. Through this process, the scar tissue begins to act more like the original, flexible tissue that was in place before the injury. The older the scar tissue, and the more trauma to the area, the more uncomfortable this remodeling process can be.

On the mat, the yogi should practice with awareness and patience. When we want to achieve yoga “goals” too quickly, we can cause injury. Take your time. Move with awareness, and be patient. Start where you are and build strength and range of motion from there.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the condition in which the protective cartilage in a joint is worn down, eventually to painful bone-on-bone contact within a joint. Osteoarthritis generally forms from uneven tissue-loading or repetitive movement. There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but yoga is a great tool to help strengthen the soft muscle tissue around the joint and reduce the amount of painful bone-on-bone contact.

In the practice of yoga, individuals with this condition should focus on precise alignment of the skeleton in poses and building strength around the joint. Range of motion exercises are helpful because they help palpate the circulation around the joint, maintaining and improving joint health. Individuals with osteoarthritis must practice to tolerance only.

Once the painful bone-on-bone compression is felt, going deeper will only exacerbate the wear and tear on cartilage and bone. This is not a pain to try to tough your way through. Through practice and attention you will find the places where you need to stop before you reach the pain.

Chronic Illness

Fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune disorders are often noted for unsourced, chronic pain. Practicing yoga with these conditions hurts. That’s the cold, hard truth.

The good news is that yoga also miraculously relieves the long-term pain. There is no clear explanation of why, but moving the body with awareness, increasing circulation, improving alignment and strength all help to eliminate the seemingly endless pain. Read more about Joseph Encinia’s inspiring recovery from RA.

Other forms of chronic illness are also notorious pain producers. Sometimes it is being unable to move for long periods of time or the way we hold ourselves in response to the illness that causes pain.

Take your time and move slowly, but get started with yoga. The body functions best when it is being used and yoga is one of the safest ways to find the limits of your body in any condition and begin to improve your health.

Chronic Misalignment

Duck-footed. Hunch back. Sway back. Ding-toed. Flat foot. Forward head.

These common misalignments are not in the original design template of the human body. “My father was duck-footed” is not a genetic precursor for you to turn your toes out. The human leg was not designed to be used in that way. We learn postural habits from our surroundings just like we learn syntax and social cues.

Some of these misalignments are caused by accident, injury or habit. You may have developed a habit of jutting the ribcage forward at the beach to appear thinner or have a forward head from working at a computer desk all day.

The most insidious component of chronic misalignment is uneven tissue load. Take this valgus, or abnormal rotation, of the heel below. Misalignment of the heel causes adjustment of the bones of the entire leg, hip and eventually the pelvis and spine. Uneven load in the tissues over time leads to failure of the muscle or tendon fibers. This flat foot might just be causing your migraine headaches.

As you work to change chronic misalignment, you may experience discomfort and pain. This is part of the process of realigning bones, strengthening muscles and healing connective tissue. With this type of pain, it is important to have a strong team of therapists helping you through the process to ensure you stay safe, progress at a rate appropriate for you and practice with a depth and attention to alignment that is not causing you further damage.

A good team includes experienced and educated yoga instructors, massage and physical therapists, maybe even a chiropractor, doctor or sports medicine specialist. Check out Dr. Mike Evan’s video on chronic back pain for more information on diagnosing chronic pain, creating a team and developing an attitude that will help you to heal.

You have bad alignment in class

I know it. You wanted me to say something nice. You expected something more supportive, and all you got was tough love. Get ready for more real talk.

Your alignment sucks.

I hope that is bold enough to get you to make a change. Your teacher said your foot should be pointing straight up over the top of your head in Standing Bow. Yours is pointing over at a boat moored across the river in Kittery and you are surprised your sacroiliac injury isn’t getting better?

You want to go higher in floor bow, so you leg your legs spread three feet wide. Yoga must be bad for knees.

You want to come down lower in half moon, so you turn your chin, twist your spine and collapse your chest. I guess yoga causes neck injuries.

You keep losing the grip, so you use a towel to augment your hand strength. Ah! It’s yoga, not tennis that causes rotator cuff injuries. Phew!

Or are your ready to take responsibility for your actions and use yoga to change your body and your life? There are very specific reasons for the way your yoga teachers cue the postures. The sequence of the cues is critical. The words we use intentionally to create specific actions in your body to keep you safe, and to help you maximize the therapeutic benefit of your practice.

Here are the steps to achieve a healing practice.

1. Frequency. You have to show up. Regularly. Not once a week you show up and work so hard you pass out, puke twice and have to go home and take a nap. Regular, consistent, dedicated practice. You are worth it.

2. Accuracy. Alignment is the first priority in any pose. Even if you can only move one inch into the pose. With no alignment, there is no therapy.

3. Intensity. Only when you are showing up regularly, and executing the postures with accuracy and precision in your alignment, do you add the intensity and depth. Intensity is the privilege of the mindful practitioner.

Intensity is the privilege of the mindful practitioner.

Injury

Injuries happen in life. We slip on the ice, aggravate a shoulder playing tennis or get too aggressive in a pick up basketball game. With few exceptions, a modified practice can be continued with an injury, but pain will be an important guide.

Last year, we had a student practicing with a broken leg. She did her practice in a chair for the standing poses and elevated the leg on the floor. After two weeks, her doctors told her the leg was ready for weight-bearing. After four weeks, the fracture was invisible on an x-ray. Her doctors were blown away by the speed of recovery for a woman in her fifties.

One of the main reasons yoga helps you to recover from an injury is blood flow. Increased circulation helps support and speed repair and rehabilitation. The tricky part is not letting a misguided ego tell you to go for it in floor bow even though your shoulder bursitis is bothering you.

The most important action to take when you have an injury is speaking. Talk with your doctor or physical therapists when they analyze or diagnose you. Ask questions like, what types of movement should I avoid? And, what movement should I do to rehabilitate from this injury? Many students bring in a printout of the poses they have questions about. Get specific and don’t leave without an answer. You may be the first patient they have had who really wanted to know.

Talk to your teachers. Any well-educated teacher has yoga therapy and yoga for the infirm in their training profile. They can’t help you with your whiplash if they don’t know your neck is bothering you. You are not a yoga expert, so you may not realize that forward folds are aggravating your herniated discs.  You might be great at aerodynamics or flag football. Let your teachers share their expertise and experience with you.

I can’t tell you how many students have complained that an injury was not healing and when I asked them to take it slowly or avoid a particular movement temporarily have replied with, “Well, I like to push,” with a cheeky smile. Apparently, you also like to stretch a twelve-week recovery out to eighteen months.

Bones take four weeks to heal. Muscles take around six weeks. Connective tissues can take up to sixteen weeks. The average woman recovers from a common yoga injury to the hamstrings tendon in eighteen months. Talk to your providers and listen to your body so you don’t end up in unnecessary pain for years.

Over-Aggressive Practice

This could be a sub-section of the injuries category. Like all physical activities, you can create injury in yoga. Yoga has tremendous therapeutic potential. It can also cause harm.

We see it and want to achieve it. We know if we work hard, we can pull ourselves up by our  yoga mats and live the  yoga dream.

I hope you listen to what I am going to say next.

Too good is no good.

More is not always better for the human body. You might not be strong enough yet for headstand. Your body may not be genetically designed for full wheel. You can cause wrist injury by misalignment in handstand. Shoulderstand is not for people who have osteoporosis.

This kind of pain is the devil in the world of yoga. This kind of pain is not the walk-through-the-fire-and-emerge-clean kind of pain. This isn’t the suffering that leads to redemption. This is the antithesis of yoga: disunion of mind and body.

When you are in the posture, with healthy alignment, to the best of your ability today, that is the ultimate destination of yoga. It is meditation in it’s purest form: the mind in the body, one second at a time.

Take your time. Ask questions. Be patient. When we approach pain with awareness, we realize that in the words of the great Emmy Cleaves, “Pain is a gift.”

Yoga and Osteoporosis

We would like to believe that our bones will always be as strong and healthy as they were in our youth. Unfortunately, around the age of 30 we all reach peak bone mass. Our job at that point is to maintain at all costs as much bone as we can. Osteoporosis is not limited to women, but a much more common diagnosis. Bone loss begins for most women in perimenopause, but bone loss numbers jump dramatically during menopause due to dropping levels of estrogen and progesterone.

Bone density is no joke. The figure on the left shows healthy bone; the figure on the right shows osteoporotic bone. No one wants to enter their golden years on fragile pins. Luckily, there is hope.

In addition to a healthy diet high in calcium and Vitamin D, yoga can be an excellent tool in helping maintain peak bone mass, slow bone loss and prevent fractures. Yoga is a weight bearing activity that creates torque on the bones to help build bone density, much in the same way you build muscle strength, through Wolff’s Law. Bones get stronger and stay strong when they are called upon to do more.

Yoga also helps to improve balance to prevent falls as we age. Improving spinal alignment reduces the risk of wedge fractures in the vertebral bodies that lead to that stereotypical, kyphotic, osteoporosis look. Yoga improves flexibility, lubrication of the joints and range of motion, all of which contribute to preventing the most common hip, wrist and vertebral fractures associated with osteoporosis.

Powerful, successful women

We have seen a troubling trend in class recently: mature, successful, adult women fainting.  Powerful, successful women in the prime of their lives falling down on the floor in the middle of a yoga class. Women aged 40-70 years old. Career women. Mothers. Caretakers. Lovers. Brilliant and inspiring powerhouses. Women who regularly take care of 100 different things a day. Experienced and seasoned yogis, blacking out doing a pose they have done at least a hundred times. The common thread underlying these episodes? Food.

By food I mean, not enough.

Women who haven’t eaten in 24 hours. Women who have had less than 200 calories since they woke up. Women who consider egg whites and steamed vegetables enough fuel to last them 8 hours. In each case, the woman who had fainted was shocked when I suggested that starving her body might leave her light-headed during exercise.

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Practicing Bikram Yoga After a Mastectomy

Don’t let surgery limit your practice. Physical therapy is a must to improve range of motion and quality of life going forward. And, what do you know, the handouts and pamphlets with which I was sent home depict exercises straight out of the yoga tradition. Following are notations of how I modified the postures. Please incorporate what benefits your physical situation; don’t feel limited by my experience.

First, you will experience pain so move slowly into the postures. That being said, don’t let your fear of pain limit your achievements. Many times I stopped reaching at the same point I left off during the previous class, or even at a weeks old measure. I went through all sorts of pressure-relieving  modifications during the cobra series savasanabecause I assumed it would take months and months AND months to bear weight. It didn’t.

Test your limits every class. I’m not saying it’s okay to pop your stitches, but your body and your abilities change every day. It’s a good idea to check them every day so you don’t get stuck in last week’s temporary inability. For convenience, I’ll refer to a ‘well side’ and ‘surgical side’ to avoid all the rights and lefts.

Bridget Dubravsky is a Certified Yoga Instructor from Maine. She is also the author of Bikram Yoga and Breast Cancer.

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Breast Cancer and Bikram Yoga

September 27, 2013 

Hi, I’m Bridget. I’m your yoga teacher and I am seven months cancer free.
During a routine mammogram in January they discovered a large area of concern. On that Wednesday doctors performed several wire insertions, core samples and a biopsy. While the procedures were not incredibly painful, I was anxious and didn’t know what to expect or what to feel from one to the next. I practiced breathing slowly in through the nose and slowly out through the nose to head off the rising panic and to give myself a calming focus. I get savasanas now and how comforting it is to be still in the standing series.

They sent me home with ice packs, gauze, bandages and a very misshapen profile. The swelling continued as did the bleeding. I stopped practicing that week. And then I started to talk myself out of teaching that Sunday morning class. You know how it is. Just like with my practice or rather my excuses not to practice: ‘Ok, you can stay home just this once. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break and, of course, oh why not?!? This is the perfect excuse.’

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Battling Diabetes through Bikram Yoga

Type 1 Diabetes also known as Juvenile Diabetes or Diabetes Melitus is a genetic condition usually affecting children.

Juvenile Diabetes has nothing to do with an unhealthy lifestyle, eating too much sugar, or lack of exercise. There is genetic abnormality on chromosome six that causes the white blood cells of the body to attack the insulin-producing portion of the pancreas killing the hormone which enables the body to metabolize carbohydrates. Without insulin a person will die because there is no way for the cells to get the nutrients they need for survival.

When I was 10 years old, I lost 30 pounds in one month. I was lethargic and unable to wake up for school.  My parents were convinced that I was depressed and did not want to attend school. When I went to the doctor a blood sugar test showed that my blood sugar levels were in the 600s (normal range is 80-120).  A blood sugar this high can lead to coma and eventually death.  It was determined that I had Juvenile Diabetes.

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Can You Practice Hot Yoga During Pregnancy?

began a blog to be of assistance in helping you to make educated decisions about exercise during yours.

At the studio, we’ve had several women in low-risk pregnancies have their doctors tell them that they could not practice hot yoga while pregnant, with little information on the classes.  Please take the concerns of your physician or midwife seriously.  Women with high-risk pregnancies must first obtain a doctor’s note to participate in classes at Blaze Yoga and Pilates.

Many doctors, however, incorrectly assume that practicing in a hot room is akin to being in a sauna or Jacuzzi and that is where their concern develops.  Both a sauna and a Jacuzzi are much hotter than a standard hot yoga class.  The biggest difference is the inability for the body to cool itself when in a sauna or Jacuzzi.  Sweat (evapotranspiration) and moving air (convection) are the cooling mechanisms for a practicing yogi.  Neither of these are existent in a Jacuzzi and only one (sweat) in a sauna where the air is heated up to 40 degrees hotter than a Bikram Yoga or Inferno Hot Pilates class.Naturally, many pregnant women have concerns about hot yoga during pregnancy.  

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Clean and Green

One of the primary pillars that makes Blaze Yoga and Pilates is our commitment to a GREEN approach. We believe strongly that all of our actions should contribute to a cleaner and greener studio, region, country, and planet.

With that in mind, we are always working to offer the most effective, green, sustainable environment possible so that we can all thrive, together.

Is the studio clean? I'll start to answer the first question with a question back: have you met my husband, Jaylon? He steam cleans our carpets at home for fun. At the end of a long, hard day, he just wants to hot steam-mop the kitchen floor.

A rare sighting of Jaylon in his natural habitat.

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Yoga as a Tool in Healing: How to feel better

Kyle Maiorana and Erin Holt of the Funk’tional Nutrition podcast this week to talk about what role yoga can play in healing chronic pain and illness.

Both women are registered dietitians who work to help their clients develop personalized plans for health that cover all aspects of their lives. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work they do and wait anxiously each week for the release of the next episode. Topics cover everything from healthy fats to good sources of animal protein, and from the benefits of CBD oil to understanding diet culture. They also host people in the fields of health and wellness to share their unique areas of expertise.
I had the great pleasure of joining

Will I pass out in hot yoga?

The short answer to the question is: it’s highly unlikely.

Many new students have heard horror stories about yoga classes so hot that people were dropping like flies and being carried out of the room. Most of these are embellished or frankly fabricated. Like any tall tale, there’s always a kernel of truth: usually survival stories from teacher training where they try to burn you down metaphorically so you can rise like a phoenix from the ashes. You won’t find that in a general public yoga class.

I sat down this morning and tried to count how many times I’ve seen people pass out in yoga. I couldn’t even fill up one hand. I’ve heard stories of more than that, but in 17 years of practicing and teaching Bikram Yoga, I’ve only seen three people “go down” in a class.

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Small Business Saturday!

Small Business Saturday is back on Saturday, November 24th. Join us for free classes and special sales the Saturday after Thanksgiving!

We love you all so much and can’t wait for the opportunity to show our gratitude to this amazing yoga community by offering free classes for you and your friends and family and special discounts on yoga and accessories.

Save your spot in the free classes below!

 25% off retail does not include food or CBD
Intro Month for the price of a drop in! $20 for 30 days unlimited
Special! 5-class card for $79 one day only!
Special! 50-class card for $739 one day only!
Special! Annual Unlimited for $1,099 just $91.58/month!
Autopay Ten Card for $150 automatically renews every ten classes or six months

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Practicing Yoga While Sick

Can I practice when I’m sick?

It’s a question we get at the studio often. As with most yoga-related questions,there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

First and foremost, if you have something contagious, please stay home and keep it to yourself. We once had a student undergoing treatment for a persistent MRSA infection practicing at the studio for four months without telling us.

Lucky for all who were practicing at that time, our sweat contains powerful antiseptic peptides in dermcidin. The best feature of dermcidin is that it attacks the microbes’ cell walls, not something to which a microbe can develop resistance.

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Welcome to Blaze Yoga and Pilates!

We are thrilled to welcome you to the studio and to our wonderful community. Here, I’m going to share some tips to help you get the most out of your time with us.

We offer the most effective hot yoga and Pilates techniques available in the world from the best trained teachers who can help you meet your goals and heal your body. Whatever your goal, whatever your challenge, whatever your limitation, we are confident we can help.

We are on a mission to help people take control of their health and wellness so they can feel great and have a positive impact on the world.

You may have heard some crazy stories about hot yoga and Pilates. We’ve made this short video to help you thrive through your first class:

Donna Carberry Memorial Fund

In 2011, the BYP community lost a very special member when Donna Carberry passed away after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Donna was loved by all who knew her. She loved life, her family, hiking, nature, running, music, and yoga. In her own words, Donna was “in love with love.” Her bright smile lit up every class she attended.

Throughout her fight, Donna continued to practice yoga with us. She’d enter the studio with a huge smile every day and always shared her gratitude for each day and each class, despite the effects of chemo or when the cancer degraded her bones.

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Top Tips for Getting and Staying Hydrated for Yoga and Pilates

Hydration is key to having a great class and good hydration is more than just pounding water. Here are some quick tips to help you stay on top of your game.

eight central pillars

At Blaze Yoga and Pilates, there are eight central pillars that serve as the foundation for all that we do.

With the support of these core values, we are able to uphold our mission as a yoga studio to support our community members to take charge of their health, to heal their wounds, and amplify their lives so they can maximize their impact on the world.

By practicing our eight pillars, we are able to achieve our vision that our studio is able to create a robust and impactful community that ushers positivity and change into the world.

Commit to 90

Our powerful Commit to 90 Whole Life Challenge is back and better than ever!

We’re so stoked to team up with Functional Nutritionist Erin Holt to bring you our new and improved Commit to 90 Whole Life Challenge.

Commit to 90 is a 90-day challenge that rewards you for taking care of yourself. Instead of blasting out classes every day for a month like we’ve always done in our September 30-day Challenge, we’ll focus on building a regular, steady practice. CT90 is designed to help you make informed decisions around nutrition, learn to fuel your body, heal your relationship with food, build community connections, and make time for activities that enhance your life.

Watch this video to learn more!

How Yoga Enhances Recovery

As a culture, we have become very familiar with the suffering and loss associated with substance use disorders.  We are also quick to notice the psycho-biological symptoms associated with them. What we may not be as familiar with, and completely unprepared for, however, is the discomfort associated with Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS.  PAWS refers to abstinence-based biological changes that occur once an individual has made a decision for change and entered recovery. It is the abstinence-based biological symptoms of PAWS that makes early recovery so uncomfortable and hard to understand, and therefore extremely difficult to maintain.

Join us for a special lecture on Yoga and Sobriety Monday, October 8th at 5 pm.

Hot Yoga and Back Pain

This testimonial is the story of my personal recovery from debilitating pain from herniated discs through the practice of the therapeutic Bikram Method Yoga.  This yoga gave me back my life. In the depths of my pain, I remember sitting in the car with my husband outside one of our favorite restaurants crying. I couldn’t even imagine enduring the suffering of a nice, romantic dinner. The thought of sitting for 45-minutes was pure torture.

The following is my story and experience. I have included a posture-by-posture list of my personal approach to the practice for back pain-sufferers. I offer the information to help you on your way. People write me daily asking if Bikram Yoga will work for them. I am not a doctor. It worked for me. It has worked for hundreds of my students. The principles work.

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