Yoga practice is the antithesis to the “no pain, no gain” school of exercise, with a focus on compassion and self-love. However, it’s a basic human instinct to want to do our “best”, and that is no different on the yoga mat. Most of us will want to get our money’s worth from a yoga class – learn something new, get closer to our goals, build strength and feel like we are making progress.
Over the years I have been as guilty of this as anyone else, it took me many years to realise that yoga was about the journey, not about reaching the “perfect” practice with plenty of insta-worthy poses thrown in for good measure! I have come to learn that balance is key. Forcing your body into a pose that you are not yet ready for might work briefly but that the outcome can be less than pretty and often fairly damaging! So how do you know when the balance is not right and you are actually trying to hard?
Here are a few signs that you might be pushing yourself too hard and that actually you need to slow down, breathe and enjoy your yoga journey:
1. You lose the breath. Whilst trying to push yourself into the variation of a pose that you are simply not ready for you might find yourself holding your breath. This is a key sign that you are trying too hard. There are plenty of variations and modifications for yoga poses, when you find this happening it is worth taking a modification (or even a rest), taking a deep, restorative breath and you will then find you are putting less pressure on your body.
2. The poses causes pain. If your yoga practice is causing you pain your body is telling you to back off. I often tell my students that what we are looking for in our practice is sensation without strain, that way you will know you are working but you won’t create injuries that take months to overcome.
3. You hold tension in your face. If you are doing a pose and find that your jaw is clenched or your brow is furrowed and your muscles are tight these are physical signs that you are trying too hard. Take a moment, ease off and make sure that the muscles of your face can relax.
4. You are trying to keep up with your neighbour’s practice. This has been a long-time battle of mine – the desire to do “as well” as my neighbour on their mat. I now understand that there is no place for comparison in yoga. Every body is different and my body will be able to do things that yours can’t (yet) and yours will be able to do things that my body can’t (perhaps ever). Since every body is different everybody’s practice is different and the sooner you become happy in your own body, the faster you will make progress as a yoga student (both on and off the mat).
I know that noticing when my desire to “try too hard” has taken over and pulling back on my practice will be a constant learning experience for me, and I’m sure that if yoga had not been part of my life this is something that I otherwise would not have recognised, however through consistent practice I am learning not to put so much pressure on myself (both on and off the mat) and hopefully these pointers will help you to do the same.
I'd love to hear how you get on!