Is Yoga a Pain in the Butt?

By Azriel ReShel on Friday February 5th, 2016

How short term gain can lead to long term pain

When you take up power yoga forms for quick results you get injuries. Yoga is meant to be a long term, sustainable practice that supports you to develop muscle strength gradually over time.

Perhaps we all secretly want that yoga butt … you know the one … that perky, toned, sexy derriere that looks fab on Instagram and turns your fellow “grammers” bottle green with envy. But while it may look great, sometimes it hurts … a lot.

It seems the quest for the perfect butt is causing some yoga junkies a whole lot of trouble. Chasing dreams of a tight streamlined rear end that looks great in your trendy hot pants, is leaving many suffering from overstretched and damaged hamstrings, caused by pushing their body beyond its limits.

So what is yoga butt?

It’s a loose term for a raft of symptoms that are frequently experienced in forms of Power Yoga like Ashtanga. Often it descends after several months of regular and dedicated practice.

Alt text herePower yoga can look great, but can also lead to injury

The first symptoms that you may have the dreaded yoga butt, not the tight variety, are pain and discomfort in one or both of the sit bones (Ischial Tuberosities). Or you may feel discomfort when practicing forward bends, particularly seated forward bends. There may also be a feeling that the hamstrings just won’t stretch. If you ignore these early warning symptoms, without resting or toning down your practice, you may actually go on to tear a hamstring.

According to author and yogi, Niki Vetten, who teaches movement anatomy and injury prevention workshops, even yogis who take heed of the warning signs and stop practicing hamstring stretches, but continue to practice, may get a worsening of hamstring pain, and may also develop some or all of these symptoms: pain at the outer side of the hip, lower back pain, sciatica, sacroiliac joint problems, and pain at the outside of the knee.

An emphasis on hamstring stretching in yoga is considered to be the main cause of yoga butt and many health professionals focus on treating the hamstrings. However, the reason why a hamstring becomes inhibited and tight is due to hip-muscle weakness and problems. Yoga butt will improve if these are assessed and treated. – Niki Vetten.

Some students have even experienced deep pain and have had to give up their practice for quite some time. Yoga butt should never be ignored as it won’t just get better on its own.

Alt text hereAn emphasis on hamstring stretches is considered the main cause of ‘yoga butt’

The pathway to injury

When you take up power yoga forms for quick results you get injuries. Yoga is meant to be a long term, sustainable practice that supports you to develop muscle strength gradually over time.

In our fast track world, we tend to want the short cut to yoga greatness, not the years of practice it takes to develop the strength to attempt more demanding poses. Physical strength and balance is something that is worked on through daily practice over time, sometimes years. This is not a quick fix exercise regime. It takes time to develop core strength and build the muscles that will hold you up in a one arm balance.

Practice like an aggressive dictator and your body will rebel.

Yoga is an internal practice. The rest is just a circus.
– Pattabhi Jois

Yoga competitiveness to achieve the yoga butt…not the injured kind, reminds me of these lyrics from the beautiful Radiohead Song, Creep:

“I don’t care if it hurts. I just want control. I want a perfect body. I want a perfect soul.”

Asana is one aspect of Yoga, and a very over emphasized aspect in the West. There are 8 limbs to Yoga, of which one is asana. Yoga is really the practice of meditation and self awareness, and the asana part of this is to support meditation through bringing the body into balance, through the release of stress, clearing and opening the energy channels, in preparation for meditation. It is not the end goal. Meditation and Samadhi are!

Alt text hereBody not stiff, mind stuff – Pattabhi Jois

Power Yoga

Power yoga forms developed in the West after Pattabhi Jois toured the US, sharing his rigorous sequences of Ashtanga Yoga. Well known teacher and author, Beryl Bender Birch jumped onto his tour, becoming a devoted practitioner and developed a deep love for Ashtanga, as do most people who practice it. She was a major innovator of “Power Yoga,” and wrote several books about it, popularizing an athletic flowing form of asana practice in the West.

Power Yoga was simply a name I came up with in the late ‘80s to let people know that Ashtanga yoga practice – unlike most of the yoga taught in 70’s America – was a serious workout, designed to build significant strength and concentration as well as flexibility. The worst possible thing you can do is to jump into a full-on 60 or 90 minute class as a beginner! It is really important to start with an introductory course or beginners classes. – Beryl Bender Birch

Psychologist and Senior Yoga Teacher Dr Lauren Tober practiced and taught Ashtanga Yoga in her twenties and loved it. She ran a successful studio in Canberra with her husband. Her style of teaching was mindful ashtanga.

“I still love Ashtanga but I don’t practice it any more. It was a style of yoga perfect for me in my 20’s where I had a very active mind. Ashtanga met me where I was at in my life. I stopped practicing Ashtanga when I got pregnant. I didn’t think it was suitable for my pregnant body and post baby body. I still have a lot of respect for it. It’s a beautiful set of sequences, but I do think that its quite an advanced sequence, and is not necessarily suitable for beginners but is suitable for people with strong flexible bodies.”

“Lots of students come to Ashtanga because they are this go-getter Type A personality. On the one hand it can meet them where they are, but on the other hand it can really reinforce this pushing, striving and force, which in my mind is not necessarily a good thing because that can result in injury. Ashtanga can attract both students and teachers who are really gung ho and can take you away from yourself, “ says Lauren.

Alt text hereAshtanga can reinforce pushing, striving and force which can lead to injury

Self love

In some ways the other sexy, toned yoga butt, may be more troubling than the injured yoga butt, as it sets up people for self-loathing, comparison and endless striving. Yoga becomes about physical perfection and sexual attractiveness, not about a journey of self awareness, growth and acceptance.

Yoga is not a race to the deepest stretch, straightest handstand, or most flexible kurmasana. It’s a journey. An inner journey.

Essentially it’s about your relationship with yourself. It’s a practice about noticing: your competitiveness, your striving, your criticism of others, your perfectionism, your self criticism. It’s a journey of inquiry, of self awareness and of mindfulness.

I believe that what do on our mat is practice for our lives, so if we’re over-breathing, sweating, striving and pushing ourselves, it’s not what we really want to be doing. I believe that we bring a qualify of how we want to be in the world, to our yoga mat. The sutras say we must be steady and comfortable when we’re practicing. If we’re not comfortable, it’s not yoga anymore. – Dr Lauren Tober

Alt text hereComing back to the true purpose of yoga – inner peace and spiritual enlightenment

In life we waltz around in a daze of mindless insanity. Stalking from here to there, thinking about 1000 things at once, staring at our devices, unaware of where we’re going, who we just crashed into, the beautiful sunset, the person in need next to us on the bus. The fleeting moments of focus, and of presence are like the letter “z” trying to speak up amongst the noisy crowd of the 25 other alphabet letters.

What does it take to actually be a yogi, really? Not spiritual attainment or Asana performance, but the beautiful embrace of your own reality. – Mark Whitwell

Opening to your feminine side

In recent years yoga has transformed into more meditative and feminine styles, like Restorative and Yin Yoga in the West, or perhaps it is beginning a return to its sacred origin? By approaching yoga from a more feminine perspective, of flow, surrender, receptivity, curiosity, sensitivity and an enjoyment of the journey, many injuries can be reduced. The more masculine tendency of push, push pushing for results will inevitably create pain and injury.

Honouring your feelings and the messages of your body, with increased sensitivity and awareness that is held in your feminine energy, will give you greater safety in your practice. It will also protect you from any overzealous instructors, and give you confidence in your own capabilities, and an understanding of your body and its unique needs.

Alt text hereThe importance of honouring your feelings and the messages of your body

You need to know your limits first, if you are to exceed them.

How to practice safely

To practice safely we have to tune in, listen and be prepared to modify or rest if needed. To be creative, unique, individual and respectful of this incredible instrument we have the privilege of inhabiting.

Every time you come to your mat, take a few moments to check in with yourself and meet yourself where you are and then ask yourself what you need in that moment. It may be a full Ashtanga 3rd series or it may be that you need a Restorative Practice, or perhaps you’ve injured your knees so need to avoid baddha konasana. Every time you practice yoga, you check in with where you are. – Lauren Tober

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

Azriel ReShel

Writer, Editor, Yoga Teacher & Healing Facilitator



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