Spinal Cord Reflexes – or How Much is TOO MUCH?

by | Oct 24, 2018 | New this month

I had full intentions or writing more on Ayurvedic tools for persistent pain for this Wednesday, but my head is still swimming after teaching the SI JOINT workshop this weekend.

Here are, instead, a few notes that have been written in response to “how much is too much?” question. This understanding is super important as you journey from persistent pain to movement, and from managing and coping to flourishing and thriving.

Katherine asks:

“Right now, I am curious about the rationale for some of the discomfort/pain when I do some of these new to me, yoga moves….
How much discomfort do I tolerate?
Is any degree of this harmful?
Or is it all helpful?”

During the first one of my two yin trainings, we were encouraged to move as far / deep into the pose as we could, and hold there for a great length of time. One of my least fond memories (and a great A-HA moment!) was spending 30 minutes in a pigeon pose while listening to a lecture. Many of the students (in fact, I think, most of us) have struggled to get out of pose or stand up on our own at the end of the lecture – we had to hoist many a pretzel-ed yogi up to standing. By the end of this 10-day long training many of us had brutal flare ups in hips and low back.

By contrast, my second yin teacher had a very different mantra – and he kept chanting it as we moved from pose to pose:

If you are feeling it, you are doing it

I know how hard it is to apply this principle when we are caught in the midst of our daily going-ons… My good old Russian training and hard-headed type A personality  combine to create an almost inescapable drive for 99.99% output, ALL OF THE TIME. When I schedule, I am instinctively driven to schedule to a millisecond precision. And I schedule 99.99% of my time.
When I do anything – and I mean anything – I put out a full 150!

But recently I’ve learned – with a slight slap in the face, I might add – that pushing yourself to that 99.99 percentile mark leaves no time nor energy for recovery. That’s when I remembered my teacher’s words:

“65 – 70% is how much you need to put out to improve.”

Coincidentally – or not coincidentally at all! – this approach mirrors the working of our musculature and the nervous system. Here is how:

Receptors within the joints and muscles detect movement and changes in muscular tension and length. These receptors alert our central nervous system to changes that are occurring.

Spinal cord communicates this information upward to the brain where the decision is made: does this change feel safe or threatening?

The human nervous system prefers equilibrium to anything else – even if this place of equilibrium currently feels yucky to you. So if we make too much change all at once our nervous system might just rebel, and when it does it lets you know.

If you have come home after a class with a searing, burning pain anywhere, know that your nervous system just went into a freak out mode.

All of us are trained to think that we “tweaked something” during the yoga practice. While it is not impossible to “tweak something” during a yoga practice, the chances of you having a nervous system freakout are that much higher.
{I have a rather intimate relationship with both “yoga tweaks” and “NS freakouts” so I do try to structure classes in a way that helps you navigate the mat without those kind of post-class experiences}.

So case in point is this: taking the stretch / sensation level to the max is not the best idea. It doesn’t serve your greatest good.

60 – 75% sensation level / output is about where most people find that fine balance between feeling challenged and engaged, yet not overdone.
Current stress and pain levels would drop the 60 – 75% threshold to a much lower one – so this freak out / no freak out mechanism begins to work as a feedback tool.

Find your current edge.
Don’t freak out about “the freakout.”
Take note and pay attention – that’s the path to getting better!

Hey, my name is Julia

Living with chronic pain has taught me to look for solutions in unlikely places –  places where most people see only problems.

Over the years I’ve gotten to be pretty good at this problem-solving and silver-lining finding thing.

So good that I felt compelled to share what I’ve learned and help others to find their sea legs while navigating, living, and winning their battle with chronic pain.

Hey, my name is Julia

Living with chronic pain has taught me to look for solutions in unlikely places –  places where most people see only problems.

Over the years I’ve gotten to be pretty good at this problem-solving and silver-lining finding thing.

So good that I felt compelled to share what I’ve learned and help others to find their sea legs while navigating, living, and winning their battle with chronic pain.