“Is this supposed to hurt?” When working with Yoga Tune Up Therapy balls, this is a question I get asked on an almost daily basis. For many people, this is the first time they have taken a grippy, pliable rubber ball and placed it on the tissues of their (fill in the blank). Their sensory nerve fibers are in a bit of shock, and for many, this is interpreted as pain. The therapy balls do not create pain or tension and are merely tools to expose where the pain and tension already exists in your body. Yet, for some people, the brain is unable to distinguish the difference between good pain and bad pain.

What exactly is pain? As defined by the National Institutes of Health, “Pain is a feeling triggered in the nervous system. Pain may be sharp or dull. It may come and go, or it may be constant.”

While pain is a good indicator of potential threats to the body, such as tissue damage, it can be troublesome if your brain has difficulty distinguishing from true tissue damage and a stretch. For some people, the sensation of stretch is felt as pain. Regardless of if tissue damage is actually occurring, their bodies go into protective mode, contracting and tightening the involved musculature to prevent this perceive threat.

This also happens for some people on the therapy balls. If you are feeling intense sensation and your brain perceives it as a threat (bad pain), then your nervous system will not allow your body to relax and you will be unable to make any tissue change in the area. The incredibly tense and painful trapezius will remain so until you are able to convince yourself (and your brain) that this is good pain. There are always ways to modify by modulating the amount of pressure and body weight you apply to the therapy balls (taking your balls to the wall, using 2 therapy balls versus 2, or using a larger sized ball). (Please note that bad pain is, and always will be bad pain, do not pretend you can convince yourself otherwise. If it is creepy, it is creepy; no way around it. If it takes your breath away and/or persists after you stop what initiated it in the first place, it’s bad pain. Stay away.) 

There is also a strong psychological aspect to pain. The minute you feel a pain, your first instinct is to stop whatever you are doing so it will stop. This reflex signal does not travel all the way up to your brain, as that would take far too long. Can you imagine if when you touched a hot pain, the impulse had to travel all the way up to your brain where you had to make a conscious decision that the pan was, in fact, hot? Thank goodness we don’t have to think about it! If the pain impulse persists, or is of a greater magnitude than a reflex can respond to, then the emotional part kicks in to high gear. Fear, anxiety, and agitation are only some of the emotions associated with pain that add to the response.

So how do you distinguish good pain from bad pain? First off, any sensation that is nerve related (feelings of hot, cold, numbness or tingling) should absolutely be respected and you should modify what you are doing. But if the discomfort is sensational and does not feel creepy, then wait it out. Allow your body the time it needs to adapt to the new input, and if you continue to feel discomfort without change, go ahead and modify what you are doing.

Please, for the sake of your instructor, be your own guide to your pain. We are not in your body or head, and do not know what you are experiencing. Do not wait for the teacher to offer suggestions or modifications, if you are in creepy pain GET HELP!

 So the next time you are rolling on the ball or in class, watch your response to sensations. Do your shoulders tense up to your ears every time you stretch? See if you can become aware of how the rest of your body is responding to the feeling and relax! Or, get the heck out of the position if it’s creepy pain ;)

Join me this Saturday, November 16, in Brea, CA for Tackle your Tension: Yoga Tune Up Therapy Ball Self Massage from Head to Toe!. Test out your super power skills of observation in regards to good pain/sensation while we roll out the entire body with Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls.