Note to those with short attention spans or those who cannot be bothered to read the whole post, this article is not against heat or pain. It talks about the positives, negatives and balance.
Pain is to some Ashtangis as heat is to some hot yogi's.
Some hot yogi's feel that if the room is not hotter than the devil's tit, that they have not done anything. Some Ashtangis feel that if the are not experiencing some discomfort,pain or soreness, that they didn't do anything.
Anytime we experience something new or extreme, we are flooded with excitement & adrenaline. We feel like we have awakened from sleep. We are alert and filled with a sense of purpose. A new relationship makes us feel like we are on cloud nine. Jumping out of an airplane and the thrill of cheating death makes our heart race. Facing the heat head on and overcoming it on our mats makes us feel powerful. There is nothing wrong with these feeling of aliveness and excitement, it is the attachment to the feeling that causes the problem. All of these emotions are outside of us and we are perceiving them as they happen to us. Something is watching or you couldn't even experience it. Unlike your soul, spirit, the energy inside you that cannot be created or destroyed, this comes and goes. This means that it is not real. Attachment to things that are not real causes unhappiness when they go. Once the jump is over, after being married for a few years, after experiencing a 100 degree class, you keep looking for that next thing. Never finding the ability to just feel the aliveness that comes from within. When you can never be content, you can never be happy. Santosha, contentment, is one of the Niyamas,rules that yogis live by that are discussed in the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, which is the foremost text of yoga.
“Bliss is a thing which is always there and is not something which comes and goes. That which comes and goes is a creation of the mind.”- Ramana Maharshi
Some yogis also become addicted to the intense heat and pain because it makes them feel like what they do is of some benefit. Most people have a need to be seen and have their emotions and actions validated. Intensity lets us know that, what we re doing, is having some impact and validates our actions. However the body is built for adaptation and gets used to the movement. As the Yoga Sutras say, you find a steady and comfortable seat. At this point, instead of focusing on the discomfort of the body, the practice becomes a moving meditation and brings about a connection with consciousness itself. At this point not only is physical pain not present, but psychological and emotional pain starts to dissipate.
Even if you are not into the spirituality of yoga, constantly looking for the validation of pain and extreme discomfort can result in injuries. The heat makes our bodies malleable which allows our muscles to be more open. It also soothes sore muscles and relieves pain. The heat acts in the same way as a heating pad, increasing blood flow to the injured or sore muscle causing it to heal and feel better. At the same time, the heat dulls the pain receptors lulling you into feeling that you are more open then you really are resulting in pushing the muscle further then it needs to go and injury.
When we are looking for the validation of pain, we are playing with fire. Pain is the bodies way of signaling that something is wrong. Sometimes, the "wrongness" brings growth and healing. In order for the body to make changes to the muscle, it makes tiny microscopic tears. Depending on what movements we are making, the muscles heal back bigger, stronger or with more length. Pain can also occur while breaking up scar tissue after major injuries. The scar tissue limits the range of motion and can also cause pulling and misalignment on the bones resulting in more pain at a later date.
There is also another time when pain may be necessary. You know when your yoga teacher says that pain sometimes get stored in the hips? it is not just granola yoga talk. Science has documented the presence of psychosomatic disorders. Sometimes our pain is mental and our brain sends the signals to our body resulting in physical pain. Also, the impact of stress, which is also psychosomatic has been documented to cause numerous ailments. If the pain has been generated from the mind and stored in the body, we sometimes have to convince our bodies that everything is okay and be with the pain to get over it.The reason why playing with pain is playing with fire is because we have to be able to self diagnose, and if we diagnose wrong, we cause more pain and injury.
The Yoga Sutras, in the discussion on the Kleshas, advises against dealing in extremes. Going into yoga and expecting not to feel anything is an extreme and going into yoga wanting to feel pain or copious amounts of discomfort is also an extreme. We have to find a balance and only do what is nesccary to get the results that we are seeking.