The Connected Yoga Teacher Podcast

116: Pain Language with Shelly Prosko (Part 1)



When people turn to yoga in search of healing, they often carry with them a lot of pain. As yoga teachers, it can be challenging and frustrating to know which words to choose when communicating with our students and giving cues, particularly for those who are dealing with persistent (chronic) pain. In part one of this two-part interview, Shelly Prosko joins Shannon to talk about this topic in a way that makes it playful and fun.


Shelly is a physiotherapist, yoga therapist, author, international speaker and educator with over 20 years of experience in the field. She is also a Pain Care Yoga Trainer, and works to expand knowledge and education on topics surrounding persistent (chronic) pain, pelvic health, compassion and professional burnout. She is currently co-authoring the textbook, Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain.


Shannon and Shelly discuss the concepts of pain and some of the science behind pain  (hint: it’s not a ‘thing’, it’s a phenomenon and an experience!). When guiding a yoga class, some words we use innocently may either be empowering or triggering – Shelly shares more about some words to avoid, and her suggestions for alternatives.


This episode is full of Shelly’s tips and strategies for being more aware of language when guiding a yoga class. Whether you’re teaching a trauma-informed yoga class or just want to be more conscious of how your language can trigger and alleviate pain responses, you’re sure to learn something you can apply to your own classes right away.


Key Takeaways:

[4:43] Shannon introduces her guest for this episode – Shelly Prosko.

[5:36] What got Shelly interested in the topic of pain language?

[9:58] Shelly explains the connotations of ‘chronic’ pain vs ‘persistent’ pain.

[13:09] It’s important to have self compassion and not get too caught up or stressed about always choosing the right words.

[15:39] What do the terms ‘neuroplasticity’ and ‘bioplasticity’ mean?

[19:03] When people get overwhelmed with language, they shut down – that’s why it’s important to keep conversations about language playful and exploratory.

[21:16] How can language turn someone around from their negative pain story into sometime more empowering? Shelly shares an example.

[25:23] How does Shelly approach changing the language used around pain – through explanations, or a gradual shift in language?

[29:27] What are some of Shelly’s cue considerations around pain language?

[34:31] Shelly shares some alternatives that she prefers to use in giving cues.

[43:23] What are some other “dos-and-don’ts” when it comes to communicating in your yoga class?

[48:51] What is your main takeaway from this interview? Share your thoughts!




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Quotes from this episode:


“For people in pain, that have been suffering from persistent pain or chronic pain for a long time, there can be certain changes in the brain and the nervous system that makes the nervous system more hypervigilant, … or more sensitive.”


“We have to also respect the lived experience of pain, meaning what are people in pain saying?”


“Our whole being potentially has the capacity for change.”


“Pain is the output of the human.”


“The output of the brain is the pain experience, and pain is not a thing. It’s a phenomenon, it’s an experience.”


“With the giving the permission, just be cognizant about are we creating an environment that gives people the sense of safety, confidence and the courage.”


“You don’t have to tell people what to do or what they should be doing. You’re just providing this experience, you’re more their guide.”