“A large part of the art and skill in yoga lies in sensing just how far to move into a stretch. If you don’t go far enough, there is no challenge to the muscles, no intensity, no stretch, and little possibility for opening. Going too far, however, is an obvious violation of the body, increasing the possibility of both physical pain and injury. Somewhere between these two points is a degree of stretch that is in balance: intensity without pain, use without abuse, strenuousness without strain. You can experience this balance in every posture you do.”
Erich Schiffmann ‘Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness’
When it comes to the concept of the edge in teaching yoga, I often have found students hovering around their edges. Some times right before it; but more often I find them trying to hover just beyond. I then remind them, “remember if it hurts don’t do it!”
The concept of an edge in a yoga practice, is the perfect sweet spot just before pain. It is when the physical has a sensation, but not at the point where it is unbearable. We straddle this point in our physical bodies because, through the breath, we can slowly expand it. Eventually push beyond it safely, with grace and lasting effect. However if we do so too soon, we can incur permeant damage to our bodies; or if we never meet it, we can fail to ever see the fruit of our labor.
Sadly, with yoga as a physical practice coming to the West, there has been a focus on many students to quickly and painfully push past their edge. We have an adopted – I will be it changing – a practice of ‘no pain no gain’, which is highly dangerous. Physically when we push the body to the point of pain, particularly in stretching, the body has an opposite and harmful reaction, it contracts away. Thus leaving us within a position where the body is working against itself, sometimes to the point of injury.
As Schiffmann has so beautifully said above, the edge is “a large part of the art and skill in yoga is sensing just how far to move into a stretch.” Thus leaving us with the understanding that the idea of mastery of a difficult pose, really is not the full concept of yoga – as we all know – but rather the understanding of our own boundaries and Selves. He later points out, that an edge is not always physical, but can also be parts of the ego.
The physical practice of yoga offers us a wondrous place to explore and expand ourselves, in the body, mind, and even the spirit. When we talk about an edge in class, we are not just referring to the physical ability of a body to do such a pose; but also the mind’s willingness to engage in the pose, or the heart’s belief that the pose can be done. Essentially when we say “play with your edge”, we are asking ourselves to play the boundaries of our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits.
For example, let us place ourselves into a novice’s mind stepping on a yoga matt for their first class. We are nervous. We are scared. We are excited. We are probably concentrating very hard on keeping up with the class, while not looking stupid. Finally we come to a child’s pose. We can rest. Then the instructor announces that we are encouraged to explore headstand. Our hearts drop into our stomachs. Maybe were thinking, “sure if I was still 8”, or “stand on my head? I will trigger a migraine!” or “I just can not do that!” For anyone who has taught a beginner yoga class, this is not so hard to see pouring out of a new student in immediate panic.
However let us take that same situation, and add the fact that they are extremely physically fit. They have great core and shoulder strength. They have wonderful physical balance, and great endurance. Yet they remain in child’s pose. Unwilling to even try the pre poses to head stand. We then can conclude, more than likely, they have found their ego edge. They have found the place where they are feeling a sensation, just before shear panic and pain.
Our edges, then, do not just offer us physical boundaries to work within; but rather can also offer us insights into our mental, emotional, and spiritual boundaries as well. These boundaries offer us insight into who we truly are. These are the edges that help us expand and enlighten ourselves, help us reach Self-Realization, and or the true Oneness with the universe. These boundaries help us expand our empathy, and our understanding of our past and future actions, as well as help us to understand others. From here we can better understand our social conditioning by recognizing our aversions and preferences; and understand which of those come from our True nature rather than our social nature.
While we are practicing Hatha, or physical, yoga, we are given the opportunity to experiment with finding, and then slowly, and in a healthy way, pushing past these edges and boundaries. From this safe space, we learn how to recognize and implement this process. When we step off of our yoga matts, we can then take this practice into our day to day lives, and experiment with this process via our mental, emotional, and spiritual edges. We can approach an invitation to a possible uncomfortable situation in a new way. Instead of outright saying no, we can feel our way into the situation. Maybe we say yes, then leave early when we have reach the point of our edge. Maybe we find ourselves pushing to approach that cute human across the room and ask them out. Maybe we find the courage to make a new friend. We find we have more room to try new things; but we also recognize when it is time to back off before the panic, anger, or possible depression sets in.
Coming to an understanding of our edges, and boundaries, helps us not only to challenge ourselves into new growth; but also helps us to remove fear. When we find a comfortable challenge, but also know we can back out when we start to feel uncomfortable, helps replace our self trust. Our edges helps us to find ourselves, helps us to begin to rebuild our trust within ourselves. Once that trust is rebuilt we can begin, once again, to live the life we have always wanted. For when we have Self-trust, we are more apt to rely on our intuition, and the voice within ourselves from the universe leading us to our truest purpose and life goal.
Essentially the better we understand our edges, the better we understand our boundaries. The better we understand our boundaries, the better we understand ourselves. The better we understand ourselves, the better we understand our True Nature. The better we understand our True Nature, the better we can trust our selves. The better we trust ourselves, the easier we can find our true purpose; and from our true purpose can we live truly fulfilled and satisfying lives.
Practice in Peace and Love ❤