“Things really start to happen when you learn how to hold a yoga posture at the edge – a place of neither too much nor too little stretch. Too far back from the edge is boredom and atrophy. Too far out is injury. Unless you find your edge, there is no growth, no learning, and no change.”
– Michael Lee
You may have heard the term ‘edge’ many times in your readings, or by your yoga instructor in class, so what exactly does it mean? If you are just starting out in yoga and only attend a few classes per week, then your edge is going to be at a different level than one who has a daily yoga practice. Here are some things to consider regarding your yoga edge.
First, you should never attempt to do a pose in full expression without properly warming up the body. This includes the most basic poses. The body just as the mind needs to be brought into its proper state. Many yoga injuries are a result of rushing into a pose when the body and mind are not in balance. It is no different than starting up your car when it is below freezing and expecting the heater to be immediately blowing hot air. It just doesn’t happen. The same is true for us, so start your routine with easy flowing poses to warm-up your joints and tension areas. Especially pay attention to areas where you may have stiffness or tightness. Slowly work those areas gradually, but never to the point of sharp pain or any pain for that matter. A warm-up is exactly that – a warm-up. An example of a warm-up can range from a mild Pilates sequence to a slow-moving sun salutation depending on your level.
Secondly, listen to your body. We all have high energy days and low energy days. And it is not uncommon to have tension areas or tender spots on a particular day. Respect what your body is saying to you and accept it. The last thing you want to do is to create an injury. How many times have you heard the yoga instructor ask what is your energy level today? Prepare yourself to flow with your energy level and just go with it. Instead of forcing yourself thru a routine, allow yourself to flow with your current energy state. You might be surprised how you feel when you flow with it instead of forcing yourself thru it.
Also, accept your own physical limitations. As a yoga instructor, one of the first things you learn is that we all have limitations just by the nature of our skeleton and muscular structure. So in other words, there are going to be poses (asanas) that you will not be able to do, or maybe not do to its fullest textbook expression, just because of your anatomy. A seasoned instructor will recognize whether you have skeleton limitation or muscular tightness. A common limitation is called ‘bone-on-bone’ which means your joint is not going to bend any further unless you break the bones. And we certainly don’t want to break any bones. As an example, not everyone may be able to sit in a full lotus position because of their knee or hip alignment. Another example is to look at pictures between men and women in the dancer position, and notice how many men can get their legs extended just like a women – men’s and lady hips have different anatomical structures. While on the other hand, muscular tension can be improved. Tight hamstrings will become looser when you ease into your downward dog and head to toe. If you force the pose you will tear the muscle.
And finally, put the ego aside. Of all the reasons one may experience a yoga injury it is the ego moreover than not that is usually going to be the root cause of the injury. How many times have you heard someone say ‘I over did it”. Just be aware to stay within yourself and recognize your own limitations and accept it. Always remember it is not what the pose looks like, but rather what the pose is doing for you. Safety and self-awareness are paramount.
Once you have accepted your own physical limitations, understand your own anatomy, and can put the ego aside, it is then you are ready to explore your edge, and only then. The edge is the place by which you are not going to cause any physical injury, rather expand your inner boundaries as a yogi. It may be holding the Warrior I from 30 seconds to 1 minutes or even 5 minutes. It is finding comfort when there is discomfort. It is learning to focus more on your ujjahi when the mind says to step out of the pose. It is learning to take control, relaxing more and expanding your inner limitations. It is a place different for each of us. Once you experience the edge, you will want to re-visit it more and more. The edge teaches us are weaknesses, as well as our strengths. It is when we learn to explore the edge with grace and peacefulness that it has meaning. Attacking the edge with brute force will only lead to disappointment.