Today I want to talk about a phrase that we hear quite often in yoga: “The Edge.” While it may sound ominous, chances are paying attention to your Edge and having a deep understanding of what it means will change the way you practice. I think ultimately it allows us, and requires us, to take our practice off the mat.
What exactly is the Edge? One of the most common explanations of this term that I’ve seen is: “the place in your practice where you are being sufficiently challenged but not so much that you experience strain or injury.” This is completely true. Playing with your Edge should not be about pushing beyond pain to the point of injury. We have to be mindful not to overdo our physical practice and hurt ourselves. But I also think definition is a very physical way to think about the edge. It focuses on feeling pain and difficulty in the body. Personally speaking, my practice really took off when I started to develop a deeper understanding of what the Edge is.
The Edge isn’t just physical. It’s mental. When we teach people to “find their Edge” by only being mindful of strain or injury, the mental aspect is lost. We don’t often connect strain or injury with the mind; when our mind is strained it doesn’t usually hurt in the same way that the body does (though if any of you have been to graduate school, I think you’ll agree with me in saying such a thing is completely possible).
We can think of the mental Edge as challenging focus, concentration, dedication, and willpower to persevere even in conditions that are not comfortable. Ever hear the saying that “the pose begins when you want to leave it?” That’s the mental Edge. It’s learning to thrive and persevere even in the face of difficulty. It’s breathing into the intensity rather than running from it. It’s working in the growth zone.
By challenging both the body and mind to move beyond what we think we are capable of (but only in small increments, without injuring ourselves) we are able to redefine what our limits are. We realize that something we never thought was possible, or never even considered at all, is actually within the realm of possibility. This is where the practice becomes transformative. Yoga makes the impossible possible when you work at your Edge.
My favorite way to the think about the edge involves thinking about change, about the Edge as the growth zone. One of the most common translations of “yoga” is “union.” For me, the Edge is yoga, it is the union of what you are now capable of and what you are not yet capable of. It is playing with moment of union between who you are now and who you will become, between who you have been, and who you will be. Working at the Edge, not just in our physical practice but in our day to day lives, enables us to actualize our full potential, to become the people we want to be, and to recognize that limits are often barriers we impose on ourselves rather than something that actually exists “out there.”
Given that playing with your Edge can be so transformational, sometimes we may want to always challenge ourselves to work in the growth zone, or push ourselves to be where we imagine we should be before we may be ready. This desire arises from our ego. All great things take time, and yoga is a practice. We need to practice playing with our Edge; we cannot exist there all the time. Recall the song, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need?”
The Edge is personal, and variable, and there are times when what we need may be to rest and heal rather than challenge ourselves. Listen at these times. The Edge is a moving target, and it will change day to day, week to week, and year to year as we grow. Yoga is a practice, and some days the practice is just showing up rather than pushing our limits. Other days the practice will involve playing with the Edge. Some days we find our Edge has not changed, or that we hit our Edge sooner than we have in the past. Other days we may find we have moved beyond a plateau, and we can push ourselves harder and longer than ever before. Cultivating mindfulness is absolutely necessary to recognize our Edge at any moment so we make sure we don’t move so far beyond it we injure ourselves.
So, play with your Edge as you need, and be patient. With patience comes all things. Through practice we explore our Edge, we find our path, and we move beyond our limitations.
With love, light, and…