Teachers often discuss going to your ‘edge’ in hatha yoga classes. This can seem like a simple cue, but really, what does it mean and why should you want to go there?
Hatha yoga is a very challenging practice which requires much awareness and focus. Simply on the physical side of things, each asana can seem extremely complicated, detailed, and the perfection of it perpetually just out of reach. To some this can feel overwhelming or frustrating, to others this is comforting or pleasantly challenging. And the outlook toward the practice will be different from person to person, day to day. Some days you feel the need to push and progress, other days you feel very lazy and complacent. It is interesting to witness these tendencies in your personal practice and start to look for similarities in factors in life outside of the yoga room that may lead to these states.
The state you are in on any given day will determine where your edge is. The edge is the depth in an asana in which you are most definitely challenged, but not so far that you experience injury or strain. To ride this vague and unsteady line is a puzzling experience, but once the attention is brought to this concept, the asanas can take on a whole new meaning and become very interesting.
Going to the edge in a posture is ideal because that is the place that the body and mind are challenged and the place where great change can take place for you. Coming up short of the edge creates no demand, therefore the opportunity to explore deeper parts of the Self that emerges in navigating challenge is missed. Pushing past the edge creates too much demand on you and can often result in injury. So, coming right up to the edge during the practice is the ideal place where the real depth of the work can be explored, without harming yourself.
are you at your edge?
First of all, the breath is a huge indicator. The breath should be calm and under your control. Once the breath becomes strained, overly rapid, or stops all together, you have gone past your edge. Yes, this means you’ve gone past your edge when your breath starts to sound like you’re imitating a pug, steam engine or you are grunting between the inhales and exhales like Venus Williams at Wimbledon. When the breath is calm, the mind can be calm.
The second indicator is the mind itself. The mind should be in a state of tranquil focus. If there are many daydreams there, your mind has room to wander, and this is an indicator of falling short of the edge. When you’re being lazy or complacent in your body, you have time to form your grocery list, remember the hilarious rerun of Seinfeld you watched last night, or even obsess over your horrible blind date from last week. If there are very piercing and outwardly competitive thoughts present, this is an indicator of the practitioner likely going past their edge. Shooting lazer beams of hatred at your muffin top in the mirror or trying to out-kick your neighbor in standing bow pulling pose are examples of these.
Thirdly, physical sensation is an indicator. Feeling a lack of challenge to the area of the body being targeted is a sign of falling short of the edge. Feeling the muscles and other tissues lengthening is quite the sensation. When the proper amount of stretch and engagement is there, it can be an enjoyable, yet arduous feeling. When going past the edge, the feeling of pain, sharpness, and discomfort is present. Kicking out in standing head to knee even though your standing leg’s knee is screaming at you or wrenching yourself deeper into camel pose in order to see your mat even though your low back feels like it’s about snap are good examples of this.
So, in trying to find the edge in your practice, try to use your calm breath, steady mind, and sensations of opening as clues. As Patanjali states in the yoga sutras: ‘Sthira sukhamasanam.’ Which means: Asana is a steady, comfortable posture. When this posture is found, the mind will be able to meditate on the infinite.