Balance arises when we enter with mercy and awareness areas that have been withdrawn from in fear and anger. Healing is a rehabilitation of the deserted areas of the mind/body, a living of our whole life.” Stephen Levine
“Your skill in yoga has little to do with your degree of flexibility or where your edges happen to be. Rather, it is a function of how sensitively you play your edges, no matter where they are….The practice becomes one of be relaxed and willing at your deeper edges; and this isn’t necessarily easy.” Erich Schiffman, Master Yoga Teacher
When we are building our skills in Yoga practice the concept of the “Edge” allows us a way to experience Yoga more broadly practice as a metaphor for life. In doing we understand that any limit approached in the practice consciously can potentially lead to greater balance, growth and enlightened living.
In our physical Yoga asana(posture) practice the main category of limits we experience are:
Anatomical limits: Pertaining to muscle length or physical strength, experienced most immediately and concretely through individual muscle tightness or laxity, musculoskeletal pain, as well as the felt sense overall stability and weakness in our Yoga postures.
Physiological limits: Weak or compromised metabolic, respiration and other somatic processes. Experienced through the messages of burning muscles, shortened breath, fatigue or low energy and feelings of depletion.
Mental limits: Manifesting as scattered attention, poor or rigid focus, anxiety, fear, doubt, anger, self-aggression and frustration. Any unconscious reaction, even the positive experiences and emotions such as pride and bliss can limit our ability to experience the present moment in our time on the mat.
We meet all these forms of limits in some manner each time we do Yoga. With skillful practice, they will recede over time in response to our efforts as we build up the corresponding faculty.
To avoid the common pitfalls of Yoga practice, it is essential to understand that mental limits, particularly doubt, can be the most subtle and vexing hindrances to our practice. Paradoxically, these places where our individual mental limits exist are the places in which we can enrich our lives in ways beyond imagination. Mental struggles in our practice both contribute to and are often a response to our movement into our anatomical and physiological limits. For example, anxious thoughts tighten muscles; the experience of weakness or breathlessness can reinforce fear or negative self-judgments.
As products of our conditioned mind, mental limits arise anytime we move beyond our comfort zone and move into the “edge” of our habitual experience. They are our “knee jerk” thoughts, attitudes or feelings that arise in responses to unknown or uncomfortable experience. Unaware response to our mental limits can thwart us in our practice and rob us of the joy that we can receive from Yoga. At any point along the path failure to deal with all that arises when confronted with those “deserted areas of the mind/body” that we rediscover in Yoga practice can undermine motivation. So within the conscious practice we become aware of and work through the plateaus and limits and the resistances that can come with them. You will often find along the way at the pockets of struggle and resistance dissolve and a renewed joy and enthusiasm for Yoga arise in its place.