I woke up last Thursday with soreness behind my knee going up into the back of my thigh. I assumed it had to do with a ligament in my knee that I had torn several years ago. But as I went about my day, I realized that it was my hamstring. I had strained it.
I am not sure what happened. It could’ve been in yoga or during a martial arts class. It took me by surprise. My hamstrings are very flexible so I don’t pay much attention to them. But obviously I should!
I am sure during yoga class you have heard “find your edge” or “breathe into your edge.” Sounds like cool advice but what exactly does it mean?
What is the edge?
An important part of yoga is sensing how far you should go into a stretch. If you don’t go far enough, there’s no challenge to the muscles and tissues. No opportunity for opening and growth. But if you go too far you risk injuring yourself.
Somewhere in between there is balance – a stretch that is intense but not painful. It is strenuous, even difficult, but it doesn’t overstrain. In yoga, we call this place your edge.
Finding your intelligent edge in the pose
When you come into a yoga pose, come to a place of significant resistance. It is work, yes. But not pain. You won’t get the full benefits if it feels super easy. But you have to be smart about it too. That’s why it is often called your intelligent edge.
I love how Bernie Clark explains the concept in YinSights. He compares the body and the will to two dancers during a performance. The dancers move in unison but you can’t tell who is leading or who is following. The dance flows. It is not easy yet it is filled with ease.
In yoga, your body and mind should not be wrestling. They should be dancing.
Once you go into a pose forget what it looks like. It doesn’t matter (we talked about that here). Find your edge. Not comfortable but not painful. Pause and notice how it feels. You know that a pose is doing its work if it feels like your body is being stretched or squeezed, pushed close to its limits.
We like to remain in comfortable places. We shy away from the edge. But with age, our edges and limits tend to shrink. Bodies tighten and stiffen and our range of motion lessens. If you continually push just beyond your comfortable range in your yoga practice, you move towards openness and flexibility. The process of closing slows down or may even be reversed. Your edges don’t shrink but expand.
Edges aren’t static.
Like most interesting paths, it’s not a straight one! Sometimes you need to push a little then pause and wait. Maybe back off before going deeper. And your edges are not the same everyday. Your body changes. You might be retaining water, feeling tired, energetic or more stiff than usual. Let your body’s intelligence guide you.
Even though I normally have very open hamstrings, I was not paying attention to my body last week and I pushed too far. I just did what I usually do. Had I been more aware I might have stopped sooner and avoided injury.
Play at your edge
It’s good to know your limits. But moving beyond your comfortable edge promotes growth. Your edge is like a place of potential and there is all kinds of possibility that lies just beyond your comfort zone!
Yin Yoga provides a great basis for feeling into your edge. In a yin practice, you don’t go as deeply into a pose as you can right away. You find the shape. You feel some resistance. Then you breathe into it and allow your body to open up until it invites you to go deeper.
In a Yin practice, poses are held for a longer period of time (3 to 5 minutes). You have the opportunity and space to move further into the pose with grace, awareness and intelligence.
A Yin Yoga Practice for Playing your Edge
Below is a suggestion for a short Yin practice. Try it out or maybe just pick one pose to experiment with (Dragon is a good one for edge-finding!)
Hold each pose for 3-5 minutes. Focus on finding and playing with you edges. Move slowly and mindfully, observing what is happening physically and mentally.
Find a balance between effort and relaxation. Gently play around in that place. Breathe into it, move a bit deeper, pause, back off, move in a bit more.
- Wide leg Child’s Pose
- Dragon Pose(Left & Right)
- Saddle(reclined Hero) or Sphinx
- Dragonfly(Seated wide leg forward fold)
Finding your edge is about acceptance and not turning away from discomfort. It is about leaning into the experience. Playing your edge is about reaching your potential intelligently, with sensitivity and respect for your body.
What do you think? Please share your ideas in the comments below!