When I first became interested in yoga I first noticed how incredibly inflexible my body was and how much it hurt. I began to doubt if yoga was really for me. I had difficulty coordinating my body and breath, and I seemed to be experiencing pain, not ecstasy as promised. Nevertheless, I stuggled along each day without it getting any easier.
One day, I found myself experiencing intolerable levels of discomfort, even in postures we held for only a short time. I would engage the stretch and it was as if my body would throw me out. I was trying to be willful and my willfulness was not working. Ever the pragmatist, I decided to conduct a little experiment.
I chose to not try so hard. I allowed myself to ease into postures until there was only mild, tolerable discomfort. But after doing this a while, I began feeling guilty. My critical mind rushed in: I was not doing my best. I was taking the easy way out. I felt terrible. And so went back to trying again, only to find the guilt replaced by frustration, anger, and more pain.Then I had another a flash of inspiration: What lay between trying and not trying? Excited by this new possibility, I moved into the next posture and tentatively sought out that in between place of not too much and not too little. Initially it was hard to find. First I had to resist my tendency to try harder, then the temptation to back off too much. As I became the witness to myself, I was able to feel the uncomfortable yet inviting feeling of entering a void where images, sensations, and even new awareness seemed to come to me. I was not the doer of the posture, I was the receiver.
Within days, my yoga practice took on a whole new meaning. As I held the edge, I began to notice my fears and how they affected my life. One day, right there at the edge, I experienced my fear of fatherhood and my “edges” and awkwardness around my parental role. Playing the edge, I was able to let my body and myself soften and at the same time emotionally soften into being an inexperienced, imperfect, sometimes insecure, father. Tears of bliss ran across my cheeks as I entered this new dimension of self acceptance.
Another day I saw how my identity was tied to my work. Being at the edge this day, had produced the uncomfortable feeling of ‘not doing’. Not being in a doing mode (not working) left me feeling naked of my identity. Without that identity I felt vulnerable. Again, I stepped into that vulnerable feeling and seemed to come through to other side, again with the experience of profound bliss.
Once I accepted the edge, my need to be doing seemed to disappear and paradoxically, the more I accepted my edge, the more I seemed able to effortlessly accomplish. Translating the learning to life situations has not always been easy and yet it has always worked wherever I’ve applied it. And if I forget – there is always a yoga posture and my body that will remind me.
Have you experienced the “edge” in your Yoga practice and used it as a source of deeper learning? Comment below to tell us your story of the “edge”.
Michael Lee, MA. founded Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy in 1986. He will be the opening keynote presenter at SYTAR in Reston VA on June 9th, 2016
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