Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Five Steps to Your Yoga Edge

Edges are marked by pain for a reason - they help define your limits.

It's important for us to gently nudge those limits as we grow older especially.  As our bodies age, range of motion decreases as well as our range of experience.  In yoga we learn to find our limits and gently push on them, with mindful attention and loving kindness.  As we do so we maintain our nimble body and minds longer, and continue to enjoy all life has to offer.

You can consider each yoga pose as a map to explore your edges.  The pose itself is never a destination, it's never complete.  Rather, the pose is a template, an ever evolving experience that allows you to safely expand from the inside out and to come up against these limits.  Pain is good.  It's an built-in self-protective mechanism that tells us when we've gone too far in a pose.  Work in the space right before pain and you'll discover more opening that you can imagine.

While playing on our edge, we will become aware of the fine line between pain an intensity.  For the novice, all yoga poses may feel painful.  Just stretching and holding our bodies will create some resistance.  The key is to work at the point right before the physical resistance emerges.  Why?  because when the body resists it will naturally tighten and work against you.  You will experience the opposite of yoga!  This resistance is marked by pain.  It doesn't matter at what point in a pose this occurs, whenever it does that's your queue to back off.

Intensity is a range of sensation that can be confused with pain.  A family member of mine, when first trying yoga, thought a simple stretch was "painful".  After some instruction and direct experience, she was able to distinguish between pain and high intensity.

These "high intensity" moments have a seductive quality to them. They are safe and are usually radiating form the belly of the muscle (rather than form a joint).  Intensity is necessary to bring you to your edge and it's best when this intensity is mindfully self-generated.

How do you use intensity to play on your edge?

Schiffmann suggests the following five steps:
  1. Find your first edge.  The moment in a pose, like a forward fold, where you just start to feel a stretch.
  2. Stop at the first edge and deepen your breath.
  3. Redefine your energy lines so they are smooth and unobstructed.
  4. Wait patiently for the opening instead of blowing past it to your limit.
  5. Allow the pose to sneak up on you and only continue further when the body "opens" or rather, when the initial sensation starts to diminish and you could use a little more.
Too often we are more aware of where we aren't than where we are.

Yoga encourages you to explore deeply where you are.  Be where your body is.  A yoga pose isn't an example of all the things you don't have, it's a doorway into a deeper understanding of all that you do have.  

"The art of yoga lies in how well you play with your edges, how delicately you flirt with your limitations, how well you lure yourself deeper into the postures, how sensitively you balance the desire to achieve results with the relaxation of non-desire and surrender, and how thoroughly you immerse yourself in the process of enjoying what you are doing."  ~ Schiffmann

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