Finding the edge

The edge of a cliff is a relatively easy place to find (even when it’s not marked with a helpful warning sign). It’s the place where one more step will send us over the edge, crashing to the rocks below.

This makes the cliff edge a dangerous place to be, if we aren’t paying attention to what we are doing and where the limits are. But the edge is also a glorious place to stand because of the extent of the view that opens up before you with nothing blocking your line of sight.

It’s worth pushing ourselves to the edge, despite the danger, for the benefit of seeing so far and so clearly.

In most other parts of our lives, this edge is not quite as easy to find.

In my yoga classes, I often talk to students about finding their edge in a certain pose. I describe it as that place where they are feeling a good stretch but no strain.

To push beyond that point is to risk injury by trying to force the body to do more than it is ready for.

To stop before reaching that point will prevent any growth into that pose because it is not deepening the stretch of the muscles and encouraging the body to expand into new territory.

The challenge is to learn to recognize that balance point of the edge—pushing just hard enough to get out of one’s comfort zone into the place where growth is possible but not pushing so hard that injury or damage is inflicted.

It’s a balance point that changes day by day in our yoga practice. The place where I find my edge changes depending on how tired I am, how recently I ate, how warmed up my muscles are, how I’m feeling that day, the state of any recent injuries, and even the time of the day.

Each new practice session is a place where we must consciously find our edge in each pose once again. Once we locate where our edge is for that day for that pose, we can safely move into the pose, pushing only to that edge.

Even then, we don’t stay at that edge for the whole yoga practice; we move to our edge, experience the stretch in our bodies, and then retreat from the edge to let our bodies rest before we do it again.

The beauty of learning to locate this edge in a physical practice like yoga is not just that it keeps us safe in our yoga practice, but also that it is a good training ground for finding our edge in other areas of life.

Emotionally, it is healthy to allow ourselves to feel our pain and to let old wounds come to the surface so they can be healed, but most of us can only handle so much pain at one time. If we push past that edge, we risk derailing the healing process and creating additional trauma. Yet to refuse to go near that edge, to refuse to ever allow ourselves to feel our real pain also prevents our healing.

A certain amount of stress and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone is a good thing. That’s where we learn and grow and experience new things. If we never push ourselves outside that comfort zone, we put ourselves to sleep and slowly stop living. But pushing beyond the edge of what we can handle, creates an unhealthy level of stress that can damage our systems.

This is true for every aspect of our lives—physically, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, spiritually. We benefit from pushing ourselves to our own edges to keep ourselves growing and active and alive, but we need to be aware of where those edges are for us so we don’t force ourselves beyond what we are able to handle.

Just like in yoga, those edges shift depending on what else is happening in our lives, the amount of support we have, and our current state of health (on any level).

The more we practice finding those edges, the easier it is to recognize them as they move and shift. We learn what it feels like to stretch, and we learn when that stretch is starting to become a strain so we can back off until we are ready to go farther.

Do you know what your edges are? How do you notice when you are reaching your edge in any of these areas? How often do you stretch outside your comfort zone to go to those edges?


Photo credit: Danger Cliff Edge by Tom Parnell, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.

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