Are You “Playing the Edge” in Your Yoga Practice?

Via on Mar 29, 2012
BACK DIVE
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What does it mean to go to “the edge” in yoga? Should you care?

It must’ve been about 7 years ago while I was living in Boston that I decided to check out a new yoga studio that had recently opened. The class was listed as Power Yoga (hot yoga), and although I am not a huge fan of this style of yoga, I was curious and decided to try the class.

In spite of my late arrival at the studio, I was greeted warmly by the receptionist who registered me and then I quietly snuck into the back of the class, which was already in progress.

As a yoga teacher, I can be very critical of other teachers. I have my standards—and you had better live up to them! This experience of taking a power yoga class at a new studio was mostly unmemorable, but one thing is etched into the hard drive of my memory. The class was taught by a young man who talked of recently discovering yoga and how it had changed his life for the better. He was learning to slow down and let go of some of his “Type A” tendencies.

One thing really irked me, though. This young pup of a yoga teacher told us that we should go to the “edge” in every single posture. Hello? Did I hear that correctly? Regardless of my age or my physical condition or my history of injuries or what I did last night—you’re gonna look me right in the eye and with a straight face, tell me to go to the “edge” in every single posture no matter what?

Based on everything I know to be true about yoga, this young, clearly inexperienced and wet behind the ears yoga instructor was dead wrong on this one and I dare say his approach is a bit on the dangerous side.

So let me explain what is actually meant by finding your edge in yoga.

Understanding “the edge” and understanding how to work with it in your practice, can be a useful tool to have in your arsenal.  But please, if you ever hear a yoga teacher tell you that you must go “to the edge” in every posture, please take it with a grain of salt.

Here is my definition of “the edge” in yoga:

The edge is that point in the posture where you are feeling intense sensations and it feels as if you are being challenged to the max!  If you go past this point, you may actually injure yourself.

If you want to advance in the physical part of your yoga practice, you need to explore and learn how to find your edge in each posture. This is very different than blindly “going” to the edge. We are talking about, exploring it, learning about it and becoming aware of it. You may have also heard this referred to as playing the edge.

So what do we mean by “playing the edge?” Playing the edge is like taking little nibbles and bites. Getting a taste of the edge and then maybe backing off a bit, depending on your physical and emotional state on any given day. On some days, you may feel like going a bit deeper and possibly going past your edge. Sometimes by intelligently “playing the edge,” it can end up taking us to a deeper level where we find our new edge.

NO DIVING
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“Playing the edge” is definitely a good tool to have in your yoga tool box, but please treat the edge with reverence and respect. We certainly do not want to take the edge for granted or idly go to the edge in every single posture. It’s a bit like “the boy who cried wolf.” If we do it too much, it loses it’s meaning.

Save and savor the edge for those times when the body, mind and spirit are ready and willing to ramp it up a notch, and dive into unknown waters. Within these unknown waters, there may be a revelation.

~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta

About Dee Greenberg

Dee Greenberg is a freelance yoga instructor and spiritual warrior, residing 6 miles from the beach, in Delray Beach, Florida. Dee’s resume includes 9+ years of teaching yoga, 4 years owning a yoga studio and 40+ years of personal yoga practice. Trained in both Kripalu and Prana Flow (Shiva Rea), Dee’s teaching style is a homogenous blend of both, with a strong sprinkling of intuitive spirituality thrown into the mix. She spends most of her free time drumming, dancing and in various fitness pursuits including skateboarding, running and lifting weights. For more of Dee’s musings on yoga and life, please visit here. To add Dee as a friend on Facebook, please click here, or follow her on Twitter at @50PlusYoga. SUBSCRIBE TO DEE ON ELEPHANT JOURNAL.

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12 Responses to “Are You “Playing the Edge” in Your Yoga Practice?”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  2. I completely disagree with your interpretation of the edge, and maybe that's what was unclear in this whipper snapper teacher you had in Boston. You describe the edge as a dangerous place, like an old sailor talking of the ocean. What if it was meant as a wonderful, focused, safe place, that we ourselves determine what that edge is, before it gets uncomfortable. Giving the student some ownership of the pose. Like a string on a guitar, that when tuned to the right frequency, the right tension and pitch, that is where we sing. We should sing and dance the entire practice and then continue it into our lives. Like the quote "Those that danced were thought mad by those who couldn't hear the music."
    Kindest Regards,
    Paul Hardiman

  3. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.

  4. yogaboca says:

    Paul, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I admit I arrived late to the yoga class, so maybe the teacher gave some explanation of the edge. To me, the word itself implies some inherent danger, like the edge of a cliff. We just don't know what's on the other side, but clearly it needs to be treated with respect and vigilance.

    I think whether the edge is dangerous or not really depends on your practice but we all know that people get injured doing yoga. The intent of my post was simply to say that we don't have to go to the edge every single time in every posture. Although, I must admit, like you, I totally love the bliss. the release and that sense of expansion and infinite possibilities that often comes when we are able to find our edge in any posture.

    I did not mean to invoke any type of fear of the edge. Just reverence and respect.

    I feel it's irresponsible for a teacher to tell students to go to the edge in every posture, because as I said – maybe the student has a hangover that day and is just lucky to have gotten themselves to class. Maybe someone is sleep deprived. Maybe someone has some injury that you are not aware of. When I talk of the edge to my students, I usually explain it fully and talk of the pros and cons.

    I empower them to pay attention to subtle sensations. I let the student decide how deep to go in the posture.

    And I absolutely LOVE it when a teacher helps me go deeper or find a deeper edge in a posture. But I would hate to have that teacher hanging over me in every single posture and shouting "Go deeper, go deeper!"

    This would defeat the purpose of yoga.

    And I love this quote from your comment: " What if it was meant as a wonderful, focused, safe place, that we ourselves determine what that edge is, before it gets uncomfortable"

    Clearly we are on the same page. Paul. Ideally the edge is just that. But as far as "safe"—Change does not always feel safe, it often implies risk and vulnerability. So, the edge can bring you to a warm, fuzzy place but it also may bring you to a place that feels dangerous or scary.

    Either way, hopefully we learn something.

  5. Vision_Quest2 says:

    You either develop a middle path practice or you seek the edge in your practice. So, I'd had philosophical differences with edge-seeking instructors who did not practice mindfulness above all.

    In some situations I do seek the edge – with pilates I can convincingly disguise myself as a Type-A and go for the burn. But when it comes to yoga, it's best to go to the point just beyond your comfort zone, and then at that point of FIRST discomfort, back off to still at the high end of your comfort zone. The most empathetic of yoga teachers don't (and can't) know where that is, but YOU do. The best self-defense/prevention for going for the class with the young pups is NOT the Sleepytime Yoga they may oversell my 55+ year old self, but the mellow hatha class or mild Kundalini class that is so off-the-radar it's in danger of becoming a dying art.

    Ahimsa has many dimensions. One of its dimensions is not to willingly sustain harm to oneself … or to fall prey to trends …

    I sustained two mild physical injuries due to yoga, and am living to tell the tale …

  6. yogaboca says:

    Vision_Quartz, thanks for sharing your experience with playing the edge. I believe injuries happen for a reason. There is always a lesson to learn. By ignoring the edge, it's easy to injure ourselves. Awareness of the edge encourages both safety and self knowledge.

    From your comments, I sense that you feel that the edge, generally involves some type of pain. If we feel pain, we've gone past the safe edge. But when you say "go for the burn" I assume you mean good pain and I do think in some types of practice like with inversions, there also is that good pain. It's not the pain of injuring a joint, but that burn of the muscle really working.

    I take issue with your words: You either develop a middle path practice or you seek the edge in your practice.

    I really don't see it as either – or. Your approach may change many times over the course of your lifetime, depending on what is going on in your life at the time.

    I am also in the 55 plus category – but I am also at a time in my live where I enjoy finding my edge in yoga most of the time. This type of practice didn't always serve me, but it serves me now. I think we need a fluid relationship with how we practice.

    I also believe that the middle path *is* playing the edge. Eric Schiffman divides the edge into various stages and edges which I think is quite brilliant and a great way to look at it.

    You may want to check out Eric Schiffman – http://www.movingintostillness.com/book/asana_pla

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      I like Erich Schiffmann's embracing of the intuitive approach, but I like both yoga pilates fusion (as taught by Jonathan Urla and others) and (the Buddhist approach of) middle path, even better. Nothing gets accomplished without pinpoint alignment, awakeness, attentiveness and awareness …

      With a rangy, non-compact body like mine, and with my moody temperament, there is very little margin for error.

  7. yogaboca says:

    Vision_Quest2, Thanks for sharing what is working for you in your life and practice: pinpoint alignment, awakeness, attentiveness and awareness …

    My understanding is that we are all different and with very different needs. It's great when you find what works in your practice!

    Some people may thrive with pinpoint alignment and others may focus more on expressive movement and releasing negative emotions with the breath.

    My sense is that there is room for a lot of diversity in this big yoga world. People need to experiment and find what works for them and this may change and cycle as our lives change and cycle over time. I try not to get too attached to any one thing because 6 months down the road, it may prove useless. I think that's where the " awakeness, attentiveness and awareness … " come into play. For me, those 3 A's that you speak of, form the foundation for enlightened living!

  8. Vision_Quest2 says:

    I looked at your bio, and it was fascinating that you were introduced to yoga at age 17.

    I had been introduced to yoga at age 16. In 1971. It was the experimental-petri-dish precursor to Yin Yoga, fresh from Esalen; brought to us by our girls' physical education teacher and co-ed hygiene teacher who'd come back one summer wherein that retreat center had changed her life.

    I did not keep up with yoga, and made occasional forays back to it in the next 6 years. "Nice" acquaintance of mine questioned what someone with "my body type" was doing being interested in yoga in the first place. Headstands had never been done in class. This had been the most mellow of freebie '70s-era classes. I'd become a financially poor graduate student, more interested in walking as exercise. Ocasionally tried out yoga again once at an aerobics studio and a full course at a Y (later when I'd wanted to return, they'd advertised: "Beginners not welcome.")

    It was just under 5 years ago that I developed a regular yoga practice, mostly at home or on my own. I appreciated the relatively forgiving milieu of YogaFit gym yoga. It had been a sea-change, actually getting involved with a studio. They tried to shunt me to the Sleepytime Yoga classes (a.k.a. "Gentle Yoga") but also encouraged me to take their open level classes (quizzically looking at me as I entered yet another Beginners' Class) . My injuries from yoga happened much later, after I RAN – not walked – from what I'd found, above all, was a condescending attitude towards primarily home yoga practitioners. They'd got me to spring for a private session I could ill afford, at a very vulnerable moment, and then rubbed my nose in it – going over nothing I'd asked for (this had not been my first private session ever), having me demonstrate the home practice I'd developed; using up nearly half the session until I'd stopped it; and teaching me as if they were grooming yet another teacher-trainee-to-be (their main cash cow). I can talk in a more detached manner about that now, but when given the chance, I will still bring examples of mercenary studio attitudes to light.

    I'd then taken a somewhat throwback, retro style of yoga at a non-profit studio not far from the first studio. My home practice had taken on untold dimensions since then.

    The injuries: one happened in one of those later, less-professionally-taught classes. Another happened in home practice.
    Attitudes of the instructor are more important to me than professionalism. I know I am not preternaturally talented in yoga. Not the "requisite body type." (Formerly obese for most of my life, in fact.) But, humor me!

    On Yelp, I left up a GLOWING, GOT-ME-ON-THE REBOUND review for that nearby non-profit studio that put the first studio to shame [I’d taken those I did for the first studio (and overgenerous in star-grading, anyway), down on an impulse]. Because I CAN write–caustic, funny and positively, too!

    Full disclosure: I live in New York City, where there are more yoga studios than Starbucks.

    But who is their real competition these days? I no longer self-sequence my fusion home yoga practice, primarily … I also absorb some energy from online yoga sites' instruction.

  9. yogaboca says:

    Vision_Quest2, Our paths are parallel in some interesting ways . . . . You have quite a history with yoga and a great story. I wonder if you have a blog or have considered writing for elephant. Feel free to contact me, if you might have some interest. And thanks for your story within the comment.

    It's great when you resonate with a teacher or a studio, but for me that combo has been few and far between. Mainly because I thrive on my personal practice which for me is all about letting the "higher intelligence" lead me. There is no substitute for that. And yes, like you I love absorbing stuff from every avenue possible including the Internet. Kino Macgregor has some amazing videos as well as Sadie Nardini and countless others. I also have a channel on YouTube and love sharing my practice that way. Kudos to you for sticking with yoga!

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Thank you for your responses to my tale (?!). Maybe it's time to give it a rest. I have posted blogs, video blogs and photos of interest at a commercial blogsite, the kind that features social networking, and I have twice the number of "friends" on there currently, than I have on Facebook! I could tell you the where, privately. You might want to check out David Magone's PranaVayu yoga which is available online or by DVD, to see example of a really tough, flowing practice that, yet, counterintuitively, drew me in; having fallen hard for this Buddhist approach to yoga previously. Which is that same approach of New York City's own Cyndi Lee: her DVD had been the antidote to what I'd suffered at the first studio, which I'd left–for good–two months before signing on to the second. And I've practiced at her studio, too. Not too long ago, I had been practicing yoga at a more intermediate level, but I've had to backtrack since the second injury. I also love my pilates too much!

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