Finding the Edge vs Feeling the Burn

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"But if yoga is so easy on your body, how are you supposed to get anywhere?" you may wonder. Hey, we never said yoga was easy! Yoga isn't always easy. Sometimes it's downright difficult. Just because you aren't committing violence to your body doesn't mean a yoga workout is akin to a day of sunbathing at the beach. On the contrary: Yoga can be tough and intensely challenging.

The difference between yoga and other types of exercise is that the challenge and the progression are deeply internal and subtle. Perhaps you've been trying to accomplish a pose in which you bend forward and touch your head to your knees. The first time you try it, you don't even come close. You can barely bend forward without your back causing you pain, so bend your knees and slowly work at bringing the head and upper body down. Slowly build so that your back strengthens and you can straighten your knees. Lean into your farthest point in the stretch and hold it. Remember to keep breathing, letting your breath travel through your body and into the pose. Holding the pose won't hurt (not exactly), but you'll definitely feel something. Your muscles may shake a bit, and that's okay, as long as you aren't forcing the issue. You may even break a sweat. You're feeling the "edge" of your flexibility as well as an edge of your awareness. Your muscles are waking up and saying, "Hey! What is it you want us to do? This is weird, but okay, we'll give it a try." Your mind is waking up, too, and taking notice.

The next time you try this pose, you get a little closer—maybe three or four inches from your knees. The farthest point of the stretch is now a little farther than it was before. You stretch to this point and hold it. Now your muscles have become accustomed to a new "normal" level of flexibility. You find the new edge and test it—not to the point of pain, but just to see where it now lies. Your muscles feel it, and so does your mind.

A few weeks, or months, or maybe a lifetime later (how long it takes isn't important, because it's not a competition), you lean into the stretch and ... wow! There it is! Suddenly your head is resting quite easily on your knees. You've stretched your boundaries and pushed your edge to a new level. At this point, you may simply feel


If you happen to overdo it during your yoga workout and find yourself in serious pain, do yourself a favor and go to your healthcare provider immediately! Ignoring the pain won't make it go away and, in some cases, could result in a serious or chronic health problem. Just do it.

triumphant, but you may also feel an awakening to a new level of yourself. No longer simply proud of your achievement, you're now aware of yourself in a new way.

Therein lies yoga's power—the physical process breaking into the mental process and lifting the whole of you to higher and higher states of awareness.

Keep in mind that every posture contains an "edge" or a point past which—for today, at least—you can't quite go. This is the point around which you want to linger, because it's the source of yoga's power. You'll soon see how productive it is to recognize an edge but not let it define you.

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