The Edge*

No doubt as a direct result of the company I keep, articles on yoga crop up in my Facebook feed fairly often. The quality varies–yoga websites, like most of the internet, aren’t immune to clickbait–but yesterday morning, my friend and fellow teacher Shannon posted a gem of an article about alleviating back pain. However, the article included a definition of a concept referred to in yoga as “the edge,” and one line in particular caught my attention: the edge is “the fine line between self-destruction and self-improvement.” (Ken Dychtwald in Living Yoga, as quoted by Yoga International).

And in a physical practice, that line is fine indeed. In the Western world, and especially in the realm of competitive sports, the dominant motto is quite often “No pain, no gain.” During my years as a competitive swimmer, I took this statement a bit too deeply to heart, pushing past the point of self-improvement into overtraining and exhaustion. I can remember a few instances shortly after I began practicing asana when only youth and luck saved me from a dislocated shoulder, before I began to recognize and respect my body’s limits.

More difficult to find, I feel, is “the edge” in life off the mat. We all know, intellectually, that when we royally screw up, the healthy response is “This is my fault, but I WILL learn and do better in the future”–but how often do we place the blame elsewhere or else convince ourselves we’re worthless because of our mistakes? When we’re driven, it’s natural to begin working harder and longer, but how often do we fail to notice when that extra effort starts translating into exhaustion instead of improvement? Conversely, do we notice when we swing too far in the opposite direction, when healthy self-care begins to turn into overindulgence or sloth?

“The edge” challenges, but does not injure. As the article states, “To avoid your edge ensures stagnation, while going beyond it can cause harm.” Can we aim to explore our personal edge, both on and off the mat, whereever it may be?

 

 

*My apologies if the Aerosmith song “Living on the Edge” is now running through your head–it was stuck in mine while I wrote this! 😉

Autopilot and Butterfly Wings

I was pulling into the Publix parking one Sunday—scanning for open spots, wondering why the store seemed unusually crowded, trying to ignore the gnawing hunger in my stomach, deliberately ignoring the fact that grocery shopping while hungry never ends well—when a flicker of movement caught my eye: an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly fluttering near the blossoms of a dogwood tree, occasionally settling onto a flower to feed.

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Different individual butterfly, same species

The fact that I noticed the swallowtail from a distance isn’t at all surprising. Because I’ve worked in a butterfly-centric ecology lab for several years, my eye is particularly attuned to colorful, fluttering objects, and I often stop in my tracks in order to identify passing lepidopterans. But in this setting, surrounded by dogwood blossoms and illuminated by late afternoon light, the butterfly stood out in stark contrast to the hassle of the parking lot, and I watched it for several minutes simply because I could.

How often do we miss moments of beauty because we’re running on autopilot? I can guarantee that without my background in the lab, I would have never noticed the swallowtail, distracted as I initially was by grocery lists, shopping carts, and incoming cars.

Atha yoga anushasanam, reads the first yoga sutra: now begins the practice of yoga. Now is the practice of yoga, and the practice of yoga is now.  In my own life, I’ve found that this involves being consciously open to what each moment might bring; for example, noticing the warmth of the sun on my skin as I walk rather than just ruminating about the software coding issues I faced at work, or savoring each sip of coffee in the morning instead of using it as a tool to get out of bed. The practice of now is tuning the mind’s eye to notice the beauty that comes our way.

An Introduction

Throughout my time as a student of yoga, all my teachers have repeated some iteration of the same phrase: the real practice begins when you step off your mat. On a very basic level, asana practice (yoga poses) is a way to alter our reaction to stress; we move our bodies into challenging poses while aiming to remain calm and centered, trusting that with time and practice, weak muscles will grow stronger and tight muscles more open. But asana is just one of the eight limbs of yoga, and I believe the other seven are equally deserving of time and exploration.

 

My decision to start a blog is largely inspired by this idea of “taking yoga off the mat and into the world.” I love the idea of using the practice to engage with the world rather than retreat from it, the challenge of finding yoga in all the beauties and imperfections of day-to-day life. Asana practice will have its place here, but so will philosophy and history, yama and niyama, mindfulness, meditation, inspiration, and general musings. I hope you enjoy joining me on this journey off the mat.