Edge back into Effort and Ease

How many times have you heard a teacher encourage you to “find your edge,” during a yoga class? Maybe it wasn’t the teacher; maybe you saw this message somewhere on the studio webpage, pamphlet or recall echoes of this suggestion in your Instagram feed. Social media–all media, really–churns out the narrative that we are to continuously improve, if not in our yoga practice, then in our personal development, career success, self-care, and relationships.

It’s strategic, of course, telling people they need to be more or have more… well, that’s marketing 101.

There is nothing wrong with the desire to improve–change is a constant of life and so is growth–but, without balancing our desire to improve with a desire to be content and accept what is, we fail to realize that there are fewer gaps to fill than media would have you think. Unfortunately, with yoga on the rise as a billion-dollar industry, yoga has been pulled into the concept that we forever need to do more and be more. On the contrary, yoga is a science of awakening, a practice of destroying the illusions impressed onto us and of returning to the true Self.

Yoga urges us to realize that we are already enough, as we are. We have been enough all along.

Let me rephrase that: yoga was never about self-improvement.

Yoga is about self-discovery. Clearing the muck to gain understanding, not achievement.

And me? I got caught up on this hamster wheel. After moving to a new part of Southern California and having my son, I jumped on my mat and Instagram to begin documenting my physical yoga practice. It was part creative outlet (I enjoy taking photos and editing them), part accountability toward my practice and a way to find virtual community when I found myself in a new city as a new mom, a yogi without a country. It was the desire to be better, in some sense. I could argue now that it was my desire be strong and back in my body again after a somewhat sedentary pregnancy (not by choice), but the lines were pretty blurred.

Recently I have realized my hamster wheel busyness moved into other parts of my life: career, relationships, personal development. Over time, a long, oppressive to-do list of all I needed to accomplish in order to thrive emerged.

Long story short, I have been pushing hard for so long, that I forgot the value of just being where I am, even as I urged students to do exactly that on the mat.

Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t cranking myself into poses that didn’t feel good. I wasn’t beating myself up about not getting that handstand press to happen after years of practice.

The push was subtle. Subliminal. It was a stealthy sense of striving that always hung around, telling me I needed to do more, be more. Be stronger, smarter, more skillful, more exciting. And again, there’s nothing wrong with improvement, but this became a dis-ease of failing to trust myself and truly see my inherent worth.

And as I see it in me, I see it in the countless students who come to class and push themselves relentlessly. I see it in the students who blithely tell me about injuries sustained from not listening to their bodies. I see it in students who say their practice isn’t good enough because they don’t invert, perform arm balances, or they still wobble out of standing balances after years of practice.

So what do we do? How do we find the balance between sthiram sukham asanam–steadiness and ease in asana–and progress? Can they co-exist or are they in conflict?

This is THE question I’ve been asking myself for years. I can’t say I have the answer.

What I have been doing in my practice lately is less pushing, more experiencing. More curiosity, fewer goals. I have been pulling back quite far from where I know I can go–way back from that proverbial “edge”–to see what it’s like to find contentment from the center. One of the epiphanies I’ve had is that it is harder for my ego to pull back and find pleasure in less work, yet more fulfilling for my spirit to be in a place free from striving. Frankly–the reason why I fell for yoga in the first place was the lack of competitiveness.

So try this next time you’re on the mat: rather than going for the full expression of the pose, consider stepping 3 paces back from that place and find joy in a different expression of the pose. Rather than finding your edge, aim for the middle ground.

Seek to feel strong, balanced, and grounded instead of spent and depleted. Rather than competing with yourself, celebrate the moment and the bliss of being where you are without any agenda except to immerse yourself in the experience.

You will be surprised at the joyful subtleties you find in your practice; nooks and crannies you didn’t know existed!

This shift will spill over into your daily life, and it will help you fill your cup so you can effectively do your work in the world. This shift will cultivate a sense of enough-ness, so that slowly you can step off the hamster wheel, and revel in the self-discovery to which yoga gives space.

So tell me below: have you explored this approach? And what has your approach been like in your practice?