What does it mean to meet your edge?
How do you know when you have met your edge?
When you finally meet your edge, what do you do?
I will take you on a small detour and return to these questions, with answers that have surfaced recently during my mindful flow yoga and meditation practice over the last few months.
As some of you already know, I only began developing a regular yoga and meditation practice in December of last year. I came to mindful flow yoga after crawling out of the remnants of a very taxing year, physically broken and mentally exhausted.
I had previously spent five years playing the competitive all female contact sport of roller derby. The sport defined and consumed every aspect of my life over those years. I won’t go into details as to what led to my subsequent choice to leave the sport and cut off contact to my former teammates, as it serves no purpose here.
What does this have to do with yoga and mindfulness you may ask? Patience my little padawan, hold on just a little more and I promise you this preamble will unfold.
In December I decided to leave this part of my life, where I had once felt empowered, I now felt disenfranchised. Where I had once felt physically strong, I was now riddled with half-healed injuries and chronic back pain. Where I once harboured joy, I now just felt deep-seated resentment and disappointment towards the people I had once called my teammates.
I arrived on my mat in December heart wrenchingly disappointed and recovering from acute bronchitis. I felt like a rag doll, and was seeking a solitary practice that would help me reunite my body and mind, both of which had taken a battering.
The first step was to start with breathing. I began practicing at home to YouTube yoga videos guiding me through gentle breathing exercises, which supported my wheezy lungs. After six weeks I was able to breath with more ease and stopped using my inhaler, and decided to expand my hermetic home practice arriving at Tatjana’s class.
Here I was able to slowly work through the collateral physical damage the sport had left me with, from a hip misalignment, stiffness and a collarbone injury that limited the mobility in my right shoulder. Again, slowly after a few weeks I was feeling stronger and was regaining mobility and flexibility. Now came the hard part.
My breath was stable; my body was gradually balancing out, now my mind was the next opportunity awaiting me.
During asana practice, Tatjana regularly says that when one is ready and willing, one can mindfully meet ones edge. This is a bit of a double-edged sword for me. My competitive and impatient nature means meeting my edge is not the issue, but rather overshooting my edge and potentially injuring or exhausting myself, because I am not being mindful during the process. My mind tends to ambitiously race ahead of my body like a bulldozer.
Also after years of training under a rather oppressive militaristic style of coaching in my former team, I had become accustomed to ignoring my edge, and training through pain, injury and tiredness. I remember feeling a warped sense of pride when I did this. My former trainer was a great proponent of mind (ego) over matter, or rather:
Hey matter, it’s mind here. Guess what? You’re my bitch!
This approach can surprisingly take you far, but only so far, as I experienced. Eventually, the more you keep ignoring the messages your body and your mind are giving you, they will sucker punch you into submission and revolt.
Those messages are what I now understand to be my edge. My edge is a communicator and measure guiding me rather than a challenger egging me on, or a weakness I need to overcome.
This has been the most valuable realisation in my mindful flow yoga practice thus far, which spills into my day-to-day life. I still find myself overshooting at times, but now I am more mindful when it happens and can reel it back in. Instead I try to listen to what my body is communicating and support it rather than chastise or ignore it.
This newfound awareness of my edge means that when I hit the mat these days it is important that I set the intention to be kind and practice with ease and playfulness, instead of pushing myself to unhealthy extremes. These days my practice has become more about unlearning unhelpful mental habits such as competitiveness and comparison and being fine with where I am at, at any given moment.
I have redirected my focus to the process; using two very helpful tools Tatjana introduced me to. The first is maintaining concentration when one is transitioning between asanas. Instead of the transition being this throw away moment where your mind and body disengage, it becomes just as important as the posture itself. It is a really useful way for me to stay present, not allowing me to anticipate or dictate the next asana.
The second one is the technique of gentle precision. Here, with every inhale I let the breath naturally peak and stay suspended at its apex for a moment, I then follow it back down in an exhale, once again staying with it when as it finds its root. This allows for movements to be more precise, rather than washing into each other. It also requires a level of concentration, which keeps me rooted in the present, creating a finer quality in my practice. I return to this whenever I find my mind straying or I am pushing myself into a place of discomfort.
My edge is not the enemy on the battlefield of ambition and self-improvement as had I treated it the last few years, but rather a sage and wise teacher signposting me on my journey. If I keep fighting or ignoring my teacher, I will miss some important lessons.
One of my favourite films growing up was (and embarrassingly enough still is), The Karate Kid. I always wanted a Mr. Miyagi style mentor to my Daniel. In meeting and sitting with my edge, I like to visualise myself sitting with my very own Mr. Miyagi as he says to me:
Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.