This week the theme of my yoga classes is practicing at our transformative edge. In each pose, try to find your edge and practice there. While at first this might seem as if I’m asking you to be in more pain in every pose, I’m actually asking you to be more conscious in every pose.
One of the pillars of Forrest Yoga is integrity. Often the advanced practice is not the flashy pose, but rather choosing the option that best builds strength for you. Most advances I’ve made come from backing out, gaining a better understanding of the basic pieces of the posture, building strength in an aligned way, and then working my way back up. This was as true for core work as it was for handstands.
In Yin, the transformative edge looks different. Physically, we are practicing the art of letting go of unneeded tension. Find a way to be in the posture where we can relax but it’s a challenge. In this Sunday’s class our meditation will include images of lowering into a well and being pulled back up. We will create space to dip into previously unknown parts of ourselves.
Twenty years ago, long before I ever considered teaching yoga, I was learning about transformative edges in the sense of human development. You can recognize the places you are growing because it’s where life gets challenging. We get stuck in places where our current ways of thinking don’t work. We literally have to grow as human beings to get past that point. Even if you leave a job, move to a different city, leave your boyfriend and start dating someone else — you will find yourself in the same frustrating corner until you grow past it. If you want to find your transformative edge, look for the repeating patterns in your life, and then resist the urge to tell yourself you already know everything about it. You don’t.
On the Mat
Recently, during my own practice, I was able to hold bridge with one leg up and then the other for 10 breaths for the first time. I was so excited about it that I took a moment to do a victory dance around my mat. (I assume dance breaks are a part of everyone’s private practice.) It felt awesome to break significant ground! But of course that isn’t where the bulk of the work was. Perhaps what I should have celebrated was all the days I worked uncomfortably, raising a leg, realizing I was clenching, lowering, relaxing my shoulders and jaw, coming back to my breath and tentatively raising my leg slightly off the ground again.
In bridge, I was primarily working on developing strength, but there’s an underlying head game for me as well. When I feel inadequate in a pose my mind barrages me with a chorus of “I can’t”s. And then it starts down well-worn paths of criticism. “You should be able to do this, you’re a yoga teacher”. “You need to practice more, everyone’s going to know that you don’t practice enough”. And it goes on and on down an icky shame spiral. You know what kind of thinking doesn’t contribute to developing strength? Internal criticism and self shaming. I have learned that when poses are hard for me, I want to avoid them as much for the emotional discomfort as the physical discomfort. In fact, on the days that I can stand up to my inner bullies I don’t shy away from the discomfort of the pose quite as much.
There is another tricky part of this pose for me and that’s the fact that I have bone chips floating in one of my knees. Some days I have pain in my bridge that has nothing to do with how strong I am. I have found that the stronger I get the less my knees bother me, but when negotiating sensation in a pose it takes skilled, honest maneuvering to negotiate around the temptation to bail. Bridge warms up your legs and is a no-joke posture. Done in perfect health, your legs will shake and your muscles may scream at you — it’s not ever going to be comfortable in the way that eating ice cream and watching an episode of Big Bang is comfortable. But that is different than the shooting pain of a bone chip pressing on a nerve. It takes a lot of self knowledge to dance the transformative edge while exercising self care. I have learned if my jaw is clenched and I’m holding my breath in bridge, I’m not okay.
Off the Mat
I have been struggling over some promotional material I need to put together for a group coaching project that I’m really excited about. Despite my level of commitment, I have not been able to even start until recently. Finally, after I admitted why I was feeling so stressed out, my roommate offered to help me. “Just get me a bullet list of the information you need and I can take it from there.” So easy! However, two days and one tension headache later I finally had to admit I was so anxious about it my mind was blanking. The trouble I was having writing the promo material had nothing to do with my inability to write. This kind of stress has caused me to quit projects in the past, I hate facing my mind when it goes blank. But this group coaching group is important enough that I finally asked for more help.
I asked, “Can you just listen to me while I think through what needs to be in the promo material and ask questions when I’m missing stuff, I’m really freaking out and going blank.” I hated admitting defeat and felt like a moron, but I forged ahead.
“So like I need a date, time, and place. The name of it, and our names… what else?” I honestly had no idea.
“Well some information about what Dream Sessions actually are would be good and some short bios.”
“Oh… right. Well that’s easy, I have that stuff.”
I bring this up because my transformational edge isn’t actually about learning how to write a decent paragraph describing an event. It’s about asking for help when I need it, rather than calling myself a bunch of names and then quitting. I am so good at calling myself names and criticizing, but what I’m not good at is giving myself a break and getting help when I need it.
It might seem simple. What I was asking for took less than 10 minutes, and my roommate was able to remind me I needed a bio and some description and play a game on his phone so I really wasn’t imposing him at all. And yet in my mind it was a huge deal. See what I mean? Those transformative edges are tricky, slippery buggers.
This week we will be working our edge together. Some of our work is similar, but this is largely internal work. I hope you feel the support of a community that’s working on the same thing. There is nothing more inspiring to me than being around people who value self growth.