A large part of the art and skill in yoga lies in sensing just how far to move into a stretch. If you
don't go far enough, there is no challenge to the muscles, no intensity, no stretch, and little
possibility for opening. Going too far, however, is an obvious violation of the body, increasing the
possibility of both physical pain and injury. Somewhere between these two points is a degree of
stretch that is in balance: intensity without pain, use without abuse, strenuousness without strain.
You can experience this balance in every posture you do.
This place in the stretch is called your "edge." The body's edge in yoga is the place just
but not pain itself. Pain tells you where the limits of your physical conditioning lie. Edges are
marked by pain and define your limits. How far you can fold forward, for example, is limited by
your flexibility edge; to go any further hurts and is actually counterproductive. The length of your
stay in a pose is determined by your endurance edge. Your interest in a pose is a function of your
In daily life, we tend to remain within a familiar but limited comfort zone by staying away from both
our physical and mental edges. This would be fine except that as aging occurs these limits close in
considerably. Our bodies tighten, our range of movement decreases, and our strength and stamina
diminish. By consciously bringing the body to its various limits or edges and holding it there, gently
nudging it toward more openness with awareness, the long, slow process of closing in begins to
reverse itself. The range expands as the edges change.
Sensing where your edges are and learning to hold the body there with awareness, moving with its
often subtle shifts, can be called "playing the edge." This is a large part of what you'll be doing in
your practice. Your skill in yoga has little to do with your degree of flexibility or where your edges
happen to be. Rather, it is a function of how sensitively you play your edges, no matter where they
This is a very freeing idea. Normally, we have an idea of how the posture "should" be. We have
ideas about how deep we should be able to go into a pose, what we should look like while we are
there, and how long we should be able to stay. We are often more aware of where we aren't than of
where we are.
This idea of the "completed" or "ideal" posture as a specific destination somewhere in the future is
often a lurking presence in the back of our minds as we do the poses. Because of this, there will
necessarily be a gap between where you are in the posture and where you think you should be.
This gap, more often than not, contains a subtle frustration, a conflict, a feeling that where you are
is insufficient - or worse, who you are is insufficient - and that if you were truly doing yoga properly
and were a "good" or "evolved" person, you would be somewhere other than where you are. If this
is the case, your practice will be permeated with the effort of going somewhere else. It will be