One of the elements of my practice that I focus on enhancing and sharing with students is the ability to “play the edge”…but what does this mean?? In its simplest form, playing the edge is finding that point in a pose that is a perfect balance between self-effort and surrender. That is, there’s enough happening in the body so that our mind has something to work with but that there is still enough spaciousness so that breath and energy can continue to flow. The edge is not a static point, it fluctuates, it evolves and therefore takes constant refinement and recalibration.
Our practice of yoga is an opportunity to practice self-love and compassion. When we move into a pose slowly and with total awareness, we have an opportunity to become aware of sensations in our body. The sensations that we experience are our body speaking to us. Our bodies have a lot to tell us! Our biography becomes our biology and everything we have ever experienced in our lives in stored in our cells. When we come to the mat, we have an opportunity to retrieve this information, information that we have stored as tension, tightness and dis-ease. If we allow ourselves to stay present to what we experience, to listen intently to these sensations, we can use our deep rhythmic breath to clear out some of this debris. Every exhaling breath is an opportunity to let something go, to surrender and soften a little more. Working in this way we begin to have a conversation with our bodies in that language that is not man-made and in this way our practice becomes pure medicine.
Allowing ourselves to be present for each movement, for each breath and for each sensation allows us to be guided by what we experience and in this way we work intuitively. We are all intuitive, we are born that way, but if we don’t listen to our intuition, then the voice of our intrinsic genius becomes quieter and quieter. Our practice is an opportunity to reconnect and allow ourselves to be guided by our own genius. When we meet our edge, we have come to a doorway. We stop and we breathe and wait for the doorway to open. This doorway is a portal, a portal for change.
Often times we can miss this portal. If are impatient and focused on achieving a certain pose, we are working from the linear (ego) mind. The linear/ego mind will always try to take you into a pose or variation of a pose that your body may not be ready for and this is when we begin to struggle. We struggle by forcing the body and trying to subdue it into a projection the ego mind has created (even though you may be screaming on the inside!), we struggle with the breath, it becomes shallow and ragged and we struggle with reality, we are not in the present moment accepting what is. Practicing in this way, our progress will plateau and we soon loose the joy of our practice….this is when most people wander away.
Sometimes we are not ready to change, we may not have developed the will and courage that it takes to stay present for those sensations and we simply tune out…the mind wanders away and we are no longer present. Or perhaps we are just not ready to let go of the armour that we have created around ourselves, there can be an element of fear that we need to face to let go of an identity we are clinging to.
But you know what, that’s OK, that’s the journey and it’s why we call it practice. We practice and refine and practice and absorb and practice and integrate….and in this way our practice becomes a beautiful and wonderous journey or self-discovery, exploration and self-knowldege.
Written by Claudia Piazza
Claudia is a leading Brisbane yoga teacher who also specialises in Kahuna Bodywork through Radiant Heart Healing.
Claudia can be found at all three of Inna Bliss Yoga studios in Brisbane as the esteemed Studio Manager. She currently teaches Yin, Beginner, Meditation and Vinyasa yoga at Bulimba, Camp Hill & Wynnum.
What does the next step in your yoga practice look like? Where do you feel called to take it, deepen it, even share it? Maybe it is tackling a more advanced class; perhaps you have been enjoying a Foundations class and are somewhat trepidatiously looking at Vinyasa class times. Maybe it is tackling a posture you have always held in a certain awe while wondering if you’ll ever be ready to look at it. Maybe it’s taking your practice deeper by taking a meditation course or maybe, the big maybe, you’ve been looking at immersing yourself in a teacher training course.
I’ll take a little detour, if I may...
This pose (the one in the picture)… I remember seeing it, all those years ago as a beginner, new to the world of yoga, and feeling smitten. There was something about the pose that without actually thinking, “I’ll have made it when I can do that pose”, I kind of thought that. I was a professional ballet dancer at the time, relatively early in my career but at a high degree of competency in and with my body already. I read in "Light on Yoga”, and, “Yoga the Iyengar Way”, though, that this was an advanced posture, so I wasn’t going to attempt it. Sure, I played with preparatory shapes which would start to set me up for it, but I knew that attempting the full shape was a long way off.
Fast forward all these years (about fourteen) and it’s a shape which I can get into and find some play in. I certainly wouldn’t say I have ‘mastered’ it, but then I wouldn’t say that I have mastered utthita trikonasana (triangle) either, if for no other reason than it being a strange concept. My body is different every single day, its needs different every single day and so honouring that looks different, every. single. day. A shape becomes a shape becomes a shape, a posture a means to honour the body and to inspire it to experience itself differently. (When it comes to asana, I love the quote, “Change your shape, change your state”. I believe it is attributable to Darren Rhodes, perhaps Anthony Robbins, perhaps both and maybe neither).
So when do you begin to approach that next step in your Yoga practice, whether it be vinyasa class, advanced asana, a meditation course or teacher training? Well for me, as with this pose, I only really began to play with advanced postures in the last couple of years. In the process, I surprised myself. Not only was I better able to grapple with the shapes than I would have expected, the journey they took me on was immense. I progressed quickly in the ability to work with more difficult shapes. Most importantly though, it improved both my relationship to more fundamental poses and to the overall health, integrity and comprehension of, and connection to, my body and breath. The latter I believe to be one of the most important outcomes of postural yoga.
For me, this leap was an act of audacity. For years, I held back from jumping in because it felt like saying, “I consider myself to be advanced”. There are so many beautiful parallels that we can draw between our life on the mat and the one that happens everywhere else. The saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything" springs to mind. Is standing up and saying you’re up to a task audacious, especially when you possess no real evidence to support the notion but a still small voice which urges you forward? YES! But is it needed? And how have you ever stepped up to a new level in anything without jumping in and swimming like crazy? I know that any meaningful shift, any movement towards mastery in my life has looked precisely that way.
Just like Hanuman, unaware that he was possessed of Godly capabilities, wishing he could help save countless lives, so are we. Hanuman’s dear friend, the great Jamabavan, turns to him and reminds him that he can make himself enormous (this, I believe, can readily be interpreted to symbolise our ability to become larger than any obstacle which faces us). He reminds him that he is well able to leap the ocean and bring back the herbs which will save the lives of his dearest friends and beloved Master. Furthermore, he lets him know that he is the one. He asks him, perhaps, as our dearest friends do, “If not you, then who?"
And so, the audacity of standing up and saying maybe, just maybe we will approach those postures, those practices, those endeavours which we deem far beyond us becomes practice for standing up in life to do the things we can which no other can, or in a way no other can. And we swim, we swim hard, and we grow. And for each of these acts, whether it be the mighty or simply to say, “I’ll begin to play with that next step. I’m not sure that I will ever be able to balance on my hands and touch my toes to the back of my head, but I’ll take that handstand workshop.”, or, " I’m not sure about ever standing at the front of the classroom and teaching, but I’ll register for teacher training and see where it may lead me.”, the world is made better.
You can read more about Marty Collyer in his teachers bio, or catch him on the mat in one of his inspiring and challenging weekly classes at Bulimba, Camp Hill or Wynnum. Marty is also a lead teacher in our upcoming, Live Your Bliss Yoga Teacher Training commencing in August and also runs regular workshops at Inna Bliss, which encourage, support and empower you to refine and deepen your practice. His next workshop, Foundations of Flow, focuses on helping you to find ease and seamless flow in the most fundamental moves and sequences of Vinyasa Yoga.
When I was a little girl living in Oxford, England, we used to go for a fortnight’s holiday to France every year, staying in a simple villa near a beach. Our lives in the city morphed into days of salty water, bright bright sunshine, smells of bakeries, peaches and French cigars. The difference in the language, the food, the supermarkets and even the types of cars people drove made everything feel so exotic and all of this contributed to a feeling of special atmosphere, of having been lifted out of ordinary life, that I felt even at the ages of eight or nine years old.
But it is the coming back that I remember. As we switched from driving on the right hand side of the road, crossed the time/space boundary of the ocean between Le Havre and Southampton and found ourselves suddenly, increasingly, in more and more familiar territory I would press my face against the car window and feel something so profound it stands out to this day.
I had a sense that while nothing had changed, everything had.
That while we were only away for a mere two weeks, something inside me had shifted and the territory around me, though familiar, seemed to have shifted too.
It is fascinating that whenever we leave the routine and familiarity of our day to day lives and for however short a period time, we experience a sense of life touching us differently. As human beings, we take the energy of life deep inside us every time we breathe, and this creates a particular atmosphere inside us.
The scenery is enhanced somehow – the sights, sounds and smells more vivid. We can experience different parts of ourselves when we are away from home – feel new things blossoming and old things asking to be released. The common components of many of our holidays are the same and they include feeling relaxed, having more rest, doing more of what we love - reading, enjoying special company and meals, playing – and having an emerging expanded sense of time and space in which we feel comfortably at home.
We often have more immediate access to sources of intuition and inspiration, guiding us to having thoughts about things we want to do in our lives or change in our lives, when we get home. In short, our creative ability is ignited.
And with all of that, in this easeful sense of pleasure, a strong belief, an understanding – a knowing – that we can embody these feelings and experiences consistently, not just while we are away. Because they are closer to our natural state. We can take them home with us and they can take us home to ourselves.
But how? And when we step out of alignment with our natural state, how do we find our way back?
The Tantric meditation tradition has shown me that there are numerous techniques and practices to relocate me in this natural body of love. From accessing imaginal ability to using cellular memory (which is like muscle memory) to keep the vital energies that have been awakened coursing through our beings daily. These practices are simple, life enhancing and joy bringing. They involve meditating with our real selves and understanding how the overall sense of authenticity and belonging we often feel when we are away, are counterintuitively, showing us where our home truly is.
Do you want to learn how to keep the good feelings going? How to steer a course away from what seems to be inevitable and regular meetings with depletion and exhaustion? Do you want to make the vacation benefits last all year long? Do you want to find a way to bring some space and time back into your life but still get everything (and more!) done?
Please join me for the second Practical Magic meditation session. It isn’t necessary to have attended Part One. Session 2 is held at Inna Bliss Bulimba on March 6th at 10am -12pm.
Alison Potts is a writer and the Principle Teacher and Owner of Innate Being, encompassing Brisbane Yoga Tree, a yoga and meditation space, in South East Brisbane, Queensland, Australia