Playing with Your Personal Edge

Yoga is a mirror to all of life. All of our habits, thought patterns, personal beliefs, and doubts can be discovered and analyzed on the mat. One thing you may have heard before if you’ve taken a yoga class is the phrase “your personal edge.” This is referring to pushing yourself not into any particular shape or variation of a pose, but just to where you feel yourself reaching the edge of your body’s ability. More specifically the edge is right where you feel challenged, but not any pain or severe discomfort in your body. Finding that edge is a practice in itself. There are many challenges to keep us from recognizing it. Our ego may want us to go beyond that edge, to show off, or prove something. Our self-doubt and fear may want us to hold back and never meet that edge to ensure we don’t fall or fail or whatever other story it might be used to telling us.

A lot of people, myself included, spend a lot of their yogic journey, trying to master advanced poses as if checking them off some kind of yogi achievement list, or attempting to fill up a well of pride inside. Especially now, when we have all seen the impressive feats yoga can train the body to perform on Instagram, YouTube, or somewhere else online, it’s easy to forget that these physical forms are not the purpose of yoga. These magnificent, beautiful shows of flexibility, balance, and strength are a byproduct of showing up every day and meeting your personal edge. I’m sure the first yogis had no idea that the body would even be capable of these asanas in the beginning, they revealed themselves to be possible little by little as these seasoned practitioners slowly followed that ever moving edge.

At the same time, meeting your personal edge isn’t necessarily about “improving” yourself either. All of these outward results of doing so are just distractions and illusions. The real benefit of playing with that edge is what it feels like when you’re doing it. In yoga, as in life, if we push ourselves too far we become frustrated and disheartened. But if we never challenge ourselves, we will become bored and stagnant. Sometimes even after we’ve learned these lessons on our mat, it can take years for us to make the transition off the mat and into our everyday lives.

I’ve always had a hard time finding a healthy middle ground, in yoga and in life. I used to push my body a little too hard in my practice, aggressively forcing it into every more strenuous postures, occasionally even resulting in injury. Then I pulled back. For awhile, this was a welcomed relief from high expectations and pressure to outperform myself every day. However, now it has transformed more into a fear of testing my limits at all, in favor of easier, yet perfectly executed poses. I have this same problem in every aspect of my life. I seem to be in a state of constant fluctuation between frustration and boredom. I push too hard and feel awful when I inevitably fail or burn myself out. Then I pull back so much that I become bored and disinterested all together.

Watching “Is It Cake?” on Netflix the other night, I was in awe of the way these pastry chefs believed in themselves. I could not even fathom what gave them the courage to try things that I would have immediately written off as impossible or at the very least, far beyond my ability. I see so many people doing this every day. People starting businesses, creating their own products, writing books, etc. I envy their self confidence and bravery. At the same time, they’ve taught me that rather than lack of ability or external circumstances, I am what’s holding me back from achieving my own personal successes.

I worry so much about what the final steps will be and my perceived inability to reach them that I never give myself permission to start where I am and focus on the first step. I become so obsessed with the end goal, that I forget to enjoy the process. In life, as in yoga, the true reward is not the final product, it is the blissful focus and moments of flow that we experience along the way when we are teasing the limits of our own ability.

I’ve been waiting for something to come along and shake me out of this directionless boredom I’ve been stuck in for so long now, forgetting that I have the power to push past this whenever I want. Because I never feel “ready”, my growth is usually the result of unforeseen circumstances forcing me to go outside of my comfort zone. I think I comfort myself with the idea that “I didn’t choose this. I never said/believed I could do this. So if I fail, it’s not my fault.” In reality, I’m just afraid of my own ego. I’m afraid that if I believe in myself, if I try to do something great and discover that I can’t, then it will reaffirm my own self-doubts and cause me to face the tongue lashing of my own inner critic. Somehow it feels safer to expect to fail. Then if I do, at least I can say I was right all along. Ensuring that, if nothing else, I’m at least still smart.

Even though this is the way I feel, it sounds utterly ridiculous to read this rationalization back to myself. Yoga has also taught me to set intentions and use them as an anchor. For so long now, my unconscious intention has been “avoid looking like a fool.” Totally losing sight of my aspirations and goals, not even considering what exactly a “fool” looks like. When I really think about it, I wouldn’t call someone who tries to achieve something great and fails a fool. It’s far more foolish to live your whole life clipping your own wings in an attempt to save face.

As I move forward with this knew wisdom, I want to remember that I get to set the intention. It doesn’t have to be something so concrete as “publish a book.” An intention can be something like “to be curious” or “to search for my personal edge.” This leaves a lot of room for exploration, surprising ourselves, and unexpected forms of success that may not look like what we thought they would. When I become frustrated, it’s usually a sign that I’ve gotten distracted and lost sight of my true intention. All I need to do is slow down and remember what I really wanted out of this experience and letting go of what my ego tells me success looks like. Really success doesn’t look like anything. It is not a physical manifestation, it is a feeling. Something that comes about it all sorts of unique ways. Something we are all capable of experiencing.

Exploring the Mind

Still immersed in How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, I have been unable to prevent the psychedelic perspective from penetrating my every thought. I am desperate to find some free time in which I can start experimenting with my own spiritually centered trips. One of the things I find most interesting about psychedelics is the revelations people often experience while taking them. It’s not as if these insights are new. They are usually a reflection of things that have become platitudes: We are all one, love conquers all, we have the ability to choose our own reality, make our own happiness, etc. This is one of the reasons I find it so difficult to express the psychedelic experience to those who haven’t taken these drugs for themselves. It’s almost too hard to put into words and make sense of in my own head, let alone translate it to others. It’s similar to the way we can pass along knowledge, but not wisdom. There is something ineffable about the experience that solidifies the truth of the realizations that come with it.

Pollan’s book talks a lot about the seemingly limitless potential of these drugs to treat mental illness, comfort the dying, and even improve the quality of life for average, healthy people. What it hasn’t seemed to touch on yet though is the implications these psychedelic experiences have in regard to our minds in general. Sure we are introducing a foreign substance to our brains, but the pathways it activates are already inside of us, just waiting to be utilized. People have already found ways to access these mental pathways through breathwork alone, without the use of any substances. What does all this mean when it comes to our limited perspectives and perception of ourselves, others, and the world around us?

As a child, unburdened by biases or expectations, the world seems like quite a fantastical place. We’re present, we’re in the moment, we’re open to new experiences and ways of thinking. Understandably, that changes as we age. The more time we spend looking at the world through a certain lens, the more it begins to feel like that’s the only lens there is. We forget that we haven’t always thought or felt the way we currently do, and that others don’t think, feel, or react in the same ways that we do. Wouldn’t it be amazing to take a peak into the mind of someone else for just a few moments? Or better yet, to truly know the full capabilities of our own brains?

It’s frustrating and fascinating to realize that no one will ever truly know what it feels like to be anyone else. We take for granted that as human beings we are pretty much the same, but how alike are we really? So much of our experience of life is private and uniquely personal. The way our minds work are too complex for us to fully grasp, despite how far science has come. One of the issues psychedelic researchers have is how to quantify and categorize such personal, subjective experiences into usable data. Science has been relegated to the very limited realm of objective facts and observable behaviors/phenomenon. It seems we haven’t quite figured out a way to explore and understand subjective experiences, despite what a huge impact these things have in the world.

I suppose subjective subjects are better left to philosophers than scientists. However, one thing that is mentioned in Pollan’s book is the suggestible nature of a psychedelic experience. Whatever you are primed to experience is most likely what you will experience during your trip. Just like in a lot of other ways, in this way psychedelics seem like a hyper-intense reflection of reality in general. Our perceptions of everyday life are also highly suggestible, especially in childhood when the rigid patterns in our minds that psychedelics break down, haven’t yet been formed. If you wake up each morning and tell yourself you’re going to have a bad day full of tedious, tiresome activities, you probably will. On the other hand, if you can make yourself believe you’re going to have an amazing day filled with smiles and laughter and new adventures, you probably will! The external circumstances can be exactly the same.

It is impossible to imagine just how many different ways of thinking exist in the world. I believe we are each capable of experiencing all of these perspectives. More than any physical barrier, what holds us back most in life are our own limiting beliefs. Changing them can seem impossible at times. We don’t usually choose to believe what we believe. It’s an amalgamation of so many different factors that manifest as a belief system. Challenging those deep-seated ideas is no small task, nor is there a clear place to start. Part of the issue comes from realizing how much these beliefs limit our ability to even imagine alternative ways of thinking.

Looking at it that way really underscores the importance of finding time for focused creativity as an adult. Creativity isn’t about what you produce. It’s about expanding the limits of our own minds so that we are better able to come up with creative solutions to our problems and allow ourselves access to more options in our inner lives. Creativity is a muscle that is not exercised nearly enough. It is completely undervalued in our schools, offices, and communities. Studies have shown that adults are drastically less creative than children. Longitudinal studies that follow the same participants over decades reveal that despite being very creative at one point, they lose the vast majority of that creativity as they grow older.

If you find yourself feeling stuck, like the world has lost it’s luster, you’re not alone. The panoramic view of existence we all enjoy in childhood becomes narrower each year. For me, it’s extremely comforting and reassuring to remind myself that there is so much I don’t know. There is so much I am incapable of even imagining. So when I begin to apathetically ask myself, “Is this all there is?” I know the answer is a resounding, “No.” There is so much more waiting to be discovered.

Some St. Louisans Find Therapy, Meaning In Psychedelics As Researchers  Study Benefits | St. Louis Public Radio

Pushing Past Limiting Beliefs

We don’t generally question that little narrator inside our heads as we go about our day. Often times we don’t even take notice of the things it is saying. We’ve become accustomed to the phrases it repeats over and over again. For most of my life I was completely unaware of just how important this voice was when it came to how I saw myself and how I moved through my daily life. We become so used to the things this voice has always said, that we can forget that we have the ability and the responsibility to continue challenging them as we grow and change.

I realized the other day that one of the things I often tell myself is, “I can’t.” I can’t handle this. I can’t do that. Etc. etc. I don’t like to test that assumption though even when I should. The reason I don’t is because I’m so afraid to fail. However, I’m just putting the emphasis on the wrong thing. Sure, maybe I really can’t do whatever it is. But won’t it be interesting to find out? Maybe at the very least I could change that inner dialogue to: I can’t do this yet.

One of the many lessons I have learned through my yoga practice is that trying and “failing” at new things is how we grow. It’s how we actually become able to do those hard things one day. If after the first attempt I made at a headstand, I determined once and for all if I could do the pose, I wouldn’t have ever learned how to do it. Lots of things in life are just like learning how to do a headstand. You’ve got to take the time to kick and flail your legs up over your head so many times before you get the hang of it. You’ve got to give yourself the extra support you need in the beginning, like a wall, so that you feel safe enough to try. Rather than focusing on the end result, which usually isn’t the perfect headstand you hope to attain some day, it’s more important to focus on the process.

Curiosity has always been a close companion of mine. However, as I’ve gotten older it has gotten harder to remember to tap into that curiosity. No matter what is going on around me, I can make the choice to stay curious. This energy really helps me to stay present as well. There is a bit of levity in curiosity. One of the new mantras I’ve been working with is, “let’s see.”

When you hear that inner voice telling you “this is too much” or “I can’t do this,” try responding to that voice with “let’s see.” Staying curious, being present for the process, focusing on learning. These are the ways that we can find more ease and excitement in our lives. There is always something new to discover. There is so much depth, so many overlapping layers to this life. Make sure you find the time to invite some curiosity and joy into your day today. If you notice that automatic voice in your head, try responding to it with, “let’s see.” Explore new ways that you can learn and test your limits today. Accepting whatever the outcome may be with compassion and grace, being open to the many different forms “success” can take. Knowing that either way, you’ve learned something new, and perhaps even added one more building block towards your goal.

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