...connecting and honoring our intimate boundaries physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually
“Things really start to happen when you learn how to hold a yoga posture at the edge—a place of neither too much nor too little stretch. Too far back from the edge is boredom and atrophy. Too far out is injury. Unless you find your edge, there is no growth, no learning, and no change. — MICHAEL LEE”
When practicing yoga, some teachers will lead us to “find our edge” whether we are practicing on a mat, in a chair or in our bed. By finding our personal edge and holding it, we enter into that precious space where we are mindfully in the moment. Where we can experience an intimate connection with our body, our mind and with our higher consciousness. Where we know what our unique needs are in that moment and how to honor them.
Finding our personal "edge" is the art of balancing the space between where our physical, mental and emotional stretch reaches its sweet spot so that positive growth can occur, with where going beyond our abilities in that moment is now causing ourselves harm. It's the difference between opening us up to the benefits of healing, balance, connection and self-care, with the sharp pain, toxic tension, and suffering that comes from doing ourselves harm.
So what does yoga have to do with living with chronic conditions? It's an interesting parallel for many of us living with the effects of post traumatic stress, a mild to moderate brain injury, prolonged concussion symptoms, multiple sclerosis, grief, anxiety, depression or any other chronic condition. Because every day is is even more important for us to not only find our edge, but honor it in a way that is in alignment with our unique needs in any given moment simply so we can function and make it through an entire day. And those needs fluctuate constantly. We live in a state of life being inconsistent and unpredictable- beyond what most people go through.
Yoga is so much more than physical postures
Here in the west, Yoga is considered to be part of the exercise industry and it's focus is mostly on the physical postures. Just look on any social media site, magazine cover or any media source in general and you will see young, flexible people in poses that can look intimidating. Making someone who has never done yoga before want to rethink even beginning a practice at all. And it's even more deterring if you have physical challenges as part of your chronic condition.
The truth is yoga is actually part of an ancient system of healing that focuses on the whole being. Yoga unifies our body, our mind, our emotions, and our spirit to bring forwards innate balance and healing. It has been essential to my personal healing journey and I believe if we begin to practice yoga in a way that is more in alignment with its true nature and intention, then all of us can experience its varied benefits in all areas of our lives, instead of just the physical.
The physical postures, known as asanas, are only one of eight various limbs that exist in a complete yoga practice. The purpose of the eight limbs is to guide the yoga practitioner to live in a way that helps them alleviate suffering. Now although there isn't a step-by-step linear approach to incorporating them into your practice, there are certain limbs I have found essential and foundational, so that's where I recommend starting when approaching yoga from the perspective of it being part of your total health and wellness plan.
Let's start with the Yamas. The Yamas represent a code of "ethical and right living" within yogic philosophy that teach us how to find balance in the world by treating others as we would treat ourselves. The first of the Yamas is Ahimsa.
Ahimsa means to do no harm- to yourself or to others. Ahimsa is so powerful, it can be a yogi's entire focus for their whole life's practice. And it can be done by embracing Ahimsa in every aspect of their life, not only on the yoga mat with a mindful & restorative practice, but in their thoughts, their words, their choices and their actions towards themselves, as well as towards others.
Through a mindful & restorative practice, the yogi begins to understand that Ahimsa is at the core of all yoga's teachings and can deeply effect us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We learn that these teachings come from a place of personal experience, compassion and loving-kindness. It's where each of us learns to lovingly approach our personal edge and honor our boundaries in a way that aligns with our unique needs in each new moment.
In fact, I've found that Ahimsa can help us advocate for ourselves in a way that frees us from needing to be confrontational, abrasive or harsh with others. Ahimsa helps us know when it's time to lovingly care for ourselves, and retreat so we can feel empowered and heal, instead of continually pushing ourselves beyond our capabilities to please others and cause ourselves harm.
When we begin an intentional connection with our body in a compassionate and loving way, we begin to listen to the messages it has to share, find that edge, and learn from them. This doesn't just happen on the yoga mat either. It happens in every area of our lives. Because when we choose to listen to, and honor, our body's intelligence we take actions that aligns with its unique needs. And research has taught us that our body does indeed have a higher level of intelligence than we have given it credit for in the past. Which isn't because we don't necessarily care to listen, but simply because we have been taught not to trust what our body has to say. We've been taught to give more credibility to the more conscious and egoic intelligence found in the brain that's within our skull, instead of our body.
Tuning into our body's innate intelligence can give us highly reliable and unbiased information about our physical body's needs, as well as our emotional needs, our mental needs and our spiritual needs so we have a better understanding of how to nurture and nourish them in the most effective way. Just look at all the research done on the body's "gut-brain", otherwise known as our enteric nervous system (ENS), and the "heart-brain".
As we begin to get more comfortable with our personal edge, both on and off our yoga mats, and align ourselves with our body's wisdom, we learn how to stop from causing ourselves harm in any way- or cause harm to those around us.
Transforming Suffering into Empowerment
This art of listening to, and trusting, our bodies wisdom can be a challenge for anyone, but it is especially challenging for those of us who live with the effects of a chronic condition, because we often feel as if our body's betrayed us. And yet, it's with the soft, mindful awareness we gain through Ahimsa, that gain the ability to flip the switch from suffering through an experience, the pain, the overwhelm or frustration, and be in the moment. To become liberated from suffering.
As someone who has been living with the effects of a traumatic brain injury and severe post traumatic stress and a few other chronic conditions for many years, I can tell you that learning to befriend your body and trust it's wisdom can be a lifesaver. There have been far too many times that I have attempted to "push through" something or tell myself to "pull up my big girl pants and just get through this", only to find that I have caused myself unnecessary stress, overwhelm, suffering and harm.
But when I gave myself permission to lovingly connect with my body's intelligence, I could find my edge, and breathe into that space where I felt resistance, tightness, or tension (even if it was emotional), and soften into it with my intention and my breath. When I did this, I would often discover that I was on the edge of over-doing it, of pushing too far. I would uncover my need to back off, or step away. Maybe stopping what I was doing entirely and rest so I had an opportunity to digest what was going on in the moment and center myself in a nurturing and loving way. It was a way of preventing myself from the experience of self-inflicted harm.
Once given permission to retreat, not only did I prevent undue suffering, but I found my spirits lifted (compared to if I pushed through it). I found I could cultivate greater balance on all levels of being-physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and there was balance.
Now, I'm not saying that living the life of a mindful yogi will eliminate symptoms or magically get rid of pain. That would be marketing hype. What I am sharing with you, is that by choosing to intimately connect with your bodymind in a compassionate and loving way, you may actually prevent further harm to you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and begin to rewire your bodymind for better functioning.
When we begin to live the mindful life of a yogi, we bring more love, understanding and acceptance into our lives, and release the harm of overwhelm, toxic stress, struggle and suffering. We know how to breathe into the pain (in what ever form it show itself), and soften a bit so we can listen to what the experience is telling us beyond pain of "ow". Then we can address it, better understand it and honor our unique edge in the way that is right for us- which may mean backing off for a short bit or a long time.
Information contained within this site does not take the place of professional medical care. It is for educational purposes only and created with the intention of offering support and empowerment to women struggling to find wholistic and natural answers to their challenges. Every individual is responsible for their own actions, choices and behavior.