Playing the Edge
I stand in tree pose, Vrksasana, balancing uncertainly at first: right leg rooting my foot to the ground, left foot pressed into my right thigh, hands reaching to the sky, body swaying as the prairie wind sweeps through my backyard. I wobble and panic, my throat contracts, my abdomen clutches, my toes stretch apart, claw the earth; my mind notices these things, reminds me to breathe. I inhale and exhale and continue to sway. I hear birds chirping in the hedge, traffic rushing on the distant freeway, my dog rustling through the grass. The sun warms my face; I shine.
Or perhaps I stumble and start again.
In yoga the swaying and stumbling are important. We call it “playing the edge” —acknowledging whatever might be challenging your stability: a strong wind, an anxious thought, a tired muscle, an unfamiliar experience—and maintaining your pose as well as you can, observing your body and mind’s responses with interest but without judgment.
So much of what we can learn from yoga arises from that willingness to place ourselves (not just our bodies) in positions that can bring both tension and liberation. In some ways each pose, each asana, is a little memoir, a pantomime about our relationship to the world, our manner of living. To a passerby Tadasana, mountain pose, is imperceptible from simply standing erect. What makes this pose yoga is intentionality. The yogi positions her feet carefully, noting the placement of bone over bone: tibia above ankle, femur above patella, up through skull upon neck above spine. She brings awareness to her stability, her gaze, her breath. Some muscles are held tight, others released. She attunes the stance to the intention of that day’s practice, which itself may have a specific theme or narrative structure with each pose chosen as an opportunity to embody strength, or radiance, or connectedness to the earth.
As we ponder our future health and happiness, yoga’s gift is the practice of deep awareness to our ever-changing bodies and ever-changing lives. We accept where we are at each moment, then play with what is possible, understanding that even in discomfort we are perfect just as we are.
Brooke Hessler, Ph.D.
Professor of Writing, Prairie Yogi
Oklahoma City, OK, USA