‘”Here be dragons” is a phrase used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the medieval practice of putting sea serpents and other mythological creatures in uncharted areas of maps’. -- Wikipedia
There’s been a lively discussion of late on several yoga chat sites centering around a term we endearingly refer to as “The Edge." No, I’m not referring to U2′s guitarist. “The Edge” isn’t a person, but a place.
In yoga practice it describes the “sweet spot”, the time when you’re in an asana, holding and breathing, and you know that you’re working, perhaps pushing just a bit, but there’s the total absence of struggle. Yet, another definition to consider – “The edge is the place where ease meets effort.”.
We’ve all been there, the place where the the unknown lurks menacingly or enticingly one step further. The place that in the map of our lives would bear the words “here be dragons”.
There’s no doubt when you find that invisible border. Breath becomes ragged. Stomach tightens. Thoughts begin to do a wild and crazy dance of judgment and self-doubt.
Even if you’ve never inhabited a yoga mat you’ve still met your edge – again, and again and again.
Yoga is a metaphor, a way to learn through a physical practice ways of dealing more effectively with life on a day-to- day basis. If we can hold a pose and breathe as sensations build, and mind-chatter escalates, perhaps it might be a little easier to give that presentation in the board room, or stand one’s ground when personal values have a face-off with peer pressure. If we can recognize that we’ve moved past the edge, even if we met it comfortably the day before, then maybe, just maybe, we can grow a bit in tolerating what challenges us, or be less judgmental when others voice views different from our own.
Certainly on my recent trip to Panama, there were countless opportunities to dance on the edge. So much new and unfamiliar – the language, the food, the flow of time and daily life. But here’s the amazing paradox: the edge is not simply a limit, it is also an invitation.
On one particularly long and difficult trip further into the jungle to visit a distant community, we traveled over roads that were more like clearings in the thicket, across streams, with enormous ruts, and stones the size of lawn furniture. The truck’s suspension was way past its prime. The trip went on for hours.
At first I could feel myself tensing as I ricocheted around the back seat. Only being wedged tightly next to another person restrained my movement. My head connected with the side window with painful regularity. Holding myself so tightly, and anticipating every oncoming bump, and wondering when the journey would end was exhausting.
I decided to switch gears and simply let myself bounce.
Sensing that rise in physical sensation and mental discomfort, finding my breath and letting go into the experience, I found “the edge” would soften and move, just a bit, further away. The trip became pleasurable again, the time manageable, the scenery spectacular!
So I guess what it all comes down to – whether in yoga, or in life – is that “the edge” is where learning happens. All we have to do is notice and try to befriend the dragons.
Writer Judith England, an R.N., is a certified massage therapist and yoga instructor in Albany, New York. She keeps the Holistic Health blog for the Albany Times Union, where this post appeared on March 5, 2012.