by Jay Fields
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been re-reading Erich Schiffmann’s book, Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness.
Let me just say: if you don’t already have this book, do yourself a favor and buy it. I recommend this book more than any other to new and veteran yoga students when they ask for a book that will help them develop their practice. It’s the best thing I’ve ever read on how to really make your yoga your yoga. I personally re-read it at least once a year.
I love how Erich addresses “playing the edge” in a pose. That is, how to find just the right physical and emotional tone of a pose between having no effect and having a hurtful effect. Whether you explore this in a led class or on your own in your home practice, learning how to get closer and closer to your maximum edge of discomfort (and comfort!), helps you to develop the capacity to be with intensity in your life—whether intense joy, trust and love or intense fear, anger and sadness.
The truth is, most of us live in a pretty narrow bandwidth of what we deem acceptable feelings, especially emotionally. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the first hint of an emotion and 10 being the place where you feel like you wouldn’t be able to breathe if you actually let yourself feel what you were feeling, how many times have you been at a 9 in the last year? Or a 7? Or a 5 for that matter?
It’s more common to explore our physical edges. Maybe you’ve been at a 9 or 10 physically when you ran a triathlon, gave birth, or performed a profoundly challenging yoga posture or sequence. Not many of us, however, will go to or through that level of intensity on our own—that’s where coaches, doctors, and teachers come in handy.
The same goes for the emotional stuff. It took me almost three years of working with a counselor before I felt like I would trust myself to explore 7+ on my own. Even now, though I can go there on my own, I’m far more willing to explore the really, really intense emotions when I’m with her.
And why is that? Because I know she’s been there. Though very rarely will she share from her own experience, she doesn’t need to. I can feel it in her. And what’s the it that I can feel? It’s the breadth and depth of her presence, the space that she takes up. To be honest, it’s kind of ineffable. I can just feel it, you know?
So can your students. They can feel if you’ve been to the dark corner that you’re beckoning them toward. They can sense if you’ve stood on the high peak that you are encouraging them to climb, or the murky abyss that you’re inviting them to explore.
On the most colloquial level, it’s called street cred. And it goes a loooong way, whether you’re a teacher, an artist, a businessman, a friend or a parent.
And not to say that I’m advanced at this, but I will say that I can feel how every time I get closer to my edges, physically and emotionally, I not only trust and love myself more, but I also become a better teacher.
I’m not suggesting that you need to hang out at you maximum edge more, just that you don’t resist it altogether when it comes up. Also, that you develop the ability to know where you are on your scale of 1-10, and to let yourself explore your bandwidth.
A major requisite for being a trustworthy guide (and a remarkable person) is to continually play your edges, expand your comfort zone, and in so doing increase your wattage for how much of life you can consciously allow to flow through you.
Some of the best words on just how to do this come from the Tao Te Ching:
If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.
And so, I’ll leave you with a variation on that theme:
If you want to become a teacher, let yourself be an avid student of your own places of not knowing.
If you want to share with others, let yourself receive from others and from yourself.
If you want to be a light for others, let yourself dance around with your own shadows.