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Finding your comfortable edge

Part 5 of my Introduction to Yin Yoga series

We have a natural aversion to pain - emotional or physical. It's natures way of telling us something is wrong. But on the other hand the fitness industry seems to be driven by a philosophy of "no pain no gain". So we can sometimes feel a bit trapped going back and forth between these two opposites.

Its this playing between the two extremes that makes life interesting of course. With my yin practice the purpose is neither to avoid the experience of stressing the target area I'm working on, nor to create a lot of discomfort there. Yin teachers may say something like "play your edges" or "find the goldilocks way", because Yin is about finding your own way of negotiating your body and its restrictions or discovering new possibilities. The teacher can guide you into a position which may feel comfortable or it may feel challenging, but it is the student who decides how deeply into that pose they want to experience it. One of my favourite cues is to remember that you are going to have to stay in that position for maybe five minutes, so find a version of the pose that you will be able to maintain for that length of time, right from the beginning. It refocuses your mind from achieving your "best" version of how you think you should be looking or feeling and towards whether it is sustainable.

A little bit of discomfort is good for us, for opening, creating space, stressing connective tissues, melting the fuzz, challenging our limits. Too much on the other hand, well we know where that can lead - injury.

In a slow mindful practice you can really get into feeling how that pose works, both for your body generally and for that target area specifically and what adjustment or alternative you want to explore. You don’t need the teacher to tell you how you are feeling it - you need to examine yourself. So when you do find that comfortable edge (and it will be different each time your practice!), you will know it and you experience that sweet spot. Enjoy!

Try this approach out in Caterpillar pose (seated straight leg forward fold). Start with your arms wrapped under your knees so that the legs are bent into your chest. On each exhale slide your legs out forward, just a few centimetres at a time. Keep your belly in contact with your thighs. Notice at what point does it go from being a comfortable resting position to a noticeable stretch along the back or hamstrings? Where do you feel it most? Lower back, upper back, back of the legs? What happens if you back off a bit? Now ask yourself how you feel about staying in that position for another 3 minutes? Notice how, over time it may become painful or you may feel a release. Don't forget to stop and back off if it gets too much. How is your experience of this forward fold different to the usual way it is practised with legs stretched out on the floor, knee muscles engaged and holding your feet with your hands to draw your upper body down. Keep asking yourself - where do I feel this? does it feel good? And most importantly, where is my comfortable edge?

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