Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad

Mind in Asana (Page 3)

An Interview with Joel Kramer

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Another Kramer specialty is “playing the edge.” What does that involve?

One aspect of yoga is learning how to play on the edges of one's limits. It's a matter of learning to distinguish between intensity and pain. The maximum extension of the muscle is right before pain, on the edge of pain. I call this the final edge. Of course, there are also other subtler edges. For example, a more immediate edge is where the body meets its first resistance. Let's say I'm stretching in Forward Bend, and I don’t feel much, until I suddenly feel a little tug in the small of my back. That little catch is an edge. I can bypass it immediately, or I can stop there and breathe until it goes away, and then move on to the next edge. The process of moving through postures is playing on the subtle feedback of the body, waiting for the edges to open.

As you might guess, an edge can move. It moves from day to day and from breath to breath. And it doesn't always move forward. Sometimes it moves back, which is psychologically hard because the mind becomes attached to flexibility and accomplishment. But it's important to listen to your body and be able to advance or move back with the edge. You're involved in a kind of flirtation, a dance, with the edge.

I gather, then, that you don't advocate pushing through pain in a posture?

From my point of view, one should never be in pain in Hatha Yoga. Pain is feedback from the body, and it also shifts your attention away from what you're doing. Have you ever noticed that when you experience pain in an asana, your attention is greatly weakened. But people tend to push as far as they can, hold it as long as they can stand the pain, and then come out. If, instead, you use the posture to open the body, rather than the body to achieve the posture, you will move more slowly - but you will be involved in the real process of yoga.

If your yoga is painful, it will become a chore, instead of the real joy it should be, and you'll figure out all sorts of reasons to avoid it.

How do you deal with the pain of injuries?

Injuries in yoga generally come from one of two sources: greed or inattention, and sometimes a combination of both. The problem with injuries is that we tend to look at them as failures, not as opportunities to learn. An injury is no tragedy, it simply means that your edge moves way back. Just follow your edge and listen to the feedback of pain. It teaches you patience! Pain, then, is one way our yoga is "sabotaged."

What are some of our other resistances to doing Hatha Yoga?

There is the basic resistance to getting down on the rug in the morning. And there is also the resistance to letting go of certain aspects of one's life that one is attached to. I mentioned that growth involves the shattering of images. This can he frightening, because the shattering of images releases an energy that threatens to move you out of control. All of a sudden, you don't quite know who you are, or what you're going to do. By its very nature, yoga begins to build the energy that breaks through inner blocks. It's an amusing paradox, because on one level yoga is a control freak's dream. You can achieve control over the body, and even, to some extent, over thought and emotion. But the more you control yourself on that level, the more you build energy that pushes you out of control on another level. And most of us resist going out of control.

Fundamentally, yoga involves an intricate dance between control and surrender. At every moment in an asana we have a choice: "Should I push, or should I relax? Should I control, or should I let go?" Most of us go the control route (we're what I call "pushers") because it gives us the sense that we're doing something, going into the musculature and moving the energy there. It's much harder to learn to let go, to allow the body's wisdom to move us (to be what I call "sensualists"). It's in the balancing of control and surrender, of the ability to move the body and the ability to let go, that yoga really becomes meaningful.

The interviewer, Jeanne Malmgren Cameron, is a Florida yoga teacher and freelance writer specializing in health and fitness issues. - Yoga Journal July/August 1986

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