Yoga for Athletes

Freedom at the Edge

The next time you find yourself going through the motions in your yoga practice, why not imagine that your mat ends at the edge of the Grand Canyon?

Imagine you are balancing on the edge. With a mixture of inspiration and trepidation, you contemplate your next move. You press down through your foot and hold yourself steady with one hand as you prepare to reach as far as you can with your other arm and leg. You make your move on an inhalation to harness the power of your breath and maintain your inner steadiness. For a moment, time stands still—no thought, no separation—just an expanded sense of being alive, of being whole, as you hover on the edge.

This edge could be a rock face in Joshua Tree or the pose Vasisthasana, in which you balance on the side of one foot and the palm of your hand, holding your big toe and extending your leg into the sky. Yoga and rock climbing meet at this potent place, “the edge”—where meditation happens spontaneously through intense focus, like a fire starting from a magnified ray of sunlight. The edge sharpens your concentration: Being several stories off the ground or standing on your hands naturally wakes you up. But it takes skill to be there and enjoy what the edge offers, not with reckless abandon but with mindfulness and respect.

Many people who practice hatha yoga and meditation are heading to the rocks for vertical yoga teachings: learning to move from the center, to cultivate meditation within action, and live within the present moment, breath by breath. What is often taken for granted on our yoga mats becomes pivotal on the rock. While awareness of the mound of your big toe is important in standing poses, it is sometimes all you have as a balance point when you’re climbing. Being centered is the difference between reaching to the next level or falling into the ropes. Staying focused is the difference between moving with lightness or stalling from fear. Like yoga, what brings people back to the rocks is the transformation experienced at the end of a climb, when there is a reconnection with oneself, with nature, and with the joy of life itself.

The next time you find yourself going through the motions in your yoga practice, imagine that your mat ends at the edge of the Grand Canyon. As you look down within your imagination, the sense of expansive space can take you quickly out of the doldrums and help you, in the words of the late, great Poonjaji, “wake up and roar!” As you move through the asanas, explore the balance point within a pose as if your life depended on it. Seizing the moment, find freedom on the edge.

Shiva Rea is an international teacher and the creator of Prana Flow Yoga.