Part of the art of yoga is knowing how far to push yourself and knowing when to stop. The point at which any more effort would be too much but any less would be too little, is called “the edge,” and mindfully sensing this point- advancing and retreating from it when appropriate- is often referred to as “playing the edge.”

Understanding the concept of the edge as well as how to successfully play it is, in my opinion, one of the most important things to remember in any yoga class. In fact, your ability in yoga has almost nothing to do with the number of poses you can do. It is not dependent on your degree of flexibility or on how well you can balance. Rather, your skill in yoga is a function of how mindfully you play your edge.

It is important to note that on any given day, in any given class, your edge will vary. Even the most experienced yogis and yoginis have times in which their edges are similar to those of a beginner. What portrays true expertise is knowing when to push forward and, oppositely, when to back off. Not to mention, it takes a certain amount of self-confidence to take rest and withdraw from a pose when it seems like everyone around you is on his or her way to becoming the next acrobatic sensation.

However, frustration often comes about when you push too far past your edge. When you choose to ignore your edge, your body will only scream “stop” more forcefully. You may fall out of a pose or pull a muscle the wrong way. So not only is it important to be sensitively and mindfully aware of your edge in order to strengthen your practice, it is also a matter of safety.

So how exactly is one “sensitively and mindfully aware” of his or her edge? The answer lies in the breath. If your breath becomes short, shallow, or otherwise uneasy, it is time to pull back. This “pulling back” does not, however, necessarily mean taking child’s pose. Rather, it may mean to come up just half an inch from your splits or perhaps to put your knee down in Cresent pose.

You should also pay attention to your mind. If you are competitively comparing yourself to those around you, it may be time to pull back. Remember that yoga is not a competition, and your loyalty should always be to yourself, just as you are.

Of course, it is not unusual for this type of competitive energy to rise up in a yoga class. And while it is important not to get too wrapped up in “being the best,” initial feelings of competition may constructively lead to enthusiasm for further learning.

In yoga, as well as in many other life experiences, competition is born from the ego. The ego is one of four branches Avidya, a yogic term which literally means “incorrect comprehension.” When you allow pleasing the ego to become a priority, your perceptions of what is true become clouded. Such blurry perceptions lead to personal dissatisfaction and, ultimately, to feelings of low self-worth. Even if you do manage to convince yourself that you are a better yogi than the person practicing next to you, this conviction relies on feelings of superiority, which are anything but genuinely satisfying and will ultimately led to deeper dissatisfaction.

Exercising awareness of your own ego and mindfully monitoring your edge go hand in hand. Not only is this true within the confines of a yoga class, it is also extremely applicable in the world at large. In my own practice, I have found that yoga has a peculiar way of bringing certain emotional experiences, that are usually clouded with the business of everyday life, to the surface. More than once I have found myself laughing or crying for what feels like no reason in the middle of a class. Of course, however, there is (almost) always a reason for my laughter and/or tears. But more important than the reason, is the fact that, in dismissing my ego, I allow myself to “let go.” Free of the constraints of my ego, I successfully play my edge- advancing and retreating, laughing and crying, holding handstand or relaxing into shavasana- all while remaining loyal to myself.

Maddy Beauregard | Yoga Contributor