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Cultivating Fearlessness in Your Hot Yoga Practice

Cultivating Fearlessness in Your Hot Yoga Practice

By Karen Ledesma
When I consider what “fearlessness” looks and feels like in the context of a yoga practice, I find parallels to the experience of “edge”—finding that place of sensation, stretch, or experience that is intense enough to capture and hold my full and complete attention.  How far into “edge” am I willing to go?

Michael Lee says this about “Edge”: “Finding your edge requires a high level of presence. You can’t find it if your mind is somewhere else. This means that in your body (and in your life) you have to be willing to go into and to be with what is happening in the moment. You then have to be willing to stay there long enough to tune into it and make the necessary adjustments…It is only by accepting what is happening, no matter what it is, that you can then choose where to go from there and how to be with it.”

The beauty of a Bikram style yoga class is that the heat provides an instant “edge” – there is no escape from it and we have to at some level be willing to simply work with it. It is difficult to coast through a class in a 105 degree room without coming upon an edge, either physically or mentally. The mirror is another edge—we are asked to look right into our own eyes at the same time that we are challenged to push against our own limits. So, right away, I am given the opportunity to observe how I respond –or react to—the challenge of the hot room and my reflection in the mirror.

Given these circumstances, I am given an opportunity cultivate fearlessness—in the sense that I simply look, see, and work with what is happening without shrinking back from the experience. Each moment that I want to give up or shrink away from the challenge is an opportunity to build and then draw upon a deep reserve of inner resiliency and trust.  Each moment is an opportunity to stop functioning purely out of survival mode—look good, do it right, cover up or check out from my true experience—and instead work in a very basic and simple way with what is actually going on in my body and in my mind.

It doesn’t mean that I have to be heroic about it. Some days my body simply feels tight, unyielding, and unresponsive and I have to be with that. Some days it feels light and free, and I have the joy of being with that. I have learned that I don’t have to fake it or force it or pretend things are different than they are. Some days “edge” for me is pushing beyond a passive “go with the flow” state of mind to really see what I am capable of.  Yet on other days finding edge actually means to back off and notice when I am being too demanding of myself, pushing too hard, looking for that elusive sense of perfection.

I have come to think of the series of 26 postures as a stable and consistent container for working with my whole self and whatever may come up on any given day—through the tools of my body and my breath. It is a meditation practice that allows me to use my body as a vehicle for self-awareness. Because it is intense, because I don’t always love it, because it is a crazy journey of ups and downs filled with both challenges and insights, it is a lot like life. It is training in fearlessness because it challenges me to become more and more comfortable with the sometimes jagged “edges” of myself and my current circumstances.

How would you describe your “edge” in a yoga class, and what does fearlessness look like for you—on or off the mat?

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