Yoga as Therapy: Working the Edge
In yoga and in life, the edge is that place within us where we can comfortably breathe while in a posture, situation or in any unpleasant moment. It is the healthy balance between avoidance – backing away at the first sign of discomfort or the forcing, unkind approach where we push through the pain – “grin and bear it”. The edge can be imagined as a threshold – a passage to be entered into and traveled through. We create edges to survive as necessary boundaries between what seems as unbearable pain and when ready, we dissolve them. We can become stuck in avoidance and hold onto fear or whatever is perceived as safe.
Assisting clients in softening their edges is sacred work. I believe working the edge is a gentle way of nurturing oneself, of directing awareness into the pain with the intention of softening and expanding the boundary of what is comfortable. This is the basic therapy goal, one that is therapeutic and necessary for healing and growth.
In counseling, the body is an enlightening vehicle for watching the cycle of aversion and the power of gentle acceptance. Learning to read the signs and identify where a client is in the avoidant-acceptance cycle is an important skill to foster. The single most obvious sign of avoidance is in the breathing pattern. Often, clients will hold their breath or breathe shallowly which will increase any distress being experienced. The face is another place where signs of resistance can be witnessed as tension including jaw clenching, a furrowed brow, tense lips, or heavy eyelids. Body position can also signal resistance – arms or legs crossed, shifting position, tightness in the extremities, or raised shoulders.
Helping clients to understand the avoidant-acceptance dynamic is crucial in moving forward in therapy as well as life. I encourage clients to explore their resistance or avoidant behavior by taking deep breaths imagining they can breathe in and out of whatever is being experienced. Depending on what the language of the body is sharing, I may ask them to inhale their shoulders up to their ears and release with a sigh or ask them to notice where they may be feeling tension in their bodies. At times, I encourage them to take a moment to pause, to cease speaking, to take a few breaths and notice whatever they are experiencing. When in the avoidant part of the cycle, physical pain worsens. When able to shift into the acceptance part of the cycle, pain releases. It isn’t necessary to like what is being felt. However, if one can approach the source of the resistance with a gentle, curious attitude one may be able to soften its intensity.
In my next blog, I will share Gendlin’s focusing technique and Laury Rappaport’s Focused Oriented Art Therapy. These are wonderful tools that foster and build on body awareness of physical and emotional pain, while fostering a welcoming attitude to it in order to shift it.
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully is a counselor and writer who focuses on healing the mind, body and spirit. She specializes in PTSD, Chronic pain and mood disorders. For more information: www.anschealthandwellness.com