Learning your Limits

Almost four decades ago a book called “The Limits to Growth” was released. Funded by the Club of Rome it modeled the possible consequences of a rapidly growing population and the finite resources our environment can supply: it outlined limits. Yet the idea that growth may be limited is not generally popular policy: twenty years later a review of the report called “Beyond the Limits” was published.

But there’s no denying that limits exist: each time your try to touch your toes there’s always a point at which your body simple says “no more”. A yoga class is all about exploring your physical limits.

As we practice the various poses we learn just how far our bodies are capable of twisting, arching and bending, or just how much oxygen our lungs can hold. If we go beyond these limits our body responds with a quick surge of pain: it’s a reminder that we should learn to say stop, no more, and enough. If we’re wise, we reduce the intensity of whatever we were doing and take a mental note of our boundary.

Testing our physical limits, whether in an Asana class or on a sports field, is one visceral reminder of our capacity to handle physical exertion. But when we strive too hard to force more effort out of our minds, we don’t always receive the same sharp warning signal of pain. We become a bit like the frog in the stock pot: as we gradually turn up the heat under ourselves we manage to adjust to the new conditions, not realising that we’re getting closer and closer to the boiling point.

We can take the same principles we adopt in Asana class – awareness, careful observation and non-attachment – to observe how we can choose to work with our limits in the rest of our life. Have you ever thought that there may be a point at which you no longer need to yearn  for more because you already have enough? If we look at what we have we often find that the conditions necessary to produce contentment already exist in our life and that there is no need to strive to push ourselves beyond the limit.

Contentment is one of the things that we are encouraged to cultivate in yoga, because with contentment comes peace of mind. We no longer spend time searching for what we haven’t yet got and relax, accepting what we have already been given.

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