Yoga off the Mat: Finding Space

De-Stress - Yoga Off the Mat - finding space cover pic.docxSpace, the final frontier, to boldly go where no person has gone before…

This wondrous line from the classic sci-fi series Star Trek may seem like a bit of a cliché, but it does quite in neatly describe the how each of us have the opportunity to experience the space of each and every moment of our lives. Our yoga practice is an opportunity to explore that and expand into it, and take into our lives an attitude where we are looking for more space, not just filling it with more things to do.

Many of us begin a yoga practice because we find ourselves pretty hemmed in by the onslaught, stimulation, demands and franticness of our lives. A yoga class maybe the first time that many people have spent with themselves since they were young and playful. Many new students in my classes show a great deal of anxiety at the prospect and experience of suddenly being simply with silence, stillness and the space to feel what that means.

When we are used to filling every minute with doing, communicating, planning, musing over decisions to make and worrying, then time dedicated to not doing, just being and actually undoing can seem pretty scary. Many people can be drawn to classes where the practice is fast and busy so they don’t have to feel the vulnerability of space, but that can be as distraction as ultimately all meditative and spiritual practices are moving us towards opening out into emptiness. It is natural to feel bored with not much going on, when we’re used to constant stimulus, but just being with that is a fine practice in itself!

jnana mudra on grassIn all practices like yoga where liberation, coming to our true Nature, dropping beneath the ego and connecting with a larger consciousness are the focus, there is an emphasis on letting go of the habit to fill every space. Openness, open-mindedness, exploration and expanse are the qualities that allow direct experience of meeting space and the exhalation is where we can feel that happening as part of release. This can help us move beyond being a slave to those voices in our heads. We all know that those evaluations, comparisons and judgements can be exhausting and drive us towards decisions and actions we might not feel our being true to ourselves.

In yoga, the space between breaths (where the inhalation hands over to the exhalation and vice versa) is called a kumbhaka, meaning ‘empty pot’ in Sanskrit. This space signifies potential, a still point of meditation where anything seems possible for the next moment, the next breath. If we can just linger there, without pushing into it, we can feed our ability to punctuate our lives with spaces in which to allow decompression.

In yoga, the postures (asanas) were incorporated into the system as a method for embodiment in preparation for meditation. Yogis realised that unless we were fully able to occupy our physical bodies as part of our whole beings, then we would remain constricted and with barriers to opening up to each moment. We always have a choice to practise yoga physically as if we were simply toning our bodies or as an opportunity to practice being with space and take this expanded, reflective and open viewpoints into the way we live our lives and feel more freedom and joy.

Yoga enquiries into space:

In yoga asanas we are always looking for ways to play with an open up into space. Consider how we can use the breath to feel continual play and exploration within our practice:

  • paschimottanasanaWhen we open up one place in the body, another naturally contracts to create that room. In a forward bend, space in the back body is found from constricting the front and vice versa for back bends. With the more obvious physical opening, we can easily breathe into that, but taking our attention to compressed areas and how they may be restricting the full flow of breath is where the most interesting enquiry can be found.
  • When we hold positions or feel deep sensations, our whole being can curl and restrict in towards them. It is natural for muscles to constrict when we first enter a pose as they are protecting us from over-stretching and injury. But after we notice this first supportive tension, we have the choice to breathe into release and yield. We can take stress habits in and harden within a pose or find spaciousness in the breath that diffuses out and helps it feel playful, alive and with the possibility to unfold.
  • We also create binds in yoga for the very purpose of exploring space. Using a hand hold, gesture or bind with a belt creates a circuit or containment in which we can feel metaphysical and energetic space made even within limitation.

Stress is by nature contracting, constricting and hardening. Our yoga practice is a place to counter the often claustrophobic nature of modern living. Experiencing the freedom and possibility of space can help us reconnect with our true essence and be drawn to finding that in everyday life.

 

This article was first published in Om Magazine, you can see pdfs here: page one and page two

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