Thirteen years ago I stepped into my first yoga class. As I shuffled amongst the crowd of yogis, I was unsure where to unroll my sticky rental mat. I scanned the class searching for a spot while simultaneously questioning if I made a big mistake, if I should just go home. It had taken me months just to get to this moment.
My life at that time was limiting and suffocating. I was in outpatient treatment for an eating disorder I had been struggling with for many years. My head was relentlessly full of chaotic and cluttered thoughts and worries. My body was fragile, rigid and in much pain. I finally worked up my courage to come to yoga because I had a hunch this could help give me some room to breathe. As I pressed into my third or fourth down dog, something shifted. For so long I had struggled to experience my physical body and here I was hands and feet pressing into the floor, my whole body tingling. It was as if I had come back to life. For one nano second there were no thoughts, no worries, just space. I started practicing almost everyday from that moment on in order to revisit what I discovered. Each time, hoping to stretch and lengthen this nanosecond of heaven.
For years, yoga was my refuge to anchor the stillness. I went on to becoming certified in 2009 teaching part-time at first, alongside my elementary school teacher position. Just two years later I made the leap to being self-employed teaching yoga to children and adults.
In my day-to-day of serving others I began to understand my relationship with space from a new perspective. As a society we are taught to constantly fill space.
Have an empty closet? Fill it with clothes!
Have an empty fridge? Fill it with food!
Have an empty mind? Fill it with noise!
Flash forward to a large open range in central Nevada on a hot June day in 2015. I’m literally mid journey, moving across the country barreling down US-50 with my then partner at the wheel of our converted van. They call US-50 the loneliest road in America and it sure is. Nothing but scorching sun, spindly sagebrush and space - wide open space. As I stared out among the arid emptiness, I begin to reflect on my relationship with space. Flash back to a week prior I was in Boulder, Colorado where the teacher had a very freeing sequence, but it was intertwined with distracting noise. From the minute class began there was no time to be still. There was no reprieve from her incessant, complex alignment cues and spewing of spiritual haikus. Just when I felt an ounce of silence coming on the teacher would input, “begin again.” As I left the studio I was unsure if I had went to a yoga class or a poetry slam. The experience left me further from emptiness and closer towards a kid who sucked down one too many corn dogs before going on the Tilt-A-Whirl.
My ears rung defiled
My mind raced with confusion
Not in my body
In yoga communities there is a fascination with the idea of creating space, but how do we move from the idea of creating space to actually creating space?
While I still practice yoga regularly today as a way to move what is available to me on the surface, I no longer rely on the asana practice to dive deeper. What has assisted me the most in decluttering my inner world has been sitting still in silence.
The beauty of creating space is that there is nothing really to create - it’s already here. What we are creating is an opening to allow space, rather than constantly filling up. Where I found I was getting stuck was in the overthinking, overanalyzing and over working my physical body rather than simply dropping in. Space is found in moments of surrender.
Unfortunately, over stimulation has become the norm and space has become a foreign and uncomfortable zone. Here are three accessible ways to cultivate awareness in your life today to connect with this ever present space:
1. Have a Pause Button. Train yourself to make small spaces throughout the day; I call these “pause buttons.” Pause buttons last 1-2 minutes to stop activity and come back to being. This doesn’t replace the benefits of a full meditation practice, but it still works wonders. When you feel yourself moving away from space, stop and focus on your breath and scan your body. If you need assistance try setting timers on your phone to navigate back to this place.
2. Be Your Own Guru. It’s important to have a personal practice of body awareness off the mat. Having a teacher and other students around is a wonderful support system, but it’s important to connect to your self alone. When you are by yourself you are free of influence, competition, and codependent relationships. Feel what it’s like to be inside your body with all five senses on. Most of the answers you seek have no words. Experience your own self.
3. Stay Curious. Space is always present, so how do you fill it up? Notice without judgment what you choose when space presents itself. There can be so many layers of stuff we pile on in any given moment. Just when we think we have connected to space, there is always a new depth. Be open to techniques that allow your mind to expand and relax deeply.