This started out as a comment on Taking Up Space over at Dances With Fat. As I was writing and well before I was ready to hit “submit,” I realized I was getting kind of long and that the polite thing to do might be to take my verbosity over to my own e-space.
The last day of the semester, at least with students. There are still meetings and cleaning and classroom moving in the immediate future, but I’m looking forward to having some semblance of free time again. With some of that time, I would really like to make it back to a yoga class again; I haven’t been since maybe sometime in February.
While I love having the freedom to explore in my personal home pracitce, it’s companionable to sometimes attend class, and it’s refreshing and insightful for me to benefit from another teacher’s guidance and instruction. My body often gets into a rut before my brain realizes it, and class is an excellent way for me to change up my practice.
As much as I love my local yoga studio, though, I do not always love that it is tiny and sometimes crowded. (Well, okay, I would mind the “tiny” except that the small space is more likely to become crowded.) And crowded generally means mats and bodies get very close: we are all about making room, y’all.
Now. No instructor or other student has ever made me feel unwelcome on account of how much room I take up. However, I am very often the biggest or one of the biggest yogis in the room. When we’re all working to take up only as much space as we actually need, it’s impossible for me not to be conscious of the fact that I need more space than most of the other students. And it’s difficult for me not to be self-conscious of that.
Part of it is pretty straightforward physical safety. I have been the person who accidentally thwaps someone in the face while reaching my arms out to move into eagle; I have also been the person who’s accidentally had my face thwapped. I’ve also been the person who did not enter a standing balance (for me, it’s often king dancer) because I did not want to tumble out of the posture and yogatackle the four other folks nearest me. I wouldn’t necessarily be averse to inventing Full Contact Yoga, but I feel like there should be some ground rules established first (like, the people who are playing it should know what it is and that they are playing it, for starters).
Part of it, though, is that I feel like entering the most comfortable or therapeutic expression of an asana frequently results in me putting my body parts in what I perceive as someone else’s personal space. For example, I’ve yet to figure out a way that doesn’t turn prasarita padottanasana into I Will Put My Butt in Your Face Now Pose. This is generally true for any pose where both of my legs are, in one variation or another, out to my sides: reclining hero, bound angle, janu sirsasana, even a lying spinal twist (where both legs may be out to the same side).
In more open quarters — at home or in less crowded classes — I’m perfectly happy to take up as much space as I please in order to move in my practice. But when space is so much at a premium, no matter how many times my teachers tell us, “Feel free to take ths space you need,” I feel selfish doing that. Because what I really want is to take the space I want for a particular expression of a given pose. But I’m not really sure if that counts as a need — even if other people are also taking the space they want for their practice. Even if I only want the same amount of space proportionally speaking, in absolute terms, I want more space — and for that I sometimes feel greedy.
Maybe that’s because taking up space feels so good. It’s that upavistha konasana that stretches my low back and makes space inside my pelvis like no other pose. (MenstroMonster folks: I might could have to talk more about this one in the future; it’s that awesome.) Taking up space is feeling free to try big toe pose, knowing that if I wobble too far out of it, I can land on my cushiony hips, roll, and start it up again. It’s a corpse pose that’s open and receptive as well as completely and utterly relaxed.
I realize that physical practice isn’t everything, but I also think about yoga as holding or creating space in other aspects. I’ve spent a certain amount of focus, for example, working on space to cultivate courage, space for stillness and reflection, space to hold compassion for myself and others. Those are important, and they’re not separate from whatever my physical body is experiencing. Maybe I’m just not as enlightened as the next yogi, but it’s way easier for me to think and to feel — and to observe and process my thoughts and emotions — when I’m starting from a place that affords me adequate physical space. Because taking up space comes from a place of accepting my body — myself — without apology, which can be a radical act.
In that light, and maybe to sneakily work through my guilt issues (which, sneakily working through guilt, I’m not sure that’s totally the goal, but I’ll get over it), I recently purchased a larger yoga mat. My older mat was worn through and flaking off bits of PVC, so it was time anyway. The new one is a few inches longer and a couple of inches wider, so the difference is subtle, but it’s enough to more comfortably accommodate my shoulders, hips, and thighs. Whether it should be or not, it is easier for me to ask for and feel right about taking the space my mat needs. And yes, while I’d ultimately like to feel comfortable just taking up the space that my body needs, I’m also okay with getting there one step at a time.