Creating Space

Monday, May 18, 2015 marked the anniversary of Guruji’s death (2009).  The week prior to that, I completed a 5-day Intermediate Series intensive study with David Garrigues and a 3-day workshop series with Kino MacGregor. So, naturally, the past 2 weeks have filled my heart, mind and soul with thoughts and teachings of the many gurus of the Ashtanga Yoga lineage, including my own guru, Tim Miller.  Though I have not yet studied with Sharath, his presence has been on my mind as well.  He is Guruji’s grandson, one of the only people to complete all 6 series of the Ashtanga Yoga method, and he carries on the lineage of the Ashtanga Yoga method to students all over the world.  As such, not surprisingly, he popped up in one of my dreams this week.  Which lead to the topic of this blog:  creating space.

Funny how you can dream about someone you have never met, and somehow still learn something from them in the oddest of circumstances.  We were in a home, not mine or his, a simple abode with not much “space”.  We were discussing the householder’s daily yoga practice, he said to me:  “You need to create space for your practice. Your mat should be enough space, but if you need more, draw a line on the ground between your external world and your mat.  Don’t let any distraction cross that line.”

I know exactly what it is that sparked this dream.  My thoughts of gurus combined with my fears of what will happen to the daily practice in my life when I have children.   I’ve always wanted to be a mother, and have a husband eager to become a father, and that is a true blessing!  And so as we work toward parenthood, there is this small nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “What is going to happen to your ability to practice when you are pregnant?  How are you going to find time to run a business, teach yoga with a full heart, work your other job, be a wife, maintain a home, raise a child, and PRACTICE?!”  Sound a bit selfish?  Well, perhaps yes.  But, for those of us fully committed to this practice, it is a legitimate question, right?  Getting to the mat to practice can be a daily challenge for the householder:  jobs, health status, travel, children, and other family obligations all can interfere.   The practice is more than just physical fitness, it is a practice.  A daily devotion.  A daily meditation.  For me, an absolute must in my day for all of those reasons and more. So what did Sharath mean with his instruction in my dream?

I think we create space in many ways in yoga.  We create space in our physical bodies.   By simply practicing Ujjayi breath and pranayama, we create expansion in our lungs, thorax, and abdomen.  With each asana we take we are working to open up somewhere in the physical body, be it the hips, shoulders, spine, pelvis, hamstrings, and the list goes on. As a result of the practice, we create space in our minds and hearts.  As we release samskaras through asana practice we begin to hone our abilities to practice other limbs of ashtanga yoga, including yama and niyama, which aren’t always so intuitive and easy to practice for us humans.  But, in order to do the above, to take practice, which will help open our bodies and consequently our heart and mind, we must make space in our lives for the practice.  Both physical space and time space are required.  Physical space enough to at least sit and meditate, or fit our mats.  Time space enough to at least take breath practice, or more for a full asana practice.

I sometimes think about Tim Feldman and Kino rolling out their mats at the break of dawn in the bathroom or small spaces of their hotel rooms to take practice during their travels to teach and share this method with eager students all over the world (they share photos of these experiences!).   They find physical and time space to take practice, even with advanced practices and their extremely busy lives.   I had a conversation with one mother during my training in Philadelphia about how she finds time to practice.  She told me that once she had children, her practice became more serious, more consistent, and more grounded, because she absolutely had time make the time and find the space to practice, or it simply wouldn’t ever happen.  She is more committed to the practice now than she was before she had her children.  I read stories about women practicing Ashtanga Yoga during pregnancy, and wonder with awe how they managed to do it!

D.T.Suzuki, Japanese author on Buddhism, Zen, and Shin, once wrote:  "Emptiness, which is conceptually liable to be mistaken for sheer nothingness, is in fact the reservoir of infinite possibilities."  When we create space, we create an emptiness, which we can then fill to the brim with possibility!   Create time space and then you have a practice session!  Create space in the pelvis with Uddiyana Bandha and someday as a result you are floating and flying with lightness and ease!

I think the message in my dream was simply to, no matter what, ensure that I create time and space in my life to practice.  (I mean, one thing is for sure, no imaginary or drawn line is going to keep your nosy cat or 1-year-old child off your mat!  So I think the line was more representational than literal?).  When you travel, take your mat and make time for practice, even if it is just the sun salutations and last 3 closing postures.  If you are in a hotel room, lay the mat out wherever it will fit and then get on it!  If you have to work a 12-hour shift, get up 30 minutes earlier and take those extra 30 minutes to practice before the long day.   If you have babies or young children, tend to their needs and squeeze the practice in between when you can, again even if it is short.  Breathe.  One day, when the kids are old enough, if you teach them, they will understand when you are on the mat that is your time, and they are certainly welcome to watch or play nearby, or practice with your, or heck, even assist you!  Don’t worry about whether or not it is the practice of a lifetime, or if you complete a whole series or not.  You have time.  Don’t become attached to the physical practice.  The practice will ebb and flow with intensity and change throughout your life, but it should always be a constant presence if you are fully committed.  That commitment will help you create space for practice, no matter what your life circumstances.