In the past week or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about space and how we occupy space. For example, to me, what it means to “advance” in someone’s practice is that she is gaining a greater sense of the way her body moves and the space she takes up. I think that generally, we Westerners understand that we have muscles in our arms and legs, and our abs, if we have a six-pack (which is unnecessary), but we don’t have much sense of how our torso moves, at least until we hurt our backs.
I think that we, especially we women, are socialized to be small. We tend to stand and walk with our shoulders and chests collapsed inward, making ourselves smaller, less noticeable. I believe it’s a root chakra issue in our patriarchal society. Women are taught not to feel that we’re entitled to occupy spaces, literal and figurative, in our own society. I draw a lot of corollaries to this point–I think that uptalk, where declarative statements from women and girls still end in question marks, and the way we so often begin sentences with an apology for speaking, “I’m sorry, I was just thinking that if we approached the issue this way…” And, if you’re *horrors* a woman of some size, it’s all the worse. I think that large women take the most condemnation because we implicitly have the nerve to not be insignificant. We are irritatingly too big to ignore sometimes. How dare we. These issues, of course, are a few of the many core tenets of feminism and body love, and others do them far better justice than do I.
This all is not to say that the world doesn’t make men feel small. It certainly can, though likely in somewhat different ways, and that isn’t fun or good either.
And so, for the love of all that is holy, the yoga practice should be a physical and temporal space where we can be big. All of us. Even if we’re big in the rest of our lives. I don’t care. Roll out your mat and see how long of a stance you can hold. How does it feel in your feet? Your legs?
As a teacher, I talk a lot in my classes about what the torso or the spine is doing in every pose we do, because the pose is in the torso. Your legs and arms are there, sure, but I’m willing to argue that in yoga the limbs are working as props, assisting us to do the work of the practice in the muscles and tissues of the torso.
The sticky yoga mats that we use are a somewhat recent invention, and the article I read months ago (and now cannot find to save my life –EDIT: here it is!! Thank you, yogaoneblog!) points out that the ability to grip the mat easily with our feet changes the work of many postures, making them more about flexibility with a sticky mat, where traditionally without a mat, the posture was equally a test of strength. I also think about our yoga mats as demarcations of space. This division of my space on the floor from your space on the floor (and in the air above the floor–we roll out our mats and each have our rectangular tube of space that we own) is in some ways limiting, but I find it more freeing. My mat is an invitation to reach longer or higher, to be bigger, to use all the space I have.
As a student, lying in savasana, I’ve been invited to soften, relax, broaden (usually through the forehead). In my classes, I’ve taken to inviting my students to allow their bellies to soften, to relax, to spread. In this quantum of spacetime, where you are on your mat for these fleeting moments, you get the whole thing. Take it all up.