If you haven’t read my earlier posts “Stretch” and “Strength,” you may want to start there. This continues my thoughts, finishes the series about what yoga is and what it does.
As discussed in “Stretch,” yoga does stretch you in many ways, both physically and mentally and emotionally. I often discuss the mental and emotional stretch as “making space.” It’s something clients don’t often expect to find when they begin a yoga practice, and yet it is often what they talk about the most.
When a new yoga student arrives at the studio, they are usually seeking stretch and strength. They want something that helps them improve their mobility and/or regain some all-body strength, some toning. These are 100% perfectly great reasons to hop on a yoga mat. They are 100% perfectly great reasons to continue a yoga practice. What I find, though, with many clients as I did with myself, is that we find so much more than stretch and strength. We find space, and it’s the effects of finding space that continue to draw people back to their mat, week after week, day after day.
As we stretch and lengthen we find an opening, a space. We are then able to breathe into that space, to fill it with air and possibility. We clear out the junk and find a lightness.
The world and day-to-day life shrinks us. It compacts us. It pushes down on us.
Yoga expands our body and lengthens it back out, makes space for new ideas and calmness.
Think about breathing into the mind, finding space in the mind. The mind is usually our most cluttered area, a collection of disorganized thoughts and worries and items on a to do list. The mind is trying to help us, trying to manage everything we need it to do. Remember back to a moment when you didn’t feel like your mind was going around and around like an out of control Ferris wheel. Imagine finding that same sense of calm and space on a more consistent and regular basis. That’s yoga.
Right now, stop and take a slow, deep breath, as big and as deep and as slow as you can.
Did you notice that you sat up a little straighter? Do you feel a little taller, longer, like there is more space in your lungs and side body/torso? Did your shoulders relax a little bit down the back? Now imagine that type of practice for an hour. Think about being able to spend an hour moving the body, working the breath, and making more and more space in the body, mind, and heart. That’s yoga.
Making space. Finding space.
That’s magic of yoga.
I played sports all my life and was always into staying fit. However, I always saw “working out” or “exercising” as either part of my competitive sport training or as punishment. I either needed to exercise to be more prepared to win the next match, or, when my competitive athlete days were over, as a way to punish myself for not being in as great of shape as I had been previously or for having eaten too much or for having had that glass of wine, etc. I enjoyed sports, but I never enjoyed working out.
Yoga changed all of that. I realized something one day after a yoga class about why it was so different for me. All day, my mind drives me. It keeps track of all the things I need to do, the places I need to be; my mind directs my body and my actions. BUT – in yoga, I use my body to tell my mind that it’s ok, that it can finally take a break. In yoga, my mind is given permission to just focus on the breath. My body takes care of the rest. In savasana, my mind can be completely clear. If it throws an idea or thought forward, I can thank it and gently remind it that right now, for this time, it doesn’t need to work. My mind is granted the gift of space.
That was a game changer. The space to allow my mind that break has become sacred for me. The studio in which I practice and teach is a sacred space. I sometimes come to class early to just be in the space, and my mind now recognizes the smells and sounds and immediately starts to calm.
And, not surprisingly, my mind comes back and functions better as a result of the break. It, too, is refreshed. It has forgotten or purged or released a lot of the clutter and junk. Sometimes making space is releasing tension in the body or letting go of emotions or negativity or stress in the mind; it’s the space to confront and release, to challenge and accept. It’s very similar to restarting a computer or your cellphone. It sometimes needs to turn off, to reset, to then come back to life.
I have had many people try to describe their experiences with yoga to me. It’s almost like trying to describe love. “It’s just”….”well”…”I don’t know how to describe it, but”…. This is the space I am talking about. It’s the magic. You feel open, clear, refreshed, ready. You feel more yourself.
Along with my yoga practice, I have a few stones that I keep near me for different times, to help me continue keeping my space clear when I’m not in the studio, on my mat. Some people are believers, and others are not. No judgment from me. I have a few, and I believe that they do, in fact, help me. Even if it is just in my head, that is where I live.
I especially enjoy, in order of the pictures you see below, Petrified Wood to promote grounding and stability, Carnelian to promote courage and confidence, , and Polychrome Jasper to sustain and support in times of stress. I like to hold them, feel them warm in my hands, feel the smooth parts and the imperfections with my fingers. Sometimes when I feel my anxiety growing I will sleep with my Petrified Wood stone under my pillow, and I find that it does help me sleep more soundly and peacefully, that I feel more rooted and safe.
However you find the space, I hope you are able to nurture it on and off the mat. In fact, I hope you are able to find and nurture all three of the S’s yoga brings — Stretch, Strength, and Space.
If you use stones and crystals, I would love to hear from you. This is something I am just beginning to benefit from in my day-to-day life and would love suggestions and ideas on what you use and how you use it. Comment below or send me an email.