by Sue Cushing
How many times have you run down the stairs, lunged for door and shouted (nicely!) over your shoulder, “I’m going to yoga. I just need SPACE!”. Demands of work, family and life in general can leave us feeling drained, smothered, cluttered – and all you think is that if you can get to the studio and put your mat down, you will find that space. As you open the studio door, maybe a few minutes later than you would like, you are shattered to see that each perfectly laid yoga mat has a 3-foot perimeter surrounding it and the students are giving you that wide-eyed look that says “Please don’t make me move my mat. It will get crowded!”. Alas, it appears there is no…space.
Let’s think about the fundamental idea of space in yoga. We come to our mats to find space in many ways. Space from the challenges and responsibilities which keep our brains churning for far too long each day. There is even a concept now that we need “white space” in our lives to balance all of the visual noise. We also look to our poses to find space in our bodies – moving energy that gets stuck, lubricating joints, and lengthening our muscles. We can all agree that these space concepts are inherent in the yoga practice.
But when we come to physical space, the space gets grey. Some sources say a 2’x6’ yoga mat with a 5-inch perimeter will need approximately 16 square feet of space. Others say 21 square feet. In a studio of 800 square feet, that is between 38 and 50 practitioners – that is a big variance, but NYC studios have been known to “Tetris” people into fitting. That was a lot of math, let’s take a breath.
In some studios I have practiced in, I have been “lucky” to have 2 solid inches between me and my new best yoga friend. In my early years of practicing, like most people, I had a few thoughts about how close this stranger was to me: where were arms and legs going to land, am I going to feel his/her breath, and what if, heaven forbid, we actually touch each other?! But I remember back to one of my trusted teachers who addressed this in teacher training. She said if you find yourself a little nervous about your proximity to your neighbor, acknowledge it (in your head!), breathe and most importantly, remember what Yoga actually means! Yoga translates to many of the following: to unite, to join, to yoke – you are coming to this practice to be together!
So I took this to heart, and when I am in those busy classes, I always find after a little bit of flow, my neighbor and I figure out to navigate each other; I take my arms forward instead of outstretched, he takes an extra breath in forward fold and comes to stand after me, or I skip a side crow so as to not put my foot in her face. And usually, I find there is a smile after class, we part and probably don’t give another thought to that feeling we had at the beginning of the class because we respectfully welcomed each other into our space.
The philosophy of this space idea is well and good, but we do need a few tactical ideas how to make this work. Here are some thoughts:
- When you put your mat down, you do NOT have to line up in perfect rows. A little staggering of the front edges of your mats will give you each some space when take arms horizontally. Also consider taking your arms vertically rather than out to the side and bringing hands together through heart center. When a student sees you do it, they will do it too! Space created!
- If you already have your mat down and are settled but see that downtrodden person come in late looking for a space, take the initiative to move your mat a few inches – others will see your good deed and do the same. A few inches here and a few inches there, adds up to the space for a yogi! And think of how that small gesture of literally making room for a yogi could make that person feel so welcomed!
- Keep your props tidy! If you have a blanket, 2 blocks and strap, fold the blanket neatly, stack the blocks on top, strap on top of the blocks and place the bundle the back of your mat. Your mat space should NOT look like a 16-year-old’s room exploded!
- When in doubt, ask the teacher! It is part of our job to “manage the room”. If I see a busy class forming, I will often step into the room and instruct how many rows we need and how many people in each row. Don’t be offended if a teacher asks you to move – we want each person to feel as welcomed as you did.
Remember, you may not get Taylor Swift tickets, the seats on the train might be taken and someone might put their towel down at the beach and block your ocean view, but in our studio, we always have, and will make, space for you.