Monday, January 18, 2010

It's getting crowded in here! Finding personal space and tranquility in the practice room.

It happens every January--the new year and resolutions inspire us to get serious about our fitness and exercise. As a result of this enthusiasm, 24 Hour Fitness facilities fill up quickly, and the Group X classes are no exception. While 24 Cycle classes are self-limiting (it's impossible to have more students than spin bikes), other classes get crowded. When striving for peace and tranquility in a Mind/Body class such as yoga, it takes some good humor, patience, and a bit of "self-talk" to find those elusive goals.

Getting to a feeling of personal space when mats are close to touching one another can be a challenge. But it doesn't have to be. Consider that yogis and yoginis have been practicing for centuries in small, almost cramped, spaces. Yoga is not about the amount of real estate that surrounds you, just as much as yoga is not about achieving a perfect pose or asana. Yoga is about linking your breath, movement, and interior self together. Yoga is about your internal real estate--the space within your person. When the practice room feels crowded to you, remember that within the borders of your mat, you have all the room that you need to do your practice.

The amount of space that you would like between yourself and your yoga neighbors is pretty much dependent upon your cultural norms. Cultures and civilizations that have high population density tolerate physical proximity better. Americans, bless our hearts, are among the most territorial of cultures. We even have expressions such as "give me my space," and "I need some space to think." We crave open space and unlimited vistas (one reason why "view lots" can demand such a high price). We associate space with status: large automobiles, large homes, large yards, even large television screens. And personal space isn't merely the amount of square feet available: we also have places that we prefer over others. Some students in the Group X classes arrive early to "claim their space" where they are the most comfortable (myself included).

The current estimate for American's personal physical space is two feet on either side, about 27 inches in front, and about 16 inches behind. At that rate, only about 20 students would fit into a Group X yoga or pilates class in Glendora. That's a tiny number of students and would cause much grumbling when a "limit" is reached. Within the confines of safety (determined by the Fire Department), there is no limit to the number of students attending a Mind/Body class such as yoga or pilates. Today's 10:30 a.m. class had about 40 students, and we all got along just fine (plus, heart-felt thanks to all who moved their mats to create room for latecomers).

Under certain circumstances people can accept having their personal space entered without experiencing discomfort, and yoga is one of those circumstances. Your practice rarely (if ever) requires you to extend of the borders of your mat. The concentration and focus that you bring to your practice demand that you look inward. Much of your practice is internal. All you need is yourself, bare feet, a mat, and your full attention. If you find that your neighbors' closeness is distracting--use this as a prompt to heighten your concentration on your practice. Consider that you are stretching your cultural muscles as well as your physical muscles. Set an intention to achieve the same feeling in a dense Group X practice as you might in an expansive outdoor setting.


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