Your Space in the Yoga Room

Emotions and their affect on sharing space

The yoga studio is a microcosm of the world. The emotions and thoughts that arise during a class are not separate from the practice— in a sense, they are the practice. What you bring into the studio is what you're going to work through during the class. And the way that you behave in the world is how you'll behave during a yoga class. A big part of the discipline is reorienting how you view and live inside the world by restructuring your emotional and mental bodies inside a classroom.

Due to my habitual punctuality, I'm usually the first person inside the room. Watching the class fill up, it's interesting to watch how students set up their mats; it's indicative of how they will experience the class. Some rush right to the back near the wall to be as far as possible from the middle; others, straight to front and center. Those coming in nearer to start time have fewer options, and when the class gets really crowded, that's when the reactions, and interactions, get interesting.

Before anyone came into the room, it was empty. No one "owned" the space. (This is a lesson Americans have long had problems understanding.) Yet as people filter in, they claim their spot. For the most part, people are relaxed about where they set up. Yet sometimes a student will lay down their mat as if it's a birthright. As the class fills up, I often move students around to make more room, and again while most happily oblige, sometimes someone will have an issue.

Interestingly enough, the inspiration for this column did come from my class, although I was not there. Last week a friend subbed for me, and the next day I found out that upon being asked to move aside a few inches to make room for another mat, one student become irritated and stormed out. She continued by going downstairs to the front desk, and threatened to the manager that she was going to cancel her membership. She even returned to the club, and told the front desk she was going back up to "have a word" with the teacher—while he was in the middle of class! Fortunately they stopped her.

Obviously whatever was going on inside her head had little to do with having to move her mat over. But it is a great example of how we carry our emotions with us everywhere, even into a space where we're supposedly going to gain insight and clarity and, if all goes well, a little peace of mind. Given the ridiculously expensive state of Manhattan real estate, now coupled with an economic calamity centered on that market, it's easy to understand how someone would be on edge about space. Yet to lose our humanity over such a simple task and lash out at those who are attempting to help is irresponsible. What we put out is what will come back to us—some things never change with time.

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