Don't Be Afraid To Take Up Space

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In yoga, we often remind people that it’s OK to take up space. In fact, we encourage that. On the mat, this often means making your Warrior stance wider, or letting your arms and legs reach to the edges of the mat (or beyond if there’s room!) in Savasana. The idea behind taking up space on your mat, in addition to making sure you have enough room for proper alignment within the pose, is that as humans, we often tend to shrink ourselves. As we walk through life, literally and figuratively, we’re constantly excusing ourselves or apologizing for the space we occupy, worried that we could be in someone’s (again, literal or figurative) way. We apologize for our differing perspectives and way of doing things if someone criticizes or critiques us. We apologize for being different in general. We apologize for asking clarifying questions or making requests that we have every right to make (be honest, how many times have you started communication with “sorry to bother you but…”? I know I do this constantly).  We apologize for anything that could be a minor inconvenience to someone else, even if the outcome is significantly higher stakes for us. Not only that, but when we aren’t apologizing, we’re making ourselves small. We say things like “I was just wondering if it would be OK if maybe…..”. Instead of owning that we have every right to make a decision or a request, we ask timidly ask permission, and even feel bad about asking permission. 

I’ve also noticed, at least in myself, this not wanting to take up space coming up in unexpected places. The other day, I noticed that when I write my affirmations each morning (and I do this every morning), for some reason, I try to squeeze each affirmation onto a single line, smushing my writing and abbreviating words to try to make it fit. Here I am, doing these affirmations for big dreams and goals that I hope to make into a reality, and I’m shrinking them onto one line, because …. I don’t know why. Sure, maybe it takes up an extra line or two and eventually that means needing a new notebook faster, and that could mean more paper aka trees. But realistically, one affirmation going onto the next line here or there is not going to cause a catastrophic impact. I’m simply used to trying not to take up space - even when writing out my biggest, boldest goals and dreams. I’m taking an action that is supposed to make me feel confident and in my space of personal power and I’m physically constraining it to take up less room. 

When we are afraid to take up space, literally or figuratively, whether in our speech or in our notebooks, in our requests , on our mat, when walking down the sidewalk (we have the same right as everyone else to be on that sidewalk and yet we constantly apologize for our presence in a crowd), or when we’re doing whatever we’re doing, it feeds the idea, even subconsciously, that we’re less. That we’re not worthy of that space.  Or that others are more deserving of it. But we are worthy. 100 percent. We are as worthy and deserving of occupying our space as anyone else. 

And so, I encourage you to take up space. Start small. If you take yoga, spread out on your mat a little more. When you write that email, notice if you can take out phrases like “just wondering” and “if possibly” and the like. For me, I’ve stopped trying to scrunch the dreams and goals of my morning affirmations onto one line to take up less space on the page. If it feels uncomfortable, I understand. I’m right there with you. But this month, my theme is all about getting uncomfortable in ways that help me grow. And as difficult as it can be to push past that fear, that worry, that feeling (it shows up in numerous ways) that so often holds me back, I know that each time I do this, I’m getting closer to where I want to be. 

My dog Grace, who’s never afraid to take up space on the mat (even when it’s not technically hers).

My dog Grace, who’s never afraid to take up space on the mat (even when it’s not technically hers).

August Theme - Getting Uncomfortable

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Happy August!  I don’t know about you, but it feels to me like this summer is flying by. I can’t believe it’s time for the August theme already, but it’s one that I’m excited about, in that  weird way that we feel excited when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. I spent July focusing on being patient with the process, both in yoga and in life. August’s theme is a bit of an extension on that, because this idea of being in process feels super important and multifaceted to me, so I want to spend a little more time on it. This month, I’m focusing on getting uncomfortable. 

Before I continue, I’d like to make a few clarifications: when I say uncomfortable, I’m not talking about 1.) Pain/something that could be injuring you. Don’t force yourself into a yoga pose if it feels like you’re about to rupture something, and don’t force yourself into something in life if it feels like it’s legitimately not right. 2.) I’m not talking about letting other people make you uncomfortable (or making them uncomfortable, for that matter) in any type of inappropriate manner/way that feels wrong. I feel like this goes without saying, but I want to be really clear here. That is never OK. 

So with that disclaimer out of the way, I’m talking about the type of uncomfortable that pushes you out of complacency, or OK-ness. The kind of uncomfortable that makes you get really honest with yourself. The type that helps you grow, whether it’s in your physical yoga practice, or in life. The type of uncomfortable that we really know we should face but we put off because it’s easier not to, because letting ourselves stay comfortable doesn’t rock the boat and keeps everything status quo and it’s natural to want to stay comfortable.

Let me give an example: I am super uncomfortable speaking about my talents and skills. It feels like bragging, like I’m saying to people “look at me”, when I, in fact, strongly dislike having attention focused on me (exception: I’m fine when teaching, and I think that’s because I see it as guiding in a shared experience). But in order to grow my business, I have to tell people what I do. And I have to show them that I’m skilled at it. In the days of social media, I more or less have to post pictures, videos, evidence of me being good at it. I have to say (and show) “hey I have something valuable I can offer to you.” Whether it’s posting on social media to get people to come to classes, or it’s approaching a studio about a subbing or teaching position, or it’s posing my ideas for workplace benefit yoga to a company, I have to tell people about what I do and why I do it and how they could benefit from it.  Because I’m not going to get far in building a business that nobody knows about, or that doesn’t show potential clients the value that I can offer them. So I have to deal with getting uncomfortable. I have to share what I do, why I do it, how I do it, and my skill level/knowledge at it. I have to get past the self doubt and the impostor syndrome and the having attention on me (even from behind the screen of a computer or phone) because without clients, I won’t have a business. At least not one that’s sustainable as a part or full time endeavor. 

In yoga, it may be trusting yourself to try a new style, or a new studio, or a new pose (assuming you aren’t likely to hurt yourself or be in pain - please don’t hurt yourself!). In yoga teaching, it is, and I speak from experience here, teaching a pose you yourself aren’t super comfortable in. Yoga teacher confession time: I strongly dislike doing Ardha Chandrasana aka Half Moon pose. I might be the only yogi/instructor on the planet that doesn’t like this pose. It’s not because it scares me,or because I can’t do it. I can do the pose fine - not great, mind you, but fine. I just feel “off” in it. I don’t enjoy it. It’s like putting on an outfit that looks fine on the outside but it just feels eh and you can’t explain why. That’s how I feel about myself doing this pose. And, because of that, my natural inclination is to avoid teaching it because it’s easier to fill a classes with poses you personally love. But I also know that 1.) I can’t let my own feelings about poses limit what I offer my students and 2.) I’m never going to get more comfortable with it, practicing or teaching, if I don’t do it. So, my very first class after graduating teacher training what did I do? I put Ardha Chandrasana into my first standing flow. I made myself get uncomfortable. I made myself sit (or in this case, balance) with my uncomfortableness. And guess what? I’m OK. Nothing horrific happened. I got through it. Was it my finest pose instruction? Not sure, but probably not - it was also my first real class, so that makes it tough to tell. Was it passable. Yep!  Nobody ran out of the class or fell over due to unclear instructions or looked at me funny like I didn’t know what I was talking about. And I got past that first time of teaching the pose. I felt accomplished for doing so, and proud that I made myself go for it.

Life, and yoga, are like that. Often, it’s the poses and pieces that we most need to work on that make us the most uncomfortable. Because deep down, we know that when we avoid them, we avoid (potential) growth. And growth is scary, or at least it can be, because sometimes we have to be really honest with ourselves, and that’s not always the most fun time. 

Luckily, yoga offers us a place to practice pushing our comfort zone that’s relatively low stakes. Most poses have numerous variations and modifications that allow us to dip our toes in and get a feel for it. We have props to help us ease our way in when something feels physically or mentally uncomfortable (i.e. when we doubt ourselves, feel embarrassed, worry what we’ll look like, etc). There are beginner classes and gentle classes for those who may feel intimidated about trying yoga, or who may just want a less physically intense practice (note: I love gentle taking gentle classes myself!). And most of the time, whether you know it or not, there’s someone else in there also feeling uncomfortable, sharing in that same experience, even if neither of you know it. Maybe it’s even your instructor, teaching a pose they don’t love themselves, but value for their students.

So this month, I invite you to continue to be in the process, and to be patient with the process, by allowing yourself to sit (literally or figuratively, or possibly both) in the uncomfortable. Maybe it’s noticing when you avoid doing an unpleasant task by logging onto social media instead. Maybe it’s making excuses (oh I’m no good at that/don’t have the time/will do it later) when something makes you push beyond your usual comfort zone. Perhaps it’s an inkling to avoid teaching a pose you don’t love, or to suddenly need a bathroom break/drink of water/to step out of the room to cough/etc every time that pose comes up in a class you take. Whatever it is, take note. Even taking this pause, asking ‘why’, helps us to understand our uncomfortableness a little better. And the more we give voice to something uncomfortable, something scary, the less it becomes so. 

July Theme - Patience and Process

Happy July! I hope you had a fantastic June, and thanks for being part of my first full official month as a yoga teacher and business. As I’ve written about, June’s theme was growing. We were getting into summer and growing our gardens. The days were growing longer. We were growing our connection with family and friends as we move into summer/vacation/outdoor gathering/etc mode. I was (and of course, still am) growing my website, my yoga business, and everything that goes along with it. I also focused on a lot of internal growth. In June, I began working a lot more with intentionality. I began focusing on being more conscious of what was going on around me, what I was doing in the moment. I began paying more attention to input from my senses - sights, sounds, the feel of the environment, smells (not always the best focus!), really consciously tasting food. I also have been working to focus on one task/activity/item at a time. It’s tough in this society of alerts and pings and texts and everything else, and I’m not great at it, but I’m getting better at it, I think. 

For July, I decided to have a dual focus, because for me, they go together nicely: Patience and Process. I’ll be real - patience is a virtue…. That I don’t have a ton of. To be clear, I have patience with people. I don’t tend to have patience with myself, especially when it comes to process. I tend to want to teleport from starting line to end result, and I don’t give myself nearly enough credit for the steps in between. In yoga class, this could be the frustration of struggling to get my body to move a certain way. I’ll work and work at something, and it’s often tough for me to notice the small improvements, if I’m still struggling with range of motion or pain in a certain position and I have to get myself out of it. (Note: don’t stay in a pose that’s causing any pain that’s not a stretching kind of pain. Yoga should not be acutely pain-inducing!). 

More often though, it’s the life process I’m not great with. For instance, in the past two months, I’ve graduated yoga teacher training, gotten my RYT-200 designation, secured a private client, gotten on a sub list at a studio, am scheduled to teach two donation based community classes for Charity at The Grant Building, and recently found out that I’ve been approved for a weekly benefit class for an organization, which I can’t yet share details of yet but am super excited about! And yet my brain is over here thinking that it’s not enough, because I haven’t miraculously in 1.5 months managed to start a full-fledged business that can pay the bills. Except that in reality, less than two months ago, I wasn’t even officially a yoga teacher!  

For me, it stems from a combination of anxiety and my general personality - the J part of my INFJ is associated with always planning for the next stage, always looking for the next steps, the next experience, the next adventure. And we can only really change so much about our inherent personality, so I’ll probably always be someone that works better knowing the plan, the next steps, working towards the next stage. But I’m trying to also help myself realize that the smaller pieces of the process, the baby steps, are still steps. They’re still part of that plan, that moving towards the next stage, and they’re necessary. And so I’m working on celebrating process, and having patience with it. It fits well into my intentional living focus, to notice all that’s going on right now, instead of jumping ahead to next, next next. 

I’ll be posting, blogging, sharing about patience and process throughout the month, both here and on my twitter and instagram. And if you’re up for sharing, I’d love to hear about the processes that you're working with and celebrating this month! 

This pose is a process for me, as you can see by my back foot turning in, and my elbow not quite hooking over my knee. And that’s all OK. I keep working on it. Sometimes it’s a little easier. Sometimes, I look like I’m taking yoga selfies in my pajamas with less than perfect form.

This pose is a process for me, as you can see by my back foot turning in, and my elbow not quite hooking over my knee. And that’s all OK. I keep working on it. Sometimes it’s a little easier. Sometimes, I look like I’m taking yoga selfies in my pajamas with less than perfect form.

Five Life Benefits I've Gained From Yoga

June 21st is both the Summer Solstice and International Yoga Day. Whether or not it was intentional that International Yoga Day coincides with the Solstice, it seems fitting. Afterall, we start many of our classes with sun salutations.

In honor of International Yoga Day, I thought I’d share some of my favorite things about yoga - both taking and teaching. Obviously, everyone gets something a little different out of yoga, even within the same class. These are simply the benefits I’ve most perceived, and I wanted to share them.

  • Space and time for myself. To clarify, I don’t mean that I always do yoga alone. I mean I carve out space for something that serves me. How it serves me (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, a combo of these) depends on the day, but each time I come to my mat, wherever I am, I’m making myself a priority, saying “this is my time”, and that’s something that I think so many of us do far too infrequently.

  • Community and friendship. This may seem opposite to point number one, but it’s not. The beauty of yoga is that often, it’s all of us carving out time for ourselves, together. But we’re all there, together, sharing in that space, that energy. Just be being there, carving out time for ourselves, we’re coming together and supporting each other carving out time for themselves.  And sometimes, this community blossoms into individual friendships. And for this socially anxious/awkward introvert, finding “my people” can be hard to come by as an adult. So I value both the community and the friendships immensely.

  • Balance. I don’t mean physical balance, though there’s plenty of that too, and they’re not my strongest suit when it comes to yoga. But more so, I mean the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual balance. My yoga practice encompases each of these, and it helps to remind me that often, daily life can get super lopsided. We’re focused intently on one aspect (work, having enough money to pay the bills, school, whatever it may be) and really, life is about balance. Yoga helps me to consciously bring balance into my life, even if it’s just for that time I’m on the mat. More and more, though, I’m noticing it off the mat as well.

  • Self-Compassion. I’m often incredibly tough on myself. In addition to my type A, perfectionist type personality, I also live with anxiety and depression, which often like to emotionally beat me up. They tell me a whole host of lies about my worth, my ability, my being. Practicing yoga, and teaching yoga, has helped me to be gentler with myself when needed. Yoga reminds me that it’s ok to rest, to pause and focus on breath, to take something more restorative or supportive when needed. It reminds me that it’s enough to try my best, even if it’s not the best I’ve ever done. There’s no perfect yoga, and there’s no perfect person, and that’s all completely OK.

  • Boundaries. I haven’t historically been great at setting boundaries. But especially during yoga teacher training, I had to. I spent the majority of my weekends in training, along with at least two classes a week, plus studying, papers, practicing, and more. I had to learn to say no to other things, or I wouldn’t have made it through. I had to say no to plans, commitments, activities that required more energy than I had. In yoga itself, I had to say no to certain poses when my body was taxed or my sciatica twinging, or when I just mentally needed the time to rest in child’s pose. I  had to learn to set boundaries in every aspect of my life, and now that teacher training is done, I’m learning that I’ve gotten slightly more comfortable with the concept. It’s an area in which I still have a way to go, but I’ve established the foundation, and that’s a great place to start.

Do any of these resonate with you? What benefits have you gained from yoga? I’m curious to hear. I love how yoga can offer us each our own unique benefits, and I Iove learning what it brings to others’.  

Yoga outtakes of myself and my friend Aly, who I met in Yoga Teacher Training, during a yoga photo shoot.

Yoga outtakes of myself and my friend Aly, who I met in Yoga Teacher Training, during a yoga photo shoot.