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. 


There Is No "Right" Type Of Yogi

One of the things I try to do on this blog,in my business, and in life in general, is to be real.  A major goal with my work in yoga is to break the traditional view of what a yogi has to be/look/sound/talk/dress/etc like, and to reach people that might not traditionally be drawn to yoga, who might feel intimidated by the traditional “yogi” image, or who otherwise might just not think yoga is for them. It’s one of the reasons I love the idea of workplace yoga (both as a teacher and a student) - you often get to reach those who might not sign up at their local studio, but who are willing to give it a try if it’s conveniently at their workplace, and if they know their are others who also aren’t super experienced at yoga. 

The thing is, there is no right type of yogi. 

You don’t have to have a certain body type. Yoga is about being present in your body. Not having a specific one. 

You don’t have to dress a certain way. Yoga doesn’t require $100 leggings and name brand tank tops.  If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen me post (non-designer) pajama yoga pics from my own practice in my living room. 

You don’t have to go to the studio x times a week (or at all) to be a yogi. You can do yoga at home (see pajama yoga comment above), at a workplace that offers it, in a park, basically anywhere that gives you the space and ability to do so. 

It doesn’t matter if you can touch your toes or do a headstand or anything like this. Yoga is a process, not a pose, and it’s about meeting yourself where you are at that time, on that day, in that moment. 

You don’t have to be all light and love and calm and harmony and happy vibes and only ever doing “yoga-like” activities. Two weeks ago I was rocking out to punk music at Warped Tour and loving every minute of it. I also spend most Sundays in the fall watching football (and occasionally saying not so calm things to the TV when my team is doing badly).  I have really bad days because I deal with genetic depression and anxiety disorders. I can be annoyed and annoying, frustrated and frustrating. None of this makes me a bad yogi, either as a student or a teacher. It makes me human. Same goes for you. 

I could give plenty more examples, certainly, but the point is, you don’t have to fit into any specific mold to be a yogi. And if you’re still really determined that there’s a way to be a “good” yogi and you want to achieve that, here’s what to do: Be a good human being. Do some yoga, somewhere, sometime. That’s all.


Me and my good friend and fellow concert lover, Cindy, at Warped Tour in Atlantic City.

Me and my good friend and fellow concert lover, Cindy, at Warped Tour in Atlantic City.