The following article was inspired by a recent Saturday morning workshop in which the concept of space was considered and, in particular, its relevance to yoga and yoga practice. These are mainly personal reflections and intended to provide food for thought, something to consider when we approach our practice and our teaching.
What do we mean by space?
We began our ruminations by reflecting on what space is, how to define space? (Other than “The Final Frontier” – apologies to Trekkies everywhere!) My attempt at defining space was ‘that in which everything else exists, ourselves included.’ In other words, a medium that allows other potentials to open out into that space. Without space as the primary element (bhuta) nothing else can come into being or function, thus space is an essential part of our universe, both macrocosm and microcosm.
We can think of space in a literal sense of physical space, room to move around in, space to put things in, but I would also like to consider space in terms of a feeling, a way of being. It may appear that I am taking liberties here in using space and time as interchangeable concepts but in our day to day lives I feel this is often how we experience them. I asked the group I was working with to consider how they felt when they were worried, anxious, over-worked, too busy or tired! The universal answered was they all felt a profound lack of space, no time to think, claustrophobic, restricted or perhaps even overwhelmed. So, having a lack of mental space creates feelings of distress, of feeling trapped or restricted. Therefore, can creating a feeling of space within the system have the opposite effect, evoking feelings of well-being and freedom, ease and relaxation? This can be related to the concept of duḥkha, of a restriction in the heart space, and the concept of sukha, freedom in the heart space.
Space and yoga
If we consider the concept of space in terms of yoga practice, I believe we can start by considering āsana as creating space within the body. In particular, moving with the breath creates more space for the breath/prāṇa, the essential prerequisite to wholistic well-being, Hatha Yoga Pradīpika- 2.3 which states that breath is life! But space also for other functions crucial to our well-being such as circulation, digestion and elimination.
ततः क्षीयते प्रकाशावरणम्
tataḥ kṣīyate prakāśa-āvaraṇam
If āsana can be seen to create space for the breath/prāṇa, prāṇāyāma can then be seen to create space in the mind; the lightness and clarity referenced in the Yoga Sutra-2.52 where we are told that prāṇāyāma reduces the mind’s impurities to allow the inner light to radiate, like the sun appearing from behind clouds. Something has been cleared or removed so there is more space!
Space and well-being
धारणासु च योग्यता मनसः
dhāraṇāsu ca yogyatā manasaḥ
कायाकाशयोः संबन्धसंयमात् लघुतूलसमापत्तेश्चाकाश गमनम्
kāya-ākāśayoḥ saṃbandha-saṃyamāt-laghu-tūla-samāpatteḥ ca-ākāśa-gamanam
And so, what to do with this space? According to Yoga Sutra-2.53, the mind is now ready to begin the process of meditation. And thus, we see that this concept of space has a direct relevance to our health, well-being and even our inner growth, and as if to confirm this there is a direct reference to space in Yoga Sutra-3.42 which talks about an intimate relationship between the body and the space within which it exists. It is suggested that if we can reflect deeply on this, we can understand this relationship and a profound feeling of lightness will result and we can move freely and easily through space. This is interesting when you compare this with the Hatha Yoga Pradipika-1.17 where one of the results of āsana practice is lightness of limb (aṅgalāghava).
So space does, I feel, play an important part in well-being and the tools and techniques of yoga can help us to both clear and realise this space. Then we are then able to open that space to something both profound and beautiful.
Making space in our lives
In terms of our daily lives, how do we manage our space? Are we able or willing to leave space or do we find ourselves filling that space with diversions and distractions? This is an interesting line of enquiry because if we create mental space things can come into that space and they may not always be comfortable, things that are normally hidden or obscured by our need to be busy!
तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोगः
tapaḥ svādhyāya-īśvara-praṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ
Yoga Sutra 2.1
Fortunately, yoga offers support for this process, Kriya Yoga, Yoga Sutra 2.1. The idea of self-regulation (tapas) can hold us within a healthy and wholesome routine, balancing work, leisure, practice etc. Then also the idea of self-reflection (svādhyāya) as a means to know ourselves and being able to watch ourselves and how we are. And finally, the acceptance that we are often not in control of the circumstances we find ourselves, indeed those we all find ourselves in now, where much of what was familiar has changed or is changing or might change!
I have referenced Kriya Yoga already in a previous article and make no apologies for doing so again as its apparent simplicity belies the depth of support it can offer us. We can use it to reflect on both our daily activities but also our practice, that most crucial of all supports. To daily rediscover the space within us can allow us to function appropriately in the space we find ourselves in, whatever and wherever that may be!
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