My dearest friend is one spritely, intelligent and compassionate shelter from any storm. She has the capacity to calm those around her and talk nearly anyone off the ledge. So why did she come home the other night only to slam her purse on the ground and cross her arms in defiant gestures of incurable frustration? Because we live in New York City and as she said, “I just can’t BREATHE in this city. There is NO personal space. It’s Infuriating. Intolerable.” She threw her arms to the sky and released an extended sigh expressing more than a hint of agitation.
She took her boots off, shook her hair out and put on some mellow music while I prepared dinner. She chirped at me from the other room about the ridiculous design of the city. The subway cars in particular. “The dimensions are so small I can barely breathe. And strangers’ limbs touching me. It’s disturbing. Really it is. Who designed this city anyway?”
Then, the jargon took over. It was as though I couldn’t help advising her to “create space” and “hold that container.” After going off on “being present” with her frustration I had to laugh at myself. But when I thought about it I could see I was offering some pretty solid advice.
I’ve often had misgivings surrounding the yoga culture jargon. Sometimes I feel as though it just creates a larger distance between myself and people I want to communicate with who might not be part of that particular subculture. People who didn’t take “Body Mind Centering” in their first year at University. In other words, most people. And while I do believe this can be true it seems to be me that if we use this verbiage rather than hide behind it the terms become alive, important and expressive.
She looked at me and laughed her little laugh but nodded in agreement. We continued to chew over the issue of stressful city living. Of course I came to the conclusion, once again, that she should find a practice that speaks to her. However, I think I’d offer that advice to anyone. Particularly people who live in the big city. It’s simple. On the mat we breathe. In our practice we embody space and find comfort in uncomfortable spaces. We quite literally practice. Practice how to be in the world.
“Taking it off the mat” often comes up when discussing yoga. It is in a situation like the one with my friend where I can truly see the real life application of that concept as valuable. So you can’t breathe on the subway? Return to the yogic breathe. People are too close for comfort? Remember the space that is the body. Step in a puddle? Breathe through it, be present with your wet sock and get home as soon as possible. Sometimes it’s not about “taking space” it’s about “making space.”