A little while back I had a dream that I had gone to the yoga studio for class, but totally forgot my yoga mat. I didn’t realize I had forgotten it and was spending my time before class talking with my teacher and a few other friends of mine. I was smiling and laughing and enjoying myself, feeling nice and easeful in the presence of the awesome people you meet in a studio space. When my teacher walked to the front of the room to start class I realized in a moment of surprise that I’d left my yoga mat by the door at home. I went to the corner where we keep extra mats, and I spent the first 10 minutes of class trying to find a mat that would work for me. It was like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. One was too slippery, one was too thin, one was too thick. I slipped and slid and was in the midst of total frustration when I woke up.
Most of the time my dreams are filled with totally cryptic things like goldfish flying through the sky or something. This one seems pretty straightforward. Are there ways in which I could better balance my practice of yoga in my community, as well as the more intimate space within? Both are special and unique, offering new opportunities for growth and transformation.
I’ve been reading a book called “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self” by Stephen Cope. Cope talks about the concept of transformational spaces, and it’s really been resonating with me.
Let me share a quick passage:
“When any of us gets ready to “hatch out” into the next developmental expression of self, we begin looking for the cocoons that will hold us through the rebirth process. I like to call these cocoons transformational spaces – environments made out of webs of special kinds of relationships, safety, freedom, and challenge. We intuitively search for these spaces at those times in life when we’re attempting to align with an internal developmental thrust. At these times of growth we seek out “training environments” – schools, college, the army, a mentor, a physchotherapist, or a spiritual community. The transformational spaces we choose have certain qualities that are essential to the work of development. Without them we truly cannot find ourselves.”
For me, the yoga studio is clearly a transformational space. Not just any yoga studio, but the one that I’ve committed to – the studio where I have a family and I feel at home. I know the faces of those around me. I know the feel of the floor on my bare feet while I walk across the room. I know the scent of the oils. I know the hue of the lights. When I walk in and the door closes behind me, I am there. All of the other stuff in my life sits outside the door.
As I move forward with my exploration of yoga, now embracing the studio as a student and as a teacher, how has my relationship with transformational space shifted? I practice alongside yogis that I know as students in my classes, and I teach my teachers. It is a beautiful union, really. I get to support those around me and in turn be supported.
In this dream though, it seems clear that the mat represents an honoring of my personal connection to practice. How often do I enter the studio quietly and come to a seat for my time before class?
Not nearly as much as I used to.
How often do I maintain quiet in my time after practice, leaving the studio without engaging in a bunch of conversations and reverting back to extrovert Katie – regardless of what surfaced during asana?
I do this even less.
Looking back to when I first started at the studio, I remember walking into class and taking a seat on my mat. I would close my eyes and hear the soft voices of many of the students around me as they greeted each other and spoke in hushed tones. The quiet conversations had an open and warm energy, as if they’d known each other forever. I remember wondering how to get to know these people…did I just introduce myself or something? It seemed like that would be weird. Kids do this all the time and it is totally natural to them, but as adults, for some reason we just don’t do this. While I felt welcome in the space, the conversations around me felt intimate. So, I would sit with eyes closed. While my mind was frequently distracted by something that happened in my day or something to come, the voices around me would float in and out of my awareness. They would gently pull my mind back into the space. My inner voice would begin to quiet, matching the energy of those around me.
Quiet is quieting.
I remember at times wishing I could have that social support and craving interaction. After class, I would smile and thank my teacher. It always felt nice to me that she knew my name. I would usually maintain quiet the entire way home, and for a while after returning home too. My practice in the studio began to serve as an incubator for all kinds of internal changes. I was feeling the impacts of a transformational practice in a transformational space. I was learning how to quiet my mind and how to slow down. This is not a quick lesson or a small task.
As Cope describes it in his writing, I was in the midst of aligning with an “internal developmental thrust.” I was moving through the initial shift that would begin to shape the version of Katie that sits here today.
Things have changed a lot since then.
These days, when I walk into the studio I know almost everyone. I smile and feel the warmth of the smiles that I receive in return. I give hugs and I get hugs. I am one of those soft voices floating through the space before class. The studio now holds those “special kinds of relationships” that Cope refers to in his discussion of transformational spaces. (And for the record, yes, it is as simple as introducing yourself!)
Don’t get me wrong – I have not lost my individual connection during practice. Once class starts, it becomes very personal. If my hand touches someone else’s during practice I don’t really acknowledge it. I just readjust and I continue. When we rest into savasana, I often come face to face with the underlying energy that I am carrying with me. If I am feeling happy or grateful for something in my life, the energy can be so buoyant that my entire body buzzes with such lightness that I feel like I could float. If I am feeling stressed or unhappy with something in my life, especially something that I know I could change if I decided to make a change, I can feel this too. Sometimes it is so heavy that it is like there is someone sitting on my chest. It’s not pleasant, but by acknowledging a weight, we can consciously remove it.
Back in the day when I always left the studio quiet, I would process what surfaced in savasana my whole way home. If it was a positive energy, it would continue to buoy me up. I’d walk in the door ready to kiss my husband and hug my cat and make dinner with a smile on my face. If it was a negative energy, I could give it time to settle. I could acknowledge it, give it attention, process it, and take the lesson forward. These days, having a bunch of interaction between leaving the studio and walking home, there is a veil between it all. I will often walk home happy from a nice conversation, but letting whatever it is that surfaced on a more personal level settle back down again beneath the surface.
So, how do these two aspects of practice connect?
The relationships we develop enrich our lives. If I hadn’t found a community of likeminded people to share this journey with, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t have the practice I have today.
We can’t do everything alone.
But, as there is with everything, there is a balance. I think sometimes we are meant to be one of those voices floating in the room before class, and sometimes we are meant to listen to them. After class, sometimes we are meant to have a conversation with someone. Sometimes we need to be with ourselves for just a little bit longer.
I think back to the woman I was the very first time I walked into the studio and the woman that I am now, and I kind of can’t believe it. If that version of Katie could see how her life would change going forward, her jaw would have dropped and then she probably would have told you to get real.
This practice truly is transformational. The studio we find and commit to becomes the space that holds us through the process. This space includes all of the people we meet, who share the room with you, and it includes the personal space within the four corners of your mat. We transform by embodying connection with both of these spaces.
To my readers, I hope you consider this concept of transformational spaces in the context of your own practice. If you crave community, introduce yourself. If you crave quiet, be still.
As for me, I’m feeling ready to honor quiet again. Thank you, subconscious sleeping mind, for the gentle reminder.