Monthly Archives: February 2013


I am not sure where this phrase came from, but it seems apropos to much of the work we do in yoga.  And it is the exact opposite from being the “spaced out yogi,” that is sometimes the stereotype of yoga students.  It is creating space on all levels of your practice and life to become clearer in your heart, mind and actions.

Many of us struggle with finding the space, both physically and temporally to do our practices.  How do we structure our days to insure we get to practice, and where do we do it?  And we need not only the physical and temporal space, but the psychological space: we need to prioritize and clear out unnecessary items on our agenda. 

Practice: Contemplate the following.

–    When:  how do you create the time to practice?  What needs to be eliminated?  Can you spend a little less time on the internet? Do you need to schedule it in, like you would a doctor’s appointment, and make it non-negotiable? Perhaps you could look over the schedules of your favorite teachers and schedule in some classes for the next week.  What do you need to do to create the time to practice?

–    Where:  do you have a space to practice?  Can you create some corner in a room?  Can you meditate on the bus or an airplane (I’ve done this! You can download a tamboura app for your phone and play that as background).  Is there a favorite studio or other place in which you feel most comfortable?

–    What do you use as an excuse not to practice?  Is it a real obstacle? Can you remove it?

In our asana practice, much of what we are trying to do is to create more space: lengthen, expand, stretch.  For example, I’ve been teaching recently about keeping space between the vertebrae on the side into which we’re moving: in forward bends, keep space in the front of the spine, and in backbends, keep space in the back of the spine.

As you do your yoga asana practice this week, focus on your vertebral column and notice when and how you can create more space, and when and how you feel more compression. 

In my meditation practice, I’ve found that creating mental space is a natural consequence of the practice, and ultimately this might be the most important aspect of creating space. This happens in a plethora of ways.  One way is that the practice begins a process of purification.  Old thought patterns and ways of being begin to dissolve, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes consciously.  This creates space for more productive patterns to take hold.  Also, as we slow down and open the mind in meditation, we create space between an incoming stimulus, and our response to it. In that space we have the opportunity to shift our hearts, minds, and behavior.


– If you don’t currently have a regular meditation practice, commit to doing one thing to move in that direction. 
–    If you’ve never meditated, find a book or preferably a teacher, sign up for a class or workshop. 
–    If you have meditated before, commit to one month of regular practice (this next month would be an excellent one!). Set aside 10-20 minutes each day.  Make it non-negotiable, like brushing your teeth.

– Begin to create space in between registering an experience in your consciousness, and responding to it.  Can there be a moment of letting it be and digesting an experience before you take the next bite?  Notice how quickly you respond to things and see if there are times when creating more space may be beneficial.

Ultimately, creating space is opening up to new possibilities, ideas, and ways of being.  Many of us have studied the pañcha-kṛtya-s, the 5 acts of Śiva, the last of which is anugraha, translated as revelation or grace.  Contemplating this recently has brought me to a deep consideration of this idea of space.  My current thinking on anugraha is that we can’t force revelation happen, but we each can create the space for it to enter.  This can happen in a flash, and often it is a result of our practice. We can facilitate its occurrence by creating the space for it in bodies, hearts, and minds.


You may be familiar with the notion of saṁskāra as a latent impression or innate tendency. In my studies with Paul Muller-Ortega, I have learned that it can also refer to refinement, as when raw ore is refined and worked to create a purified product.  He particularly teaches about the process of  vikalpā saṁskāra, which is a process of progressive refinement of your conceptual understanding of the teachings.

Some of you are engaged in this process with me currently as we study the Pratyabhijñā-hṛdayam, which starts out with the concept of svatantrā, or freedom.  Consciousness is innately free to create the manifest world, and further, as conscious beings, we have the gift of self-awareness.  As I refine my understanding of these concepts, I have come to realize that freedom and self-awareness are important factors in my continued process of refinement.

In many ways, the whole path of yoga, and the journey of our life, can be a process of continued refinement.  Likely you’ve seen how this works in your āsana practice.  As beginners, we have a gross understanding of how to perform particular poses which becomes more easeful and refined as we progress. Through your own careful self-awareness and observation, the attention of a teacher or sometimes unfortunately through an injury, we become aware of some misalignment in our body.  We then further refine our understanding of the proper way to perform the asana, exercising greater self-awareness, and our freedom of choice, to do so.  We do the same thing with our intellectual knowledge, we are repeatedly performing vikalpā saṁskāra, refinement of understanding, in any domain that we study.

And hopefully, we apply this process of refinement to our journey through life.  This is where the notions of self-awareness and freedom are sometimes not exercised.  As we move through our lives it is sometimes easier to behave habitually, without practicing self-awareness and our freedom to make choices on a moment-by-moment basis. As in our asana practice, sometimes it takes a painful episode to awaken us to how our behavior has not been in alignment. This is applicable so many aspects of our life: physical, emotional, social, spiritual.  How often do you apply self-awareness to:  diet, exercise, work habits, mood, relationships, your yoga practice, how you spend your time, etc?

I once had a teacher say to me: consider whether each of your actions takes you further down the path of yoga.  I realize now he was asking me to engage in this process of refinement by exercising self-awareness and freedom.  The process of yoga is one of progressive refinement, and our guide is Consciousness itself. Through our practice of yoga, particularly meditation, we contact that place inside ourselves that is deeply connected to the essence, the heart, or hṛdaya, and this is what aids us in most effectively exercising our freedom of choice to bring even greater levels of refinement into our lives.