Monday, August 2, 2010

Sacred Spaces - Inside & Out

I remember my first experiences of taking yoga classes at the local Shambhala Yoga & Dance Center in my Brooklyn, NY neighborhood and feeling that just walking in to the small empty space was a special and personal act. There was a sense of safety there, where feelings could come and go, and where, for the most part, whatever might happen would be all to the good. Okay, occasionally a muscle pull might hamper the experience, but not with any harmful intention. Safety and openness to the possibilities, attentiveness and care on the part of teachers, and the non-judgment of fellow classmates definitely gave the space a sense of sacredness for our inquiry and our breath. Without the presence of "a god" and minus the requirements of religious dogma, the practice seemed to unify me with my understandings of spirit, self and connection to everything else. In some ways, any space in which living beings exist is a sacred space, including the manmade and natural world and the flora and fauna (yes even insects!) within it.

As a yoga teacher I am aware of my responsibility to continue this tradition of making a safe space in which yoga can be practiced. Respecting the commonalities of breath and suffering, the innate beauty of being alive in the world as we know it, of all the inner adjustments that my students and I go through, I feel the practice as an invitation to discover the sacred, the divine, the open space in ourselves and in everything around us. This helps us feel the inner peace, develops the ability to accept that which actually is so within us, and builds strength and resilience too.

I am in the process of constructing a small practice space in a former granary structure in upstate New York. The building was once up on stilts with heavy wooden bins built into it to house the grain off the ground. Long ago it sank into the earth, half the roof vanished and two sides of the building peeled away. Yet even in that form it had a magical quality of the hands that built it, and its story of once holding precious resources. It looked wonderful in the snow. The first part of the process was raising the structure onto a dry stone foundation, using salvaged materials to rebuild the shattered roof, and placing a new floor, hand sanded for the bare feet that will walk upon it. The current stage is to place the simple framed windows my husband salvaged from our house, hang a sliding door once on a neighbor's barn, and replace the remaining original ribboned and rotted siding with new locally cut wood. I feel a tug at my heart from the original structure, and am glad that the building will stand so straight as it once did long ago. The transformation of this little structure is a reminder of the experiences offered within it.

It has deep meaning to clear a space dedicated to the practice, yet, I also find that any place can be transformed into a sacred space if the intentions of practice are brought to bear. I might practice in a hotel room on the floor next to the bed. There are many times when I have practiced on the kitchen floor in my apartment, or on the bedroom floor. I've meditated while waiting at airports, and practiced sitting in a chair while waiting for a meeting to begin. Yoga studios might pack students in like sardines, with barely 3 inches between mats, or when only 4 students show up the room remains open and empty. Perhaps your yoga class is held in the basement of a church or in a meeting room at the office or in a medical center. Any of these places can offer the space necessary to "perform" the Asanas, and they also offer the opportunity to open that inner space where the self is accepted and the moment is fully experienced. That is where the sensation of the sacred is to be found, I think. We can find ourselves in the woods or on a front porch, in the kitchen, a magnificent temple or my new rustic granary studio space. It is the finding of the self, and doing all we can do that brings our hearts and our energy into the moment and open to "yoga" - the union or yoking - transforming even the seat on the bus into a sacred space for experiencing this life.

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