That’s My Spot! Turf Wars in Yoga Class.

Via Andrea Marcum
on Jun 7, 2010
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So much for Non-Attachment.

For anyone who’s ever had a cat or dog and tried to introduce another pet into the mix, you’ve probably witnessed a little territory defense.

Fluffy, I’d like you to meet Mitts!

And suddenly it’s like a battle royale playing out on one of those Discovery Channel shows.

As a yoga teacher, I always tend to forget that as human beings, our lofty spiritual natures sometimes conflict with the fact that, on some basic level, we too are simply territorial animals. The only difference between us and Fluffy is that the fangs we bare are more metaphorical.

I’m as guilty of it as anyone. Case in point: I’ve decided that I need at least 2.89 feet between me and the customer behind me in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s. Seriously, there’s a force field around me, and the second someone crosses it I become indignant.

Get out of my space

…I think, wondering if there’s a subtle way I can swing my hand basket—containing mostly organic products and fair-trade coffee, not that I want to be smug about it—into the offender’s kneecaps.

I inch forward and Mr. No Boundaries inches forward too. I’m about to say something but then I remember that I don’t own the air around me any more than the next person.

Nothing brings out the territorial animal in us faster than attaching ourselves to a place in the yoga room that we then refer to as “my spot.” I’ve heard people refer to this spot with the same tone they use for their apartment or home, as if they’ve signed a lease or mortgage and are considering renovations. They camp out early, to ensure they don’t have to endure the class from some slightly different vantage point—even a matter of a few feet can be the difference between a “good” or “bad” class.

I’ve actually watched people leave a class because they didn’t get their spot.

The prime real estate is usually in the back row and/or next to a wall. These coveted spaces give a false sense of privacy and even exclusivity—my wall, as if it were a gated community that separates it from the ghetto that is the middle of the room. And those who live in this gated community tend to have a bit of a neighborhood watch.

“Hey, is so-and-so coming today? That’s their spot,” they tell some unknowing sucker, new to the system. Towels and bags are thrown down to mark territory, and keep it from non-entitled vultures.

Oh, it doesn’t stop there. It’s not enough that you have your corner of the sky secured—now it’s time to clean up the block.

I hear them complain about the people near their sacred spot. The offending students are accused of sweating, stinking, sighing too much. Aspects of their practice are discussed as if they were personal affronts designed simply to irritate, and bring down the neighborhood. The back row/wall militia rumbles with righteousness as they carefully arrange their Yogitoes Skidless and eco friendly water containers like fences…so much for non-attachment.

But there is hope for us all.

I have witnessed at my studio a beautiful turn-around in this behavior. Yes, we are all creatures of habit, and we are all just a little bit crazy—but, if we can have a bit of a laugh about it together, we will be alright. If I sense things getting territorial, I gently tell my students that we’re all in this thing together, that U Studio is not a gated community. Our asana [yoga pose] is such a glorious and honest reminder of our own capacity to be incredibly annoying and distracting. As we take responsibility for our own extraordinary quirks, we become more accepting of others—a shared experience becomes much richer than an isolated one. Recently I’ve watched as people graciously move their mats for the latecomers, and I’ve even noticed some tending to their crop of sweat before it reaches the neighbor’s yard.

It’s amazing when our tight grasp on what is mine loosens a bit into ours.


About Andrea Marcum

Andrea Marcum, a Santa Cruz, California native, with a background in competitive gymnastics, began teaching yoga in 1999. She opened U Studio Yoga in Los Angeles in 2006. In a city of behemoth yoga studio and famous yoga teachers, Andrea and U Studio have won critical acclaim and success. Andrea relishes in the transformation yoga bring her students and the comm”U”nity it encourages. Andrea is known for her core intensive Vinyasa Flow classes, which appeal to both the famous and the infamous in LA and beyond. She teaches workshops and leads retreats in Bali, Costa Rica and around the world. Andrea’s been featured in Shape, Self, C Magazine Huffington Post and the LA Times. She writes for Gaiam, MindBodyGreen, My Yoga Online and Origin Magazine. Andrea’s an Ambassador for Lululemon, Manduka and Royal Hawaiian Macadamia. Though her early childhood aspirations were to be a fairy princess, she’s pretty happy with the way things have turned out.


12 Responses to “That’s My Spot! Turf Wars in Yoga Class.”

  1. Tricia Ptak says:

    It is amusing to watch this type of behavior, but sad as well. Eventually the attachment to comfort fades and one realizes that the space between their ears is the only space that they need. My favorite challenge to share with my classes is to embrace the principles of our yoga practice by reaching outside of our comfort zone. Embracing our practice completely assures growth and contentment, no matter how long we have had yoga in our lives.

  2. Kristin says:

    Dealing with your new less than perfect spot becomes "your practice", as does waiting in line at Trader Joes, as does seeing your ex throw down his or her mat in the opposite corner as you are starting class after a long day and just want a break. Just needs to be identified and put aside. The more you practice, the less it is about perfecting the poses. It definitely becomes more about getting out of your head! it's hard, and doesn't seem to get any easier with time. I wish!

  3. Elle says:

    It's all about stepping outside of your comfort zone… and god-forbid, maybe even into the spot at the front of the room, next to the teacher

  4. Love this! Especially, "the ghetto that is the middle of the room." I see this phenomenon weekly in my favorite Kundalini class, although there, the coveted spot is by the open door that looks outside and catches the ocean breeze. This is perfectly fine with me. I like to busy myself with erecting my purse-towel-hoodie wall in the back right corner. 🙂

  5. Rosemarie says:

    I prefer to be in front of an air conditioning vent….any air conditioning vent. But that is less about Yoga Turf Wars and more about Yoga Thermostat Wars.

  6. Ellen says:

    Fortunately I am never sentimental and attached to a particular spot. I do use my usual spot sometimes but if someone else get it, then I think of it as a good opportunity to try a different spot. It's a really fun change actually.

    There is a woman in one of my classes that actually tells people to move so she can have her usual spot (and theydo!)

  7. Thank you all for these great comments! How fun it is to hear from you all!

  8. Denise B says:

    I looove this article and all it’s humor and wit. Space invaders are a big theme in my life and not just with strangers but loved ones too. Fortunately with the loved ones, I make a fun game out of it and we use code words like “panda” to indicate it’s time for space. Whether Im being physically touched, eye gazed at too long or simply being in the same room…when I need my space I need my space and it’s up to me to find a way to get it. I do love my intimacy too don’t get me wrong, but it seems it’s been easier (luckily) for me to attract men and women in my life who give me too much rather than not enough (which I would much prefer so I am incredibly grateful) but when I need to turn down the dial a bit, it’s gotta be done as gracefully as possible which is a tricky balancing act sometimes. It’s all about setting those healthy boundaries;) with love;)

  9. Lucas P says:

    Very well written, witty and balanced. Thank you for this article. So many writings are very unbalanced and ungrounded and overly emotional. I appreciate your fair and calm perspective on this very common human condition and will be looking for more from you. You have displayed some priceples of yoga finely…. Thanks!

  10. ARCreated says:

    I have done things like switch which way I teach from even moving to the "back" half way through class 🙂 I too make a joke about it and let people know that when they start to get "attached" to a spot it's time to move !! I teach at one studio that went through an explosion of members and people were sooooooo not into having people within 2 feet of them…we did limit the class sizes for some reasonable comfort but still had to work on letting people into our "personal bubble" …we do a lot of chatting about being all one anyways. I LOVE this article. I have really come to the conclusion that we all take everything too seriously all the time…I like to get people to relax a bit…and let go…It's hard to explain but I take yoga so seriously that I am never serious while I do it…does that make any sense? any who, I'm glad you brought this up…start moving your matts people – it will help you deal with change in the real world.
    The only constant in the universe is change, strive on with diligence.

  11. Jess says:

    I see a little too much of myself in this article mostly when it comes to check out lines. If I can hear you breathing, you're too close!! But when it comes to my practice, I try choose a different spot each time. After all, my "spot" and my practice lives within me. You are where you are, when you need to be there. xo

  12. Lalana says:

    I searched for an article on this subject so was happy to find this. I see and hear it too much. Thanks for writing.