June 7, 2010

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

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.

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