This is about space—the space we take up, the space we allow others.
We’re affected by our spaces, on almost every level—personal space, physical space, mental space, and the space for tolerance, understanding, yoga, and “f*ck you”—because there needs to be a space for that, too.
In yoga, we are instructed to “expand ourselves” and “widen the spaces” between each cell that we are made up of. Our body is our temple. We practice yoga to expand it, to nourish it, to make it sacred. So when others get under our skin, it’s rudely violating. But here’s the thing—they can’t stay there if we don’t let them.
I’m not ashamed to say that I came to yoga via the prescription of a school counselor, who led the anger management program that I was a part of in the eighth grade. I was 13.
Among a group of troubled misfits, my pristine standing in school made me stick out like a thorn, yet we all shared one thing, and that was the inability to communicate or address our feelings in a way without getting paralyzingly…angry.
At 13, it was my fifth time being “the new girl” at school, across three continents, with very different cultures—British, Chinese, Canadian. If you’re a parent, please don’t ever do this to your kid(s).
Ever since I could remember, I was always in a different “space”…someone else’s space. As an outsider, the barrier wasn’t so much of language or culture, both of which I command very well, even then, but the wall existed because I didn’t belong.
I wasn’t “homegrown.” Ironically, the toughest years were between the ages of 8-12, when I lived in the city where I was born. All the things that happened to me, all the things no one believed happened to me when I did speak out…those were the beginnings of rebellious seeds, at the core of which lies my own distrust.
They say that anger is pain projected outwards; to address anger, one must get to the root of pain. Those years were the root of pain. Psychologists and therapists alike regard the time between ages 7-12 as somewhat of a significant period. Well, they’d have a field-day with me—there was drama, there was anarchy, and then the facade of beauty.
I had tantrums, I blew up in arguments, I was physical and often hurt myself, and sometimes others. I shouted and reacted in rage. I had zero temperance. Yet, in the Chinese school, these issues were never addressed. There, I was the prize, the pearl, the model-student, not merely honour roll, but of the highest ranking. I was the child that every parent wanted their child to be…every parent but my own.
When my mother and I moved to Canada, I continued to steal the show at awards nights. That was my only validation, the only way I knew I was doing something right, because no one else understood me, and nowhere else was I good enough. I was angry at the world, and I continued to war with my parents, until the program, until help—and then there was yoga.
At 13, I thought standing like a tree was stupid, and the mountain pose wasn’t much of a “pose,” but it gave me the space to be, to simply be. That space, that you are guided to notice between the different parts of your body…that space… wow.
After 13 years of steady practice, I’ve become a mala-bead wearing, chakra-aligning, harem pants sporting, essential oils diffusing, mantra-chanting, transcendental-meditating poster-child yogi. Thirteen years of practice, and I’ve become mindful. Thirteen years of journey, still in pursuit of zen.
Still, I snap, but most of the time, I aim to bend like a reed. I practice gratitude, and accept the worst of experiences as life’s lessons and re-directions. I try to choose the waves of emotions to ride on, knowing it’s the only way I could sustain the surf. But I will not allow my soft-spokenness rest under the footprints of others who trample over me. Just because I wear yoga pants doesn’t mean I don’t have boxing gloves in the locker. Yoga is about loving yourself, and if you can’t say “f*ck you” to those who disrespect that? That’s not loving yourself. That’s not compassion.
The yoga philosophy, as I have learned, is a dualistic philosophy. We are light, and we are darkness; we are masculine, and we are feminine; we are soft, yet we are strong. We are contradictory, and that’s okay, if that’s the space where our truth lies. We are contradictory, because it’s the only way we can we strike balance.
When we lay out our mat, and begin our practice, if someone comes over only to trample on it with their dirty shoes, the space is all of a sudden altered. The space we hold for ourselves, and for others, be it in real life, or in our hearts, is always adjusted to reflect a balance of what we allow versus what we cannot tolerate. The practice of yoga necessitates that we open ourselves up—mind, body, and soul—but such vulnerability is not to be exploited. The space for yoga and the space for f*ck you can co-exist, and for the sake of harmony and balance, they have to.
Thank you for sharing your space with me. Namaste.
Author: Xiren Wang
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Jasmine Kaloudis