February 2, 2017

The Yoga of Taking up Space.

I have a unique magical gift: I can be invisible when I want to be.

I learned this in childhood, how to shrink and shrink so as not to be a bother, not to offend. Smaller and smaller until no one noticed me.

This talent came quite naturally, as I was already physically shorter and smaller than most of the other kids, and taking the long route to puberty.

I walked quietly. I crossed my legs tightly. I sat still and didn’t fidget. I ran an entire marathon like a dainty deer, high up on my toes. No one heard me coming. This wasn’t a tactic, this was just my way.

I knew I was successful when I attended gatherings or events and a few days later someone would comment, “Oh, you were there too? I didn’t even see you!”

And how many times has someone nearly sat on me, stood directly in front of me, backed up into me, stepped on me or otherwise treated me like I was invisible because, well, that’s what I wanted?

This was my creation. This was the language of my energy. And the universe obliged.

My energy said, “I’ll take the corner. Let me be invisible.”

When I first started taking yoga classes, I brought my magic trick with me. I unrolled my mat in the corners, behind the posts and alongside the walls of the yoga studios. I never arrived early and was the first out the door after class.

Then I met Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II pose). And I mean an in-depth conversation, not merely a passing greeting.

First, the teacher asked us to stand sideways on our yoga mats and step our feet apart.

“Wider, please,” the teacher said, and indicated me.

Oh, dear God, she saw me, I thought. But I stepped my feet a little wider apart.

“Wider, please,” she repeated again, and nodded encouragingly to me.

Now, with unavoidable eye contact established between us, I wiggled my feet farther apart until she finally motioned that I could stop. When I looked down, my feet were five feet apart.

I wobbled around, but found balance when I followed her guidance to press down equally through all four corners of my feet: the ball of my big toes, the ball of my little toes, the inner and outer heels.

“Don’t forget to breathe,” the teacher said.

How did she know I’d stopped, I thought? Is that her magic trick?

Next she asked us to turn our front foot forward 90 degrees and shift our back foot just slightly in. Whew, that one was easy.

“Lift and spread your toes, then place them back down gently,” she said next. I had never considered the idea of giving each toe a little wiggle room all for itself, but my toes, so often confined to shoes, seemed to like it.

Next, we were to bend our front knee. “Go slowly, and keep rooting down through the back leg,” our teacher said. “You are opening up through the hips, not just bending your knee.”

“Rooting down,” I learned, means “grounding,” which means making energetic, thoughtful contact with and into the floor and drawing support up from the earth. I came to understand that standing with our bodies this open, being this vulnerable, we need good support beneath us.

Next, we raised our arms straight out from our shoulders and reached out in both directions simultaneously. The reach, she said, comes not from our arms, but from our ribs, our chests, our hearts. Imagining my arms and hands as physical extensions of my heart made me realize the power available in a simple touch.

The final step was to turn our heads, chin level with the floor, and gaze just beyond our front fingers, acknowledging our potential to grow even more. She reminded us that a yoga pose is not something we complete, but something we grow and nurture over time.

And there, inhabiting this pose completely, taking up a whole heck of a lot of space, we stayed and breathed.

Oh, the vulnerability. Oh, but the power. Oh, the fear. Oh, but the vibrancy! The aliveness!

I smiled to myself, knowing that the time for invisible magic was over. The time to awaken to my life was beginning.

Warrior II challenged me to stop hiding and start being seen and heard. Not just for myself, but for the world. Because I had never realized that while I shrank into invisibility, I was missing my chance to make a difference.

While censoring myself lest all eyes be on me, I diminished the value of my voice.

I accepted the challenge and carried the lessons of Warrior II from the classroom into all aspects of my life. Whether waiting in line, speaking in a public forum or hanging out at my in-laws’ home for a holiday, I stand grounded, rooted, all four corners of my feet connecting with the floor. In response, my chest lifts naturally and my heart opens. As long as I stay in this space, I walk with purpose and speak with intention, truth and love.

Still, the old thought patterns lurk in the background, ready to be triggered into active duty. Once, I was working by myself on the second floor of a two-story shop. A man was working below. When he came upstairs at the end of the day he said, “Wow, I can hear you walking down there and it’s so loud!”

Shame overwhelmed me. I apologized. What am I, a friggin’ elephant? And then I conjured up my magic trick. Poof. Invisible.

But even with my occasional setbacks and restarts, I am no longer the invisible woman. I have learned to take up space in my body and in my life.

Maybe not quite as much space as an elephant.

But at least as much as a warrior.

A Warrior II, to be precise.


Author: Keri Mangis

Image: @elephantjournal on Instagram

Editor: Toby Israel


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