As a yoga teacher and social worker in training, I hear – let’s be honest, I use – this expression all the time: “make space” for your feelings, “make space” for your breath, “make space” for yourself. What does it really mean to “make space”? How does one go about doing so? Why is it necessary?
Since I began graduate school this Fall, I have observed the multitude of roles I occupy piling on top of each other in limited time: student, intern, partner, friend, daughter, sister, yoga teacher, social worker, pet owner, apartment caretaker, babysitter, and self. I can visualize my Google Calendar, looking like Tetris with its various colors and shapes – I have already designated different meanings for all of the available colors! It is nearly impossible to avoid overwhelm in this scenario.
“Making space” = prioritizing. I know that for some of my colleagues, it is essential that they do the majority of their reading in order to feel okay whereas if I don’t sleep a reasonable amount, I might as well not come to class at all. Here are some of the ways that I concretely “make space” in my life:
1. Self-Awareness: I can’t prioritize everything (psst – none of us can) so I’ve chosen to make space – literally an opening in my Google Cal – for those most important aspects of my life. For me, the number one priority is taking care of myself. I have bartered with an acupuncturist to receive affordable weekly services. I have joined my local YMCA (which insurance sometimes covers!) and I go work out all my feelings from my internship. In the evening, I do a detox from electronics and go to sleep at a reasonable hour.
After I’ve done all of these things, then I factor in others. I save one day each week exclusively for my partner. I text friends across the country to check in. I’m aware that I may not be “the best” at everything but I can direct my time and energy where I need to and let go of self-criticism.
2. Saying NO. This one is closely tied to #1. Making space means creating time to self-reflect about my limitations and my strengths. Making space means “not comparing my insides to others’ outsides” e.g. all of my classmates are great students and interns and partners and they never stress and they eat well and go to the gym and they are better people than I am – FAIL!
Sometimes I don’t want to go to the hippest, newest NYC event that I have a fear of missing out on. Sometimes I say no to homework, no to the gym or no to electronics and listen to what I need, which will be unique for me.
3. Saying YES! Also, making space absolutely means opening myself to the things that are most important to me. Recently, I was feeling overwhelmed and isolated in school so I decided to register for a training on Yoga for Justice. Was this practical? Probably not. Does it take up a lot of my time? You bet. But this training connects me to some of my deepest priorities, and it breeds compassion, growth, learning, breath, community and self-honor. Joining the training also gives me joy, which keeps me engaged in all of the work I have to do.
4. Breathing. I breathe in and I breathe out. I find that I forget to breathe, especially in my office or at school where I sit all day, and when I do I actually feel space in my body. Since the mind reflects the body, when I facilitate this expansion in my chest, my heart, my back and my lungs, my mind responds and I feel calmer, fuller and happier.
Here’s to a flexible and spacious practice of making space for whatever YOUR priorities are and letting go of the rest!