Expanding into sparseness

Today I woke to the monochrome beauty of a snowy morning and felt my usual childlike excitement at the world having changed so dramatically whilst we slept. I pestered my partner into wakefulness and soon we were striding through the cold air, red-cheeked and puffing steam from our mouths. We stopped and stood for a while in my favourite field, sandwiched between white earth and a white sky, and I reflected how clean and fresh the world seemed; like the slate had been wiped clean. There was a quietness, a peace, a winter sparseness – and somehow I felt myself physically expanding into the space that the landscape created, almost like a gentle surge of energy. I felt alert, calm, happy and very much alive.

Later on, as my partner and I discussed our plans for an imminent campervan road trip to Turkey, I felt the same sense of quiet, buzzing expansion, and I remembered my feelings on our morning walk. ‘What was the similarity between the two episodes?’, I wondered.

I soon realised it was all about my growing appreciation of simplicity and sparseness in my life. When my life feels uncluttered and clear then my mind, body and spirit are free to expand into the space that’s created, and I feel able to open myself up to positive growth, however that chooses to enter my life. Conversely, when my life becomes too chaotic and busy, my mind, body and spirit close inwards and maybe even temporarily shrink, and there’s no space for anything fresh and new to enter my life. Spontaneity and intuition fade, and tired, old demons rise, unchallenged.

In short, if the external world is ceaselessly clamouring for our attention and filling our time with constant demands, then we have no space to turn inward and just be with ourselves. We need space in our lives to begin to know ourselves better, so that we can grow and positively change. Often, we know this on some deep level, yet we fear the inward delving, so we choose to over-complicate our lives and drown out our inner voice with external activities and noise. Conversely, what happens if you allow more space to enter your life? Expansion and positive growth, in whatever form is right for you, that’s what.

And that is why standing in a snowy field on a quiet winter’s day and life on the open road in a campervan, where a steaming cup of morning coffee is a savoured ritual and where your ‘television’ is the view you can see from your windscreen, both give me the same sensation. In both examples I have time, I have peace and quiet, I have simplicity and I have space for spontaneity, insight and expansion to occur.

So how do we start to bring more space into our lives? Well, keep up the yoga for a start! (Or whatever else it is in your life that you feel nourishes you.) Every time you get on the mat, you are taking time out of your daily routine to nurture yourself and allow positive change to occur; you are standing up to external demands and creating space in your life for personal growth. And those days when you just don’t feel you have the time or energy to get on the mat are probably the days you need to honour that space most! On those days, just do what you can – even five minutes of breathing, or five sun salutations will do – at least you have ‘kept the space’ for yourself.

I know it seems a bit topsy-turvy to create space by committing to an activity (‘Surely that’s using up space in my day?’, you might ask!), but it’s all about choosing activities that have a spacious, nurturing quality about them, that make you feel expansive, even if that feeling comes after the activity, not during.

Here’s a little exercise to try. Next time you have a really good yoga session, where you’ve worked hard and felt very present, pay close attention to how you feel as you lie in savasana (corpse pose) at the end. Alongside the delicious heaviness and relaxation is there something else going on? Perhaps a ‘buzzing’ feeling, or a sense of feeling energised… or maybe even a feeling of expansion, almost like you’re a little bigger than when you started the class? This is prana, life force, chi, qi, energy – whatever you want to call it. Every time you get on the mat and consciously unite breath and movement, whether you realise it or not you invite prana to flow into and through your body, helping you purify mind, body and soul and, yes, expand into a fuller version of who you truly are.

This may sound a bit grand and far-fetched, but anyone who commits to a regular yoga practice for long enough will feel the effects for themselves – if you do it enough, you soon begin to appreciate that, as well as a good workout, it’s affecting you on deeper levels such as mental, emotional and even, that loaded term, spiritual. (In fact, yoga philosophy talks about five levels or ‘sheaths’ of the body, called the ‘koshas’: the physical sheath, energetic sheath, mental sheath, wisdom sheath and bliss sheath – but more on that fascinating topic another time…).

To get you thinking along the right lines, here are some more ideas about how to begin making more space in your life:

  • Try and commit to doing some kind of yoga or other nurturing activity at home, on your own, at least twice a week, alongside any regular classes you attend. This can be as simple as a few sun salutations or gentle stretches – if you’re short of ideas you can always get in touch and I can send you some suggested short sequences. It doesn’t really matter what you do, it’s more about the attitude with which you approach it. Treat this time as a gift to yourself – a space in your day where you prioritise your own well-being. Be mindful and present – be conscious of your breathing throughout the session. Trust your intuition and do what feels good to you at that time. Prioritise this time for yourself above demands being made of you – they can wait.
  • If you’re able, create a physical ‘sacred space’ in your home, which is dedicated to your self-nurturing. This could be something as simple as putting a few of your favourite, inspirational belongings in a corner of the room where you do your yoga or your sitting meditation or your painting or your writing or your reading, or whatever other activity brings you joy and growth. And, if feasible, being clear with others you share the house with that this space is yours – i.e. no dirty laundry or discarded mugs allowed! And that you’re not to be disturbed when you’re ‘in your space’.
  • Try having a TV free night once a week or even, shock horror, consider ditching the TV completely – seriously, I haven’t had a telly for around ten years now and I consider it the single best thing I’ve done for creating more positive, expansive space in my life. I can honestly say I don’t miss it at all.
  • Once a week, see if you can completely clear an hour and spend it by yourself, and just see what occurs. Allow things to happen spontaneously, naturally. Listen to what you want to do and follow your instinct. Treat it as a ‘date’ with yourself, where you allow yourself to do the things that make you truly happy, from the inside out.
  • Try switching off phones and computers after 9pm, or making other such rules that limit your use of technology and social media in a way that fits in with your schedule. Observe what starts to happen instead in that time.
  • Think about your regular commitments – do any of them make you feel very ‘closed-in’ or irritable and resentful? Perhaps it’s time to remove them from the diary and save the space for something that makes your heart sing instead. But don’t rush to fill the slot – enjoy the space you’ve created in your week and wait to see what naturally comes into your life to replace it – it could be something as simple and precious as spending quality time with your family.
  • And finally – any time you feel like life is closing in on you, take a really deep breath in and out, and then maybe a few more. Be fully aware of your breath travelling through the nostrils and into and out of your lungs and notice any shifts in your body as you consciously breathe like this. Relax the body as your breathe out, especially the jaw, shoulders, tummy and any other area of the body where you know you hold tension. Just this mini-pause in your day can be enough to expand yourself into the space you’ve created and engender real positive growth.




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