We are essentially just moving our bodies around in space. I remind my yoga students that from time to time, not to diminish the importance of yoga to them or to make it seem trivial. In fact, operating in space is exactly the opposite.
Open space is, in my mind, incredibly under-appreciated. So often we spend our days rushing through space, whether that’s hurtling through traffic from point A to B in our car or hastening to complete the next bullet point on our never-ending to-do list.
In his “Parable of the Trapeze” writer Danaan Parry put it this way:
Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I'm either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I'm hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.... For an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of "the past is gone, the future is not yet here."
It's called "transition." I have come to believe that this transition is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.
I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a "no-thing”...the void in between? Is that just a scary, confusing, disorienting nowhere that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible? What a wasted opportunity that would be.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is...where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us. The transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.
(Read the full text: The Parable of the Trapeze Turning the Fear of Transformation into the Transformation of Fear by Danaan Parry, from the book Warrior of the Heart)
The other evening after yoga class—on Valentine’s Day night, when my fiance had left unexpectedly for a mission and I found myself with an empty schedule and myself with two hours of practice—I struck up a conversation with the woman next to me.
As we were talking, she said she couldn’t help but notice how I move in between poses, that the transitions I did were so beautiful and fluid. I explained to her that that is my favorite part of the yoga practice… the space in between the poses and how there are infinite variations of poses that can be pieced together in infinite combination. It’s not about getting from point A to point B, but how you get there.
Cherish the Spaces
What she said next made me see the practice that I’ve done for so many years in a new way.
She said she used to be a professional singer and a voice instructor. She would always tell students that they had to give as much attention to the rests as the notes; that the space in between the notes is just as important. You have to give listeners a moment of quiet to pause and appreciate. For me that is exactly what yoga really is. The musical interplay of rests and notes.
The next day, one of my teachers read this poem at the end of practice. Not one to normally read poems or excerpts in my own classes, I’ve made an exception for this one because, to me, it epitomizes that feeling of the space in between.
Whether it is a moment of pause between to-do list items, dawn breaking before the day starts, the void between trapezes in open air, the rests between notes of music, or the transitions between yoga poses—the pauses are there. Waiting for us to notice. Not to fill, but to occupy. Just as numerous as the items on either side, the spaces in between are just as important.
(blessing poem by John O'Donohue)
Somewhere, out at the edges, the night
Is turning and the waves of darkness
Beginning to brighten the shore of dawn.
The heavy dark falls back to earth
And the freed air goes wild with light,
The heart fills with fresh, bright breath
And thoughts stir to give birth to colour.
2I arise today
In the name of Silence,
Womb of the Word,
In the name of Stillness,
Home of Belonging,
In the name of the Solitude
Of the Soul and the Earth.