The Spaces Inbetween

A special pause happens in the space between Christmas and New Years. Less traffic, the last-minute rushing abated… the whole culture slows down.

It reminds me of how the universe is mostly empty space. There is more space between planets than the planets themselves. More space between solar systems than systems. Same for galaxies and galaxy clusters,, and so on beyond what we know. On the micro level, too: The space between molecules, between atoms. I believe the space within an atom between the electron and the nucleus is greater than the size of the nucleus, and that may go on as well. The whole universe is permeated by emptiness.

Bringing this around to yoga. I’ll offer four places where it’s important to pay attention to various spaces between.

First – the space between the end of one thought and the next.

(space… ahhhh)

The definition of yoga in Patanjali’s yoga sutras can be translated as “Yoga is to still the spinning mind. Then we can abide in our true nature as pure awareness. Otherwise we identify with the spinning mind.”

Our minds are so creative, generating a constant stream of thoughts that captivate our attention. For most people I’ve talked to, some of these thoughts are negative judgments of self and other, filtering our experience, and somewhat preventing us from being in pure awareness and truly enjoying the unruly beauty of ourselves and this amazing world.

In between stimulus and response there is an opportunity for transformation. In between your partner yelling at you and you yelling back, you can pause and choose a better way to respond. You can improve upon your patterns and train yourself to create uplifting solutions to challenging situations.

An easy trick I’ve found for finding the space between the end of one thought and the beginning of the next is the complete thought “This is the end of this thought.” Say it to yourself and notice how much space there before the next thought, and what that space feels like.

This is the end of this thought….

Repeat as you like. It took me some practice to rest into that state.

The second place we can find the space between is between the phases of breath. Like when you throw a ball straight up in the air and it slows down and briefly hovers at its peak, there’s a little pause at the top of an inhale. I don’t recommend closing any valves and holding your breath, just inhale and feel that little suspension of breath there. You may have to pause reading to focus on that.

Part of what makes that beautiful is that you had to quiet your thoughts and focus your attention on the detail of observing the end of the inhale. Looking for a new detail, even on something we’ve done millions of times, puts our mind in the focused quality of presence I like to call “yoga.” The mind is quiet, the attention spacious and alert, and willing to take in new information. What’s especially helpful about this particular kind of focus is that the detail we are focused on is non-threatening. We can get a similar kind of focus when competing in a sport, but that tends to have at least a tinge of mental scheming. Side note, be careful of competing against your neighbors in a yoga class.

So that’s inhale.

On the exhale, a great way to find the space between the end of an exhale and the beginning of an inhale is to first take a deep inhale to ensure there is plenty of oxygen in your lungs and bloodstream, then let out that exhale without any squeezing. You’ll find that you don’t need to inhale right away. All your needs are met so fully you don’t even need to breathe. Unlike the top of the inhale practice above, where you are actively holding your ribcage open in that pause, at the bottom of this kind of exhale, the air pressure inside and outside the body is equal, and breathing can linger peacefully for a number of seconds. You may find your mind resting as well in that state of needing absolutely nothing to keep living for the next few seconds.

In the symbol Aum. (?) there is a little dot called “Turiya” in the symbol that represents this. This state is associated with pure consciousness, bliss, and unity with the divine. When chanting Aum. it’s the silence at the end of the sound, before even the next inhale, when you rest in the peaceful silent state left behind after making a sound.

There’s a way to find a similar pause at the top of the inhale. Instead of taking a deep inhalation, at the end of a peaceful exhalation, squeeze some extra air from your lungs, and release. That release creates a passive inhalation and a similar pause.

Sweetly, we can alternate between these two directions to create a third pause in the middle.

I’m going to pause for a moment here. I’m feeling blissful as I practice what I’m writing.

The third place to look for the space between in our yoga practice is between postures.

When I began, the practice seemed to be all about doing the poses well, but I eventually learned that the transition between the postures is what kept the magic going. The shapes we move through every millimeter of the way between standing mountain pose and a forward bend… those all deserve our full presence. When we treat ourselves with as much reverence as we transition between postures as we do once in the postures themselves, we cultivate a beautiful, steady, flow of awareness. On a clock it would look more like a sweeping second hand than a ticking second hand. More like having a conversation than exchanging voice memos.

Between thoughts, between phases of breath, between postures, and finally: between practices.

We cultivate acceptance, joy, and power during our practice, and the space between the end of one yoga practice and the beginning of the next is where the rest of our lives happen.

Yoga isn’t just what happens on the mat. Yoga is the exquisite quality of presence that we are practicing dropping into on the mat. When we notice how that helps us face our bodily challenges, we become more used to leveraging that quality of presence in a way that helps us more beautifully navigate the roller coaster of life.

May yoga permeate your life the way space fills the gaps in the stuff of the universe.





1 Comment

  1. Leslie Reed

    David, you truly are a gifted writer and a lovingly powerful yogi. Blessing your New Year with a sweeping second hand of joy and presence in all you do!


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