Sometimes all we want is a nice quiet space to practice yoga. We come to class and set down our mat in the perfect spot—with plenty of space in every direction. We enter a relaxing posture as we wait for class to begin. Then, someone sets down her mat to our right, closer than we might like. Then, someone else sets their mat down to the left, closing in. Soon, the entire room fills up with mats squeezing closer and closer together until it seems like no one else could possibly fit—until someone else does.
For some people, a packed yoga class is anything but relaxing. Being so close to other yogi practitioners often invites distractions, and can even make you feel that others are invading your space. But before you decide to forgo your favorite class because it’s getting too crowded, perhaps a change of perspective might be in order.
It is said that yogis should be able to practice yoga in Times Square without distraction. What this means is that it shouldn’t matter where you practice, or the conditions of where you practice, for you to be able to find your breath and steady your mind. In yoga we come back to ourselves, so to speak. We draw inward so that what goes on outside of us remains simply that—outside of us.
The next time you find yourself in a crowded yoga class—or even a crowded place outside of yoga class—recognize that you may not have control over the conditions you are faced with, but you do have control over how you respond to those conditions. Instead of meeting the situation with unease, simply come back to your breath. Notice how your belly moves in response to your breath. Find ease with each exhale. Notice when your mind wanders and gently guide it back to your breath when it does.
You will begin to see that, although you may not have a lot of external space, you have a vast internal space, ready for exploration. Learning to use less-than-comfortable situations as a way to learn about ourselves, and practice our yoga, can be a powerful tool.