Yoga teachers often talk about creating space in the body, but what does this actually mean?
Our organs continuously transform and process incoming nutrient in the form of air and food and in the outgoing form of waste. The heart and other organs keep the many fluids of the body in constant motion, making sure that all parts of the body are continuously restored, refreshed and maintained in equilibrium, or homeostasis.
The organs in turn are supported, and contained by the musculoskeletal structure, formed by the voluntary muscles and the skeleton, and by the connective tissues, the joints, tendons and ligaments, and fascia, which surrounds and contains the distinct parts of the body, something like the white pith inside an orange.
The shape of our muscles and skeleton is formed through our daily activities throughout our lives. Our muscles adapt continuously to what we ask them to do, and can become fixed in positions that in turn can distort our skeletal structure. If for example, we spend a lot of time hunched over a desk at a computer screen, our muscles learn to develop and maintain this hunched position, in turn distorting the shape of the shoulder girdle, upper spine and ribcage.
These distortions in the muscles and skeleton, in turn restrict the ability of the diaphragm to move freely in the body, which inhibit our ability to breathe freely. Also the actions of our organs, and the flow of fluid can become similarly restricted and inhibited.
Our practise of pranayama (breathing) and asana (posture), slowly but surely lead us towards a more open and relaxed, balanced, upright posture. We learn to listen to our body to feel into areas of rigidity, restriction or tension, and with focussed movement, begin to release them. As we release muscular stress and inhibition from the outer body and learn to listen to the deeper communication arising from our core body, we can begin to return naturally to the alignment inherent in our living being.
The practise of yoga is a way of re-awakening, or re-establishing this natural alignment by bringing us into experiential contact with the structural prana of our living body. We were born tremendously curious, flexible, spontaneous and open to experience, and through our practise we can, to some degree, restore and recover these innate properties.
The conscious re-alignment of the body is both an expression of prana in itself, and a process that will allow prana to flow. Prana is not some kind of magical or mystical energy arriving in our bodies from some unknown outside source. It can be viewed as simply the natural propensity of the living body to seek alignment and equilibrium, though when experienced, it can feel magical. When we let the breath and body move us, and begin to realise for the first time the tremendous intelligence inherent in our living being, it can be a profound and transformational experience, as we learn experientially that there is far more to our intelligence than simply our conscious, rational, everyday mind.
When we return to the space element in our next cycle we will explore this subject in relation to the mind. I hope this has given some insight as to how the practise helps to create and maintain space in the body, and how this in turn supports our life as a whole.