Creating Space- by Danielle
Often in yoga classes, I talk about creating space in your body. Someone asked me what that means...and if you have ever wondered, here you go. It's a bit long, but thorough....and it comes from a fusion of understanding as both an anatomy teacher and a yoga teacher.
In terms of more space--love this question. Starting with the spine--you are probably familiar with the discs between our vertebrae. These are made of cartilage, and throughout the day, they get compressed. When we lay down at night to sleep, they actually decompress, and we end up being a little taller in the morning because they've "opened up" again.
So whenever I say that in regards to the spine, I want you to think about these discs between your vertebrae. When you're reaching up towards the ceiling, conjure the mental image of allowing your vertebrae to be pulled apart--even if just slightly--allowing the discs to decompress, creating space between the vertebrae via the decompression (in which the discs would "puff up" and get bigger, allowing more opening). More space between vertebrae is obviously better than less, as the bone is less likely to touch/grind/etc--talk to anyone with degenerative discs!
Creating a mental image of that space happening may help someone who is reaching up to the ceiling to get a little bit longer/taller, and maybe even become more aware of less compression in the spine as more opening (space) is allowed between the vertebrae.
I know I mainly use that phrase with the spine. In terms of the body, I'm trying to think of other places I might use it....
Let's say you're in Warrior 2 with your arms reaching out. One of the "objectives" of that pose is to create openness across the chest and in the thoracic region. This is a creation of space--a vastness, an openness--in the heart center. The opposite would be a contraction, such as being on the ground and pulling your knees to your chest--the shoulders roll in, the chin goes down, and there is no longer space across the chest. So the act of reaching out in W2 would create an openness in the body, allowing muscles to relax and/or be stretched in a different way.
The creation of physical space also allows more energy to flow. Blood of the carrier of energy, right? It carries the oxygen to our cells, which is then used to make ATP; it carries the glucose that is needed by our cells, along with this oxygen, to make ATP. While ATP itself--our cellular energy source--does not travel in the blood, the components required to make it do travel this way. Thus, when you are constricted, you diminish blood flow/energy, like kinking a garden hose. If you are open and have space in whatever region of your body, you allow more free blood flow, and therefore more energy flow.
At other times, the phrase may be used more as a mental/visual thing. From a strength training/aerobics point of view, when you mentally tune in to an area while working out, the muscular work becomes stronger and more deliberate with mindfulness. Similarly, in yoga, the brain can be used to help create a focus on space, or release. One of the "goals" of the practice is to help us unwind our knots that we put ourselves into--mentally, physically, emotionally--we are often constricting due to stress and whatnot. We often end up holding this stress in our fascia and tissues.
When stressed, angry, or upset, what do we do? Contract into fetal position. Contract our fists. Our muscles get tight. The opposite of space. What are knots in the muscles? Contractions from over-holding. Muscular memory of constriction that just won't release.
Consider all the fascia and mesentery holding your intestines in place (if you're easily grossed out, skip this image). What might be constricted in there that you would never even have awareness of?
Thus, in yoga, we guide you to visualize more space in your ENTIRE body--whatever that might look like to you (maybe if focusing on "space in the belly"--imagining the mesentery loosening just a tad and letting your organs "soften" in your abdomen; or "seeing" your muscles get wider/longer instead of tight and balled up). This simple visualization might create an internal release in some constricted area that you weren't even aware of, and still may not be aware of after the fact because perhaps it was so subtle. The brain is a very powerful organ that can even be tricked by sugar pills and the placebo effect at times....so who is to say that "willing" space in your body does not actually cultivate an internal loosening?
At the very least, if not creating true, physical release in the mesentery or whatever other part of the body, imagining the creation of internal space and opening may simply in turn create a parasympathetic nervous system response that goes from body to brain. It's like the body says, "Hey brain, look at how open and expansive I am. I am not contracting. It's okay to relax here--we're safe. All is good. You can settle in."
And....maybe in that, when we're no longer worried about "getting the pose right," we can eventually just settle into it, allow it to create space in our bodies, and in turn, find some inner peace and calm.