The Enlightening Mat: Claiming Space


I have a secret yoga fantasy, and if you happen to be a yoga instructor, I hope you try this concept out in class and see what happens.

It's my dream that one day a yoga instructor will walk into the studio and ask everyone to move their mats to a spot in the room they have never been before. In a Bikram yoga studio, I'm guessing this would shake things up a bit!

Claiming space, marking our territory is something we started to do before we even became conscious of it. I remember sitting at the family dinner table in the least desirable seat for most of my childhood, and it wasn't until my brothers left for college that I actually chose my spot. Not until I was a teenager had I understood how I had subconsciously programmed myself to never question the order and power of family members. Why didn't I just sit in one of my brother's chairs one night for dinner? What was holding me back?

Personal space and choosing our spot is a life-long activity. Maybe you cringe at memories of grade school lunch rooms where different tribes marked their territory and set up impenetrable boundaries. As an adult you participate in this fragile negotiation if you share a bedroom, cubicle, or office space with someone else. Sometimes bliss is as simple as a parking space that's all yours and can't be claimed by another person.

So even though this post is about my experiences in the yoga room, the concept of playing musical spaces could be applied to almost any facet of your life. Why not shake things up and move things around? Why not test the territorial powers at the family table, board room, church pew, park bench, or coffee shop? What learning is waiting for you in that new spot?


I call them squatters. People in the yoga studio who get there early, set up their mat in the exact same spot every class and never try something new. I use to be this person. I had my favorite locations in the yoga room, and spots I considered the Red Zone. Then one day I was inspired by a fellow yogini. Let's call her Becky.

So this Becky had a habit of slipping into the yoga room about 30 seconds before class started and plopping her mat any old place. It didn't matter if Becky was squashed in between two people, in the front of the studio next to the teacher, or in the most suffocating corner of the room, she just took what was available and seemed happy. I say "happy" because from my estimation she always kicked butt in yoga and appeared serene all the time.

After watching Becky for a couple months, I wanted to try this technique out for myself but with more intention. I decided to make a sincere effort that when I walked into the yoga room I would always try a new spot -- a new perspective in the yoga room and a new view into my life. My goal was to have placed my yoga mat in every possible location in the room.

Hmmmm...sounds like a good plan, but alas what I came up against was the squatters. These tenacious people were always in the same spot so that I never could set my mat there. Of course, now this required me to go at different times of the day, try to come as early as possible so as to be the first one in the room, etc. Eventually, I reached my goal, but along the way I noticed I was becoming increasing judgmental of the squatters. When were they going to let go of this fictitious zone of safety and take a leap into the unknown?

Knowing that judgments about others are really judgments about myself in disguise, I started to embrace the part of me that just like the squatters doesn't like to change or try something new. I like being comfortable, and frankly, there are so many little rituals in my life that I'm guessing tearing them down one by one would be quite frightening and painful.

Nevertheless, if you begin to notice some of these zones of safety such as how you create and claim personal space, you might discover interesting things about yourself and what you might have been missing while you were so attached to a particular spot in yoga room, chair at the dinner table, parking place at work, seat on the bus, or cozy corner of the donut shop. Specifically, you might find out that every spot is a safe spot no matter the circumstance because you are always the center of your mobile spot of inner peace that travels with you wherever you go.

The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.

To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures.  


  1. another fabulous post! it's funny, because as soon as you said your intention was to change spots, my reaction was 'uh, oh, what about the people who don't want to lose their spot?' :0) as i read this i realized that i park in a certain spot of the grocery store parking lot - because there are less cars and i don't like backing up... you always give me something wonderful to think about... you shake up the status quo of my thought patterns - and that is a gift indeed...

  2. by the way, i very much like the new look of your blog...


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