Do You Take Up Space?

Recently I completed a great CORE II course in London with ten eager and intelligent students.  I feel that these students and I are having a positive impact on the way bodywork is practiced in the UK, as I’m presenting to them the idea that good bodywork is even more than knowing the science and anatomy. It’s also about being a present, caring, communicative and safe partner for their clients.  Our results in the course sessions, both on each other and with models, show that this is an efficient, effective, and totally supportive way to do bodywork.  So thanks to these students for their attention and enthusiasm!

In addition to learning some interesting communication skills (I now know why Brits wear ‘bum bags’ as opposed to what we call them!) one of the students shared an interesting observation she’d made in the past while on a skype course.  She observed that Brits tend to put longer pauses after someone speaks than do Americans.  What at first seemed to Brits to be rudeness on the part of Americans, or might be perceived as shyness or tentativeness on the part of Brits by Americans, was actually just a difference in habit and culture.  The British tend to give a respectful pause before continuing a conversation while Americans tend to jump right in on the tail end of a sentence without time for reflection.  Interesting!  As she mentioned this, I realized how true it is, and how much better I’ve become at allowing that pause since I’ve been coming here and spending time (not that I do it all that well, but I do see the virtue).

This led me to think not only of this cultural difference but of others as well.  I remember my one trip to Czechoslovakia many years ago, before its division into Czech and Slovak republics.  My partner Gloria was walking down a street and speaking with her hands, quite forcibly.  As she was looking at the person she was talking to, she never noticed a Czech man approaching from the other direction, and nearly ran into him.  He calmly ducked out of her way and continued walking…she never even saw him!  Some of us do tend to take up lots of space!  I sometimes think that as the US is such a large country and has a history of anyone who begins to feel claustrophobic being able to pick up and move to more open spaces, we’ve been spoiled and just naturally assume space is ours to inhabit.  Whereas my European friends, who have been living in closer proximity for many years, think nothing of being satisfied in far smaller personal spaces; be they apartments, houses, gardens, tube rides, or sidewalks.

Now, the reason this concept of personal space so appeals to me is that I begin to believe part of our job as bodyworkers is to help clients or patrons feel good about taking up more space!  I’m not suggesting we want to make people dissatisfied with their living quarters, or to invite them to speak more loudly or longer.  But I do think it’s worthwhile to encourage our patrons to decide that their personal space could be larger, and that they could inhabit more of the space around them.

For some time I’ve been considering researcher Stephen Porges’ comment in an article I read: “…the thing is, can we get people to feel safe?”  Safety is beginning to denote to me the idea that we can invite people to keep their feet on the ground, their heads in the clouds, and their hearts out in front of them, while they speak their truth from an open heart and throat.  I think too many of us, in most cultures, have decided to shrink in and take up less space.  Perhaps we had abusive parents or older siblings and worked to maintain invisibility.  Perhaps we grew taller before our peers and tried to hide the fact.  Perhaps we took to heart the message that we weren’t good enough and decided to take less space to support that logic.  For many reasons, many of us are hiding.  My bodywork means to encourage people to take up their rightful space.

On the other hand, in some ways, especially in the US, children are being encouraged to take up too much space!  I heard of a book titled Not Everyone Gets A Trophy  by Bruce Tulgan, which talks to this topic…we seem to believe we need to raise our children to have a full head of self-esteem, and in the process, I’m not sure that we’re not creating a generation that doesn’t understand the responsibility of sharing creation with others.  It’s an interesting balance we’re trying to create—to make sure each individual understands their worth and their right to personal space without allowing them to impinge on the space of others.

When we feel safe in our personal space, I believe we have less need to take larger spaces for ourselves.  On the other hand, when we feel unsafe and cramped in our space, I believe we unhappily try to reach out for more space, often inappropriately—through inappropriate speech, actions or thoughts.  It’s these yearnings for the space we can’t find in ourselves that cause us to be unhappy, and eventually ill, in our larger world.  How safe do you feel?

Do I have any answers?  Nope.  Do I have lots of questions?  Always.  That’s what I enjoy about the space I occupy.

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