The Art of Taking Up Space

“Breathe deep, my friends. Take up space.”

With an exhale I sunk deeper into my Warrior 2 pose, back leg firmly rooting me to the earth, front leg boldly stepping forward toward the front of my yoga mat. With resolve, I lowered my shoulders, sending my arms out wide in either direction, gaze steady toward the distance.

“Root to rise. Use your breath to ground down through the earth; then draw your energy up through your torso.”

I inhaled again, heart space rising toward the sky as I gathered strength from my foundation, pressing firmly into all four corners of my feet.

I felt alive. Rooted. Tall. Bold. Strong. Powerful. My recent dedication (okay more like re-re-dedication) to my yoga practice has started to feel like my own personal daily act of resistance, my way of cultivating a counter-cultural way of living in a world that tells me to be weak, small, quiet, and passive.

I’ve spent the last few years waging a war against my inner critic. Against the voice in my head that won’t ever let me rest, that insists that I can check just one more thing off my to-do list, that casts judgment on myself for every less-than-thrilling Friday night or every submitted paper that falls short of solving the entirety of the world’s problems or every selfish or anxious thought that my brain creates. And I’m really, really over it.

Like many women, I have been trained by society to take up as little space as possible—physically, emotionally, academically, even spiritually. I have been trained to hand over my sense of personhood, to place my own worth firmly in the hands of others. I have been taught, often by my own religion, to live submissively while simultaneously striving for perfection, all in the name of “piety” and “self-control” and “personal sacrifice” and “selflessness.” And, if I’m honest, I’ve all too eagerly and all too often embodied each of these ideals (even when I’ve known better). I’ve tried to nurture and to provide care while never admitting to needing care myself — all too proudly embracing what I’ve come to call “superwoman syndrome.” I trained myself to ask thoughtful questions about how others are doing, while refusing to answer those same questions honestly — and then running away before my stubborn propensity for tears betrays my true inner messiness. I’ve strived to create space for others, while denying myself the same space— calling it “servant leadership.” I’ve learned (and am now desperately trying to unlearn) a hatred for my own female body, seeing it as inherently sinful or tempting or problematic for simply existing – too short or too curvy or too, well, feminine—with too much make-up or not enough makeup or hair that’s too short or too long or too straight or too dark or too blonde or eyebrows that simply refuse to be controlled.

I’ve wasted way too much time waiting to be acknowledged, waiting for permission (or even an invitation) to speak or to write or to simply show up and to take up space. I’ve struggled to simultaneously make myself invisible — calling it “selflessness”– while desperately longing to be recognized and to be declared worthy of my own personhood by achieving perfection. Just as my first-grade self tirelessly spent hours learning to write letters in the dotted handwriting lines, my (mostly) adult self has become obsessed with trying to neatly package my life (trying to organize everything from my closet to my course schedule to my 20-year life plan [lolz]) so that I can present it to the world and have someone (anyone?) finally say, “Well done, good and faithful, servant. You’ve made it.”

For a self-proclaimed theologian, I think I’ve messed things up a bit.

I’m really good at talking about grace, love, and mercy. But it turns out that grace, love, and mercy in the abstract aren’t overly helpful. And it also turns out that unless I learn to claim at least a little bit of that grace, love, and mercy for myself, my attempts to bestow it upon my neighbors are going to look a lot more like self-serving flattery and inauthentic friendship than the radical love of Christ.

So I’m going to keep showing up on my yoga mat. I’m going to keep breathing deeply and finding ways to boldly take up space. I’m going to find ways to love my neighbors without totally erasing my own personhood. And I’m going to cling desperately to the faith that tells me that I am already wholly and unconditionally loved—and maybe I’ll even find that this faith has been clinging to me the entire time.

And guess what? I’m not even going to apologize.

Peace,

Alex

NoteIt needs to be acknowledged that while I have deeply internalized the injustices of sexism in our society, I have also been shaped by my own, too often unacknowledged, privilege of whiteness. I strive for a feminism that is intersectional and sensitive to the very real realities of racism and xenophobia in all its devastating forms. Please continue to be my fellow journeyer as we, together, learn to be loving neighbors to all people.

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