In accordance with saucha, the observance of cleanliness stipulated by the niyamas listed in Patanjali's yoga sutras, keeping clean is a vital part of practice.1 This extends beyond the practitioner (Patanjali advises washing before and after) and into the space: taking care of your practice space becomes part of the yoga, setting you up to treat your practice with the respect and diligence that will ultimately benefit you as it is channeled into your movement and breath.
This is not about luxury, but about feeling uninhibited. The most Spartan set-up can often be the most comfortable! Make sure your practice space enables you to feel free and at ease, physically and emotionally – so do whatever you need to do in order to allow yourself to feel as 'at home' as possible on the mat. Perhaps allowing daylight into the room if you enjoy a feeling of brightness in your movement, or equally closing curtains if you are nervous of being overlooked. Whatever works for you!
Quietness (if possible, but a quietude of mind if it isn't)
Ideally, it would be great to practise somewhere quiet enough to enable us to tune deeply into our breath. However, life so often intervenes and we are met with sirens, the noise of neighbours, children, pets etc. In this case, it is important to cultivate a sense of mental quietude on the mat which allows you to accept ambient sound as part of the experience. In yoga, everything counts, so try to see the disturbances you can't control as opportunities to practise an inner quietness.
....And these are the essentials! Depending on the space available to you, you may also consider some of the following subtler flavours you might add to your practice space.
If you are able to, devoting a space to yoga exclusively can make it easier to become more disciplined in your practice; if you can't help walking past your yoga space each morning, then it becomes harder to avoid practice! However, it is also worth saying that yoga must not become purely habitual, or circumstantially dependent. So always practicing in the same place might make it harder to cultivate the kind of 'beginner's mind', or attendance to the freshly present moment a little more challenging. One thing to definitely avoid though, is using your yoga mat as a space for doing other things.
If this sounds a bit 'New Age', bear with it. The 'energy' – or atmosphere, for want of a better word – surrounding your yoga space is the culmination of all the above efforts to define it as a place for practice. The idea of the energy of your practice space has to do with the yogic concept that behaviours carry with them positive or negative charges, depending on their source motivations.1 Ideally we surround our practice space with positive behavioural connotations in the efforts we make to maintain it. For example, keeping the space clean, warm, appealing and comfortable charges it with a positivity which will feed into the earnestness and clarity of intention in our practice. However, allowing it to get dusty, letting other people to walk over your mat with grubby shoes on, or generally neglecting it, can tend to diminish the value the space holds for you and for your practice.
In this sense, a yoga practice can become a revealing metaphor for the ways in which we approach other dimensions of our lives. Not only that, but cultivating physical space for yoga ultimately teaches us that the mat can become a vast expanse for the mind that sees its full potential – it extends to us an invitation to take care, to cultivate good intentions, to be disciplined, devoted, and to move through other parts of our lives with humility and even love.
Camilla Walker Yoga 2017
1. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, trans. Swami Satchidananda
20th February, 2017