Updated: Oct 8, 2020
By Indira Das-Gupta
When you arrive at the studio, do you always place your mat in front of the mirror (if you “have” to be in the same position every time - maybe you could do with practicing non attachment, but again that’s for another post)? Or do you shy away from your reflection? Which option you take possibly says something about your personality, but one thing’s for sure, practising Yoga in front of a mirror can prompt you to place too much importance on how you look in each pose. And I’m not just talking about noticing whether your roots need doing. Ever been attracted to someone really good looking only to find out that they didn’t have the personality to match? Well then you know that looks aren't everything.
That lady next to you might be able to get her leg much higher in Dancer Pose and 3 Legged Dog - does that mean she’s “better” at Yoga than you? Absolutely not! Firstly there’s no being good or bad at Yoga, it’s not a competition. Secondly she might be hyper mobile and it might actually take her a lot less effort to get her leg twice as high as yours - you might actually be working much harder than her.
Likewise, I hate to burst your bubble, but if you’re silently congratulating yourself because you can come up higher in Updog than your neighbour, it may well be that your anatomy is simply giving you an unfair advantage - not that you are more enlightened. In fact who knows what’s going in your neighbour’s life, maybe they are overcoming serious illness or trauma and just being in the class is a monumental achievement.
When you start focusing on what a pose looks like you can start to strain, push past the pan barrier and possibly end up injuring yourself. You might take yourself out of alignment for the glory of the pose - in other words, “cheat” a bit, because, well it looks better. What things look like on the outside don’t always tell you what’s going on inside the body. You might have thrown an impressive shape but maybe you are putting unnecessary strain on your ligaments by not engaging your muscles properly.
Yoga is not about making pretty shapes - sure some of the asanas can look beautiful when practised by a dedicated and experienced Yogi. But that’s not the “point” of Yoga. Yoga is all about the journey, not the destination so focusing on the end result, in other words, what the pose looks like, could mean you lose sight of the process. Indeed, when you are learning a challenging, new pose, the chances are you will probably end up looking a hot sweaty mess - all the more reason to avoid the mirror!
That’s not to say that mirrors are inherently evil and to be avoided at all costs, sometimes they can be helpful too. For example I often tell my students to try and keep their backs flat, rather than rounded, in certain forward bends. But sometimes they think their back is flat when it isn’t - that’s when a quick peek in the mirror might actually help to understand how to approach a certain pose.
Maybe it’s not so much your reflection that you focus on in class, but what you teacher looks like. Perhaps you’re thinking, “How the hell can she get her hands to reach other so easily in Cow Face Pose when mine feel like they are about a mile apart?” Maybe your teacher simply has longer arms than yours so that’s why her version of the pose is always going to look different. My arms are quite long so a lot of binds aren’t that difficult for me, but I can’t get my head to touch the floor in Wide Legged Forward Bend because my body is relatively short in comparison with my legs.
Next time you go to a Yoga class, try and forget about what you, or anyone else, looks like and focus on how things feel instead. Is that intense sensation you are experiencing in your hip a release or maybe just a sign that a part of your body is working in a new and unfamiliar way? Or is it more than that - is it your body’s way of telling you to hold back? By really tuning in to what is going on inside, you can modify and adapt poses to make them more appropriate for your own unique anatomy.
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