Yoga is a practice of body and mind. By synching our breath with our movement, we bring ourselves into the present moment and forget about our worries or anxieties about the past or future, if only for an exhale. To be completely aware is something that needs to be developed and practiced, it does not come easily for most of us. In fact, our minds can often wander into a dark place- our ego.
This is a topic mentioned before in a previous post; it often happens that we got to a yoga class and instead of focusing our dristi (gaze of the eyes) where it should be, we let it roam around the room to our fellow classmates. In doing so, negative comparative thoughts can creep in such as, “Wow, she’s going so much deeper than I am.” or “I wish I wasn’t right next to this insanely flexible girl, I must look terrible.” A good thing to do if you find yourself thinking like that, is to take an audible exhale through the mouth, create a sound like a sigh, and as you do so, imagine that the exhale contains that negative thought and through the sigh it has been expelled from you.
The ego doesn’t always put you down, sometimes it lifts you up. For example, you might hear the teacher give cues to come into a pose that is new to you, and wow! success! you can do this new and impressive looking pose. In that moment a smile should come to your face and you should feel proud and empowered by your practice. That’s a very healthy feeling to have. Yoga teachers want you to have that feeling in their classes, to explore your body and your limits and progress your practice, but a place that isn’t good to let your mind go to is to compare your practice with the other students in the class in a way that lifts yourself up above them. Don’t get cocky. Try your best not to compare for better or for worse, and if you do, use that breath as a tool to bring your mind into a neutral place focusing on the present again.
Another common happening in yoga is to compare yourself to yourself. You might find frustration when today’s bakasana (crow pose) is less steady than yesterday’s. Exhale it out and remember that your body will perform differently day-to-day depending on an array of factors such as the way you slept, stresses in your life that are causing you to lose focus, if you drank alcohol, etc. You will find differences in not only your balance day-to-day but also in your strength and flexibility.
My final thought (for today) on this is to remind you that yoga is a skill. I think that most people come to the conclusion that they have the same two legs and arms as everyone else in the room, so therefore they should be able to do the same things with their bodies. Yes, most of us have the same number of limbs, but they are not “the same.” Due to gender, natural flexibility, lifestyle, other areas of practice, all bodies are totally different. In terms of yoga as a skill, while teaching a class I likened yoga to snowboarding (or insert other individual-skill-based-sport,) you wouldn’t go snowboarding for your first time and feel down about the fact that other people at the resort were pulling tricks in the half-pipe and you could not. That would be an absurd thought to have, so why do people often think that way in yoga? Come to your mat again and again, and one day, maybe years away, you might drop into that half-pipe, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it, just enjoy where your practice is today.
To have thoughts like these are utterly normal while practicing yoga. I have had students come up to me and vocalize such thoughts by asking, “How were my poses today?” or “It’s been a while, so I’m bad.” and I reply to them by saying that there is no such thing and that their practice is perfect, for them, today. I’ll come out and admit that I still have these thoughts now and again, especially as a teacher, I sometimes think, “I should be able to do that- I’ve practiced long enough.” When my pesky mind goes into that dark corner, I smile, shake my head a little, and exhale it away.