Everywhere you look, people are trying to get validation as to whether or not they fit in. By comparing yourself to others, you are using contrastive analysis as a gauge for measuring your own self-worth. This happens in every area of life:
- Intimate relationships
So, it comes as no surprise that your yoga practice is no exception.
Does this situation sound familiar? You arrive in class with the intention of taking an hour out of your day to decompress and reconnect with your inner Zen. You settle onto your mat, close your eyes, connect to your breath, and begin to disappear inward—letting go of the day and becoming present to this moment right here, right now. You feel amazing and are filled with gratitude for having given yourself this time—just for you.
Then an interesting thing happens. The instructor begins to guide the class, you open your eyes, begin your practice, and then BAM! You’re already checking out the person next to you in the mirror or the person behind you while you’re in downward dog. Your mind is filled with thoughts like:
- What is she wearing? Are those undergarments?
- How does she get into that pose so effortlessly?
- How does he just pike up into a handstand so gracefully?
- This class is too hard. Why doesn’t my body do that?
- Why can’t I look like her?
Before you know it, you’re back to comparing yourself to others. Either you beat yourself up thinking you could never do that pose or you try to force your body to do what they are doing—to be more like them.
In the right context, you may have a healthy desire to model their approach in order to improve your own practice. This can be a positive experience if you have something to aspire to and can build on that each time you stop onto your mat.
However, the key to doing this is to practice self-acceptance of where you are right now, diverting your attention away from what is going on around you and instead, tuning in to what’s going on within you—your sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts.
For many practicing yogis, the mat is a sacred space for self-discovery from which you can unite the body, mind, and spirit. Stepping onto your mat—whether at home or your favorite yoga studio—is an opportunity to disconnect from all that is “out there” and redirect your attention inward.
This is a process of moving from distraction to direction. A very big part of yoga practice is learning how to become present to your thoughts, your emotions, and the sensations of your physical body as you use your breath to flow from one asana (body pose) to the next.
In doing so, rather than comparing yourself to others, you stay in your own lane and on your own mat. The reason it’s called a practice is because it takes time to cultivate inner focus and self-acceptance. Staying attentive to your own practice requires focus—a gentle, calm and steady focus—and also a commitment to being present in what you are doing.
In his book, Meditations from the Mat, Rolf Gates illustrates that this is “a juncture or turning point—an intersection of two planes of existence.” You’re moving from the busyness of your daily “doings” to the stillness and calm of “being” that resides inside. This may be the greatest challenge of your practice—allowing yourself to just be you.
Practicing On and Off the Mat
While many people come to the mat solely for the physical practice, you can benefit more from using it as a means to better understand yourself. In doing so, you learn valuable tools for living your life off the mat. In yoga practice, you use your breath to become more present to what is going on inside you. In life, you use your breath to instill peace and calm in stressful environments.
In yoga practice, you use discernment to move slowly and deliberately into a pose that meets you where you are in that moment. In life, you use discernment to make choices and take action after carefully considering the consequences.
In yoga practice, you can appreciate where another person is in their practice while accepting that your own practice is just as meaningful. In life, you recognize the beauty in how others express themselves while honoring your own self-expression without judgment or comparison.
Being You in Yoga Practice
Whether on or off the mat, you have the opportunity to live more into who you are. Here are some tips for being you in yoga practice:
- Show up on your mat with the intention of giving yourself the gift of being present in this moment.
- Close your eyes as much as possible (and when it’s safe to do so) during your practice to help you stay inwardly focused.
- Use your breath to synchronize the movements of your physical body from one asana to the next.
- Approach new poses with curiosity, an open mind, and a playful heart. Remember that at one point in your life, you didn’t know how to ride a bike and now it’s effortless.
- When given instruction on a pose you find challenging or scary, have the courage to ask the instructor for guidance. That is what they are there for and they will be happy to help.
- Take new asanas one step—or phase—at a time. Don’t rush into the full expression of a pose just because someone else is doing it.
- Honor where you are today. Some days you will be stronger, some days you will have more or less flexibility, and other days you will have better balance.
- Look for correlations between your practice on the mat and how you’re navigating your daily life. Where are you feeling strong? Where can you practice being more flexible or cultivate more balance?
- Acknowledge and appreciate the beauty of those around you and then immediately come back to your mat.
- Have fun and BE YOU!
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you can wrap your leg around the back of your neck or hold a handstand in the middle of a busy intersection. Yoga is about connecting to, integrating, and being you. It’s about showing up exactly as you are and allowing yourself to express in whatever way feels authentic in the moment.
There will always be distractions, and your aim is to find your center in the midst of all that’s going on around you—on and off the mat. There will always be beauty and inspiration in those around us and the key is to find that within yourself. Stay in your own lane and on your own mat. Just be you.
“The wise man lets go of all results, whether good or bad, and is focused on the action alone.” –Bhagavad Gita
It has been said that if you truly want to learn something, learn to teach it. The Primordial Sound Meditation certification program will simultaneously raise your practice to a higher level, while giving you confidence to share this profound technique with others. Learn more.