Don't Look!

For newcomers to yoga, looking around the studio or classroom to follow along with other students is absolutely a good idea. It provides a context in class that a teacher simply can't demonstrate all the time. Watching others in poses particularly helps visual learners, who are trying to help their brain make sense of verbal cues.

Left foot - where? Oh, my neighbor's got it! Phew!

What is triangle pose?  This woman to my right has that sh*t down...sweet.

Slowly but surely, though, we all leave the beginner stage of the practice. This often brings the focus inward.

And this is where looking around takes a bit of a dangerous turn.

99% of the time - I barely notice other bodies in class - unless someone near me is rocking out a particularly awesome arm balance or, alternatively, I'm worried that the neighbor to my right or left is going to take me out with a headstand gone wrong.

So what about the other 1% of the time?

Last Sunday I was reminded of how detrimental comparison can be in my practice.

After a weekend of yoga classes at the Wind Horse Conference, my last Sunday class was called "Pike Possibilities" and it was focused on learning how to pike into handstand. I had been nervous signing up for the class because it was billed as "intermediate to advanced." I hesitated to sign up but ultimately decided that I was game to try it. I don't consider my asana practice to be advanced, but I have a fairly strong handstand at the wall. I reasoned with myself that this would be good for me.

Well, I was game to try it until I actually got into the class. I was a little more sore than usual just given the intensity of the previous two morning classes with Ana Forrest. I was also having trouble binding with comfort in warrior, which isn't a super strong pose for me anyways.

Interlock warrior (the bind), should really be directing your chest upward, your head and neck relaxed. Even in half-bind, the pose I had taken instead, your gaze should be down, but not under your body, and your goal should still be to work your chest upward.

The "quick peek" bind.

Instead of focusing on my practice, I took this as an opportunity to drop my head, look through my legs and see what everyone behind me was doing. And everyone was binding - or at least that is what my thoughts were telling me. The truth was that I had a view of about 3 people out of 20. So - therefore - EVERYONE must have been doing it.

I caught myself and closed my eyes and got back into feeling. Your body. Your practice. Stop it.

And just 10 minutes later, we were at the wall, doing crazy variations of arm balances off handstand to practice the feeling of piking. I dropped into one and literally caught my neck craning to see what everyone else was doing.

STOP IT! I told myself. You are being ridiculous. The mental gymnastics continued for the next 30 to 45 minutes at the wall. Which, without question, was a long time to be doing wall work.

Frustrated, and laughing, I came off the wall and said to a few friends close by: this sh*t is HARD.

And everyone started laughing. And agreed. And as I have seen happen many times before in yoga practice, I realized I was not alone. I had been so married to thinking that I wasn't enough, that I hadn't realized that I wasn't the only one who thought it was tough, and that we were all roughly working the same edge in different ways.
A wise man (Theodore Roosevelt) once said that "comparison is the thief of joy."

So the moral of this story is that we are only ever seeing half a story when we start looking around in class. And the story we should be focusing on - at least in our personal practice - is our story. Sometimes our story will be about feelings of inadequacy and fear, and that's okay. As long as we are moving forward, and directing the gaze back within.

Yoga: it gets me every single time.