At yoga class a few weeks ago, I tucked myself into the back corner of the studio where I usually position my mat so I don’t distract everyone when I slip into practice late. I took a few moments to just sit before joining the class in cat and cow. Not long after, I opened my eyes to find a woman about my age on the mat next to mine staring at me. Each time we made eye contact throughout the class, she visibly pushed herself deeper into her poses and continued to stare me. If I were a good yogi, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed her gaze – instead, I started to feel competitive. I began to push myself into poses when I’m still learning their proper physical alignment. I wasn’t listening to my body and was forcing it into balancing poses that just weren’t comfortable (ever the good, uncomfortable kind of comfortable).
And then I felt self-conscious. I found myself wishing that I had longer legs like her. I was distracted thinking about the fact that women with the ideal Western body type look best in poses. I felt very aware of my stomach, my tight hamstrings, the fact that my legs will probably never touch the ground in pigeon pose. I was angry at her for making me feel incompetent and angry at myself for letting her make me feel incompetent. I was judging myself, judging her, and judging myself for judging myself and her.
But I was forgetting that yoga is about so much more than the poses. In her book Yoga from the Inside Out, author Christina Sell discusses the idea of alignment. She points out that there is the physical practice of aligning the body according to biomechanical principles but also the even more important alignment of our emotions, intentions, and philosophy. During that class I was so focused on my negative body image as it related to my physical alignment that I was indulging and encouraging self-criticism. Now I try to set an intention for myself each day before I start class – not to compare myself to others, to use my breathing as an opportunity to appreciate the here and now, to be focused and aware but not judgmental. This is slowly helping me to redirect my internal monologue towards self-acceptance, to observe my thoughts and feelings, to recognize that I’m judging myself or others but not to judge myself for that. This whole yoga thing is a long and challenging learning process – but I guess that’s why they call it yoga ‘practice’!