If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, there’s no doubt that you’ve encountered that one girl who seems to effortlessly balance on her hands and bend like a freaking rubber band. It’s the same girl that gamely volunteers for every demonstration, and she always chats with the teacher after class. When witnessing this, it’s perfectly normal to experience some level of envy (I mean, who doesn’t want flexible hamstrings?). If you’re being honest, you might even feel a little bit annoyed with all the attention she’s garnered.
If you’ve ever had these emotions–inside or outside the yoga studio–you’re not alone. But a lot of us feel alone because we don’t talk about this openly and honestly, whether because we’re afraid of being judged or we’re simply vulnerable. This subject is one that feels especially anathema in the yoga community because concepts like acceptance and mindfulness are central to yogic philosophy. To that, I say: so what?
I’m human, and just because I practice asana doesn’t mean I don’t experience strong emotional reactions to certain triggers. Whenever I’m in yoga class, I’m always tempted to glance around the room at other students. If someone jumps higher than me or balances for 10 seconds longer, I’ll feel frustrated, wondering what she has that I don’t. If the teacher applauds someone, the people pleaser in me yearns for that same positive affirmation. It’s challenging to avoid getting swept up in a raft of comparisons when you’re in a room with dozens of other people all moving at the same time (not to mention wearing very little clothing!).
All this being said, there are ways to reframe negative thoughts and comparisons while practicing yoga. The first and most practical tip is to maintain a gazing point throughout the class. In Ashtanga yoga, we call this drishti, and it is applied to every single pose. For example, in trikonasana, or triangle pose, you’ll gaze at your thumb. In utplutih, gaze at the tip of your nose. It might feel a little silly at first, but the whole point of drishti is to bring focus to yourself and detract away from others.
It’s also helpful to develop a mantra. You can create one at the beginning of your practice, and when you notice your mind beginning to stray, return to your pose by reciting the mantra in your head. On days when I find myself feeling distracted by others, I like to simply repeat the word “centered.” Other times, I’ll come up with a phrase to inspire concentration.
Start seeing yoga as a spiritual practice, not just something you do to burn calories. This doesn’t mean that you need to have any religious foundation or worship a god (I myself am an atheist); in yoga, spirituality can extend to just about anything. Once I began learning about the lineage of yoga teachings (aka parampara) and the lessons they espouse, standing on my mat felt like a significantly different experience. A responsibility, even. Letting our ego dictate the practice by dwelling in comparisons takes away from yoga’s fundamental truth: peace.
Do you compare yourself to other yoga practitioners? How do you build confidence, on and off the mat?
Also by Molly: How I Transitioned From Avid Runner to Spiritual Yogi
Related: Anti-Aging Benefits of Yoga
Get more like this–sign up for our newsletter for exclusive inspirational content!
Photo: Chevanon Photography via Pexels