Yoga: A Personal Journey

Something that yoga students often struggle with is being in a place of comparison when they attend their yoga classes. This is particularly common among new students who may not be comfortable with their bodies and themselves quite yet. It’s part of our nature to compare and measure ourselves against others but it’s not always a part that serves our best interests.

It’s definitely an experience I had when I began my yoga classes. For the first few weeks of my classes I was barely aware of the poses I was doing because I was so focused on what everyone else was doing. I was too busy looking at the others in class, determining whether or not they were prettier or better looking than I was, comparing how my body and my poses looked compared to other peoples, and generally focusing on everything that wasn’t my yoga.

I was so concerned about how I was viewed by other people and by measuring myself according to some invisible source of standards that I was missing out on everything I could have gained from my yoga practice in that moment. I was missing out on what I came to yoga to actually get because I was so wrapped up in paying attention to everyone else in the room.

Even when I did turn to pay attention to myself it was never to turn inward or to focus on my own poses, it was more often to check how my hair looked in the mirror, or to see what my posture looked like as I was moving through my sequence. There’s nothing wrong with using class mirrors to make sure you’re aligned correctly or to help you see how you can lean into a pose a little deeper but if you’re using the mirrors as mainly a way of distracting yourself from your yoga then you’re definitely not looking after your best interests in your practice. Which is exactly what I was doing.

I spent more than just a few yoga classes like this, constantly checking to see what I looked like, where other people where in their poses and even in my meditation with my eyes closed I was still churning away with a constant dialogue running through my head.

It wasn’t until I had a teacher pull me aside after class one day that I really became aware of it. She looked at my and asked what it was that I was in her class. Fearing that I was in trouble somehow I nervously told her that I wanted to practice yoga. She then asked me why it was that I wasn’t doing that. I told her I didn't understand. She said she had been watching me practice for a few weeks now and that although I showed up at class and did the poses I wasn’t even really there.

She told me to go home and to think about what it was I really wanted from my classes with her. And I did. I went and thought about what I was looking to gain from my yoga practice, how I wanted it to be a part of my life, and whether or not I was really moving towards any of that. As it turned out, I wasn’t.

I realized that the more time in class I spent worrying about everyone else and what they were doing the less I was actually getting out of my practice and I was also ruining my motivation to keep up with my yoga entirely. So the next week I went back to class and made a whole-hearted attempt to focus only on my poses and breath for the entire class.

Of course, I did terribly. I would catch myself wondering where the girl next to me got her yoga pants, thinking about how many more classes I would have to take until my poses looked as good as the teachers, wishing I had done my hair a little cuter before I had come out and other such thoughts. But the next class I did a little better. And the one after that was a little better than the last. Slowly I learned to keep my focus on my postures and after some time I wasn’t paying quite so much attention to the other students. I wasn’t worrying about how I looked. I was just doing my yoga. I was just being in my yoga class.

As it turned out, yoga is an entirely personal journey which is strange for an exercise that takes place in a group and forms such a tightly knit community where ever it’s practiced. But it is. It exists entirely on a one-on-one basis and really doesn’t work when it’s taken out of that state. If yoga begins to be something you do with a whole bunch of other people - for those other people, then it loses it’s ability to be a calming practice in your life.

The idea here is that it makes such a difference to your yoga and to you when you realize that your practice is absolutely for you - and it’s only for you. No one else is there to validate or give approval to your yoga - not your friends or your teachers or even a guru. Your yoga is just about you and your connection to your practice. And if you are open to that realization and that idea it changes the way you look at the whole idea of yoga. Instead of a way to work out, lose weight, look better, or whatever your aims may be - your yoga transforms into a way of connecting with your body and of honoring that body as much more than something you just walk around in but as a tool to assist you in navigating the path of your life.

Your yoga becomes a sanctuary and a place of harmony in the middle of what can seem like a very chaotic world. It becomes a supportive, stable part of your life - something you can turn to and lean on in difficult times. And as soon as you realize that the only way to go about your yoga is to do it entirely and completely for yourself you’ll be able to see the amazing impact it can have on your life.

Because when you’re not practicing as a way to “get skinny” or “be in shape” or any other mean to an end but instead just because you know that you deserve it then all the other benefits of yoga - health, the peace, the beauty, the strength - all of the other things we came to yoga to get will fall perfectly into place as it should.

Take your yoga on as a journey - not a destination. Take it on as a practice that you step into every day because you are worth being taken care of and you are worth being cherished. Look at your yoga as a way of showing up for your body every single day and above all remember that it’s completely and entirely for you - and no one else. Invite yoga into your life as a personal path and do so without the comparison or judgement that comes from measuring yourself against others. Once you’ve got that down you’ll really find out what yoga can give you.