I believe that yoga has many benefits for the body and mind. Throughout my personal practice and teachings, I also realized that there is no better way to analyze our habits than observing our thoughts during a regular yoga class.
You see, the thing is that the way we show up in one area of our lives, aka our yoga class, generally portrays how we show up in many other areas of our life. It is very uncommon for us as human beings to specifically reserve a certain view of ourselves solely for yoga class that we don’t display anywhere else in our lives.
First of all, you will have to congratulate yourself, because if you are actually one of the people who do show up at a yoga class, you are already way ahead of the rest.
The following are three habits that I have observed (and personally experienced) time and again in my years of teaching and attending yoga classes.
The first one revolves around coming to class and from the moment we step onto the mat, we apologize to the teacher and others around us for not being as flexible, fit, or coordinated as we feel we should be. No matter how often the teachers assures us that there is no requirement we have to bring to the class and that we can just take it from where we are, we can’t stop apologizing for not being or having enough of what we assume it takes. It would be interesting to note, if we exhibit this behavior in other areas of our life. Do we constantly apologize for not being the best worker, mother, partner, etc.? What if we instead showed up confidently and proud of all the skills that we already possess?
Or we arrive at yoga class all ready to relax and unwind at the end of a stressful day. We roll out your mat and while waiting for the class to start, we find ourselves looking around the room analyzing everyone else, who is in the room to share a practice with us. Although we had the best intention of making this practice all about us, we can’t help but notice the abilities and flexibility of our fellow practitioners. Before we know it we start comparing our poses to the look of theirs. We imagine that the advanced poses are coming easily to others, while we might struggle to keep our balance. We either find reasons in our mind, why we were not able to show up fully today or generally might feel that we are just not yet up to their standards. Then there are those days, when the poses come easy to us and without knowing anyone else’s circumstances and the reason why they came to class today, we feel just slightly superior. We know we practice regularly and should be better than the person next to us. We might not want to publicly admit to it, but most of us have a tendency to rate the success of our days by how we stack up against others. If we come out on top, we fly high, but when we consistently feel that we don’t quite reach others levels, we can take it to heart. I encourage you to watch your thoughts for the next days and see, if you draw your positive and negative energies from comparison, rather than based on your own abilities and your efforts in getting you to where you find yourself today.
But the one habit that concerns me the absolute most is seeing how often we as yoga students force our mind over the cues of our bodies. It strikes me that in our society we seemed to have learned that we should listen to authority figures and experts, before we should listen to ourselves. We tend to think that they hold the correct answers to what is important and valuable to us. And so, when the teacher in yoga class says “and if it is available to you, you can try to reach for your toes” or “If it is in the cards for you today, you can move into the advanced pose”, we feel that they must be talking to us and force our bodies into the position, regardless of the struggle and the signals from our bodies to hold back. The experts and teachers can’t feel inside of us to know what exactly we need on this given day to thrive. And most of them don’t claim to know. They are just giving suggestions, but it is on us to interpret them as they fit our personal lives. Why then, do so many of us take the advice and suggestions of others as the ultimate thing to strive for? Where else we take “expert instruction” over our own intuition?
Next time you go to the yoga class (or do any other form of exercise for that matter) I would encourage you to observe your thoughts and maybe even write them down as soon as you end your practice. Most peoples’ days are so busy and action packed that we rarely have the opportunity to take a moment and observe how our habits are serving us (or not serving us).
I know that your yoga class is generally the one place that you go to shut off from all of it and relax.
But let’s face it. Unless you have practiced mindful meditation for years, you probably have some thoughts run through your brain as you are moving your body through the 10th Sun Salutation.
Why not use the opportunity to become aware of them and find out what they can teach you about yourself and your habits.
Maybe we can learn what is holding us back from relaxing in the first place.