I enjoy attending yoga classes. I do not currently have a regular practice. I like to meet with a friend every other week, we attend a class, practice and then have brunch.
Today as I was working and getting sweaty, (its Hot Yoga I attend) I noticed expectations popping up – to be the best I can, to push myself to my limits, do better than I did last time and my default is to compare myself with others.
As I don’t go that often, I don’t have the latest gear (oh no, says the inner comparison expert – I’ll be judged, found wanting and die!. Yes, it can be that quick for the disaster movie in my head to set me off.
I don’t know the names of all the poses and so I need to watch the teacher or someone nearby to understand what is being asked of me. This can be a hazard as looking ‘over there’ can lead to less attention to be with myself here and now. I have time to wait and watch then have a go, deliberately, staying open to being moved by my natural breath.
I find I’m easily drawn into moving quickly, trying to get the poses ‘right’, hold them as long as everyone else and push myself to my limit.
I’m sure I’m not alone.
And yet, in my back pocket I have some skills. I can notice the workings of my mind, I can watch myself fall into these tendencies to push, strive and compare. And I can choose not to do these things.
Keep your eyes on your own mat. I can’t remember where I first heard this. I love it.
Trying to compete with the woman on the mat next to me sets me up for a challenge outside myself. She has a different life, with different experiences, different stresses, a different ability to be bendy, stretchy and strong. If I try and do what she is doing and she’s more able for it than I am, then I’m miserable, weakened, defeated before I start. If I’m ‘better’ at this pose than she is, then my brain gets flooded with pride and can knock me off balance, literally. Energy spent comparing myself to others, doesn’t lead to happiness.
Once I’ve watched the teacher and got the hang of what movement we are attempting, I can work with myself, my limits, my abilities and work at my edge. I do enjoy the challenge of moving my mind and body in different movements, balances and poses. I do like to see improvements from class to class. And I love to discover how I am right now and what I can do when I put my mind to it. I love trusting my body’s natural wisdom to find support, length and fullness.
Balancing on one foot was interesting in Tree-pose, I was able to balance more easily on my left foot than my right. When I tried to concentrate on my foot, I wobbled like crazy. When I stared at the plant pot on the windowsill, I was more steady. But I was soon distracted by someone in my sightline wobbling off balance – foot down! First hers, then mine.
Next foot, next balance, another chance. Go again. Paying attention to my overall balance. I am free to find balance and ease. I let the image of the plant pot come to me, all the way through my eyes through the optic nerves, into the brain all the way up to the inside of the back of my head, Ah thats better. I can settle. Someone wobbles, foot down. I notice, but don’t get pulled out of my own process. Not me, I stay up, resting down, releasing up. I can choose when I put my hands back to my sides and foot to the floor. Nicely controlled and coordinated. I am present.
Now this is what I go there for. The ability to work with my body mind muscles and habits whilst someone else calls the shots. I can choose how I respond to the teacher’s instructions, I choose when I rest, when I go again, how hard to work, to sit this one out, have a drink, stay with myself.
I keep my eyes on my mat and work with my tendency to compare myself to others. There are always people more bendy and stronger than me. Sometimes I can hold a pose with more apparent ease than others. And I love that I can notice and not get drawn into the web.
I can keep my eyes on my mat, my process, my responses, my mind, my body, myself. Enjoying the process, enjoying taking care of my head / neck / spine. Enjoying the general improvements I notice, more strength, more steadiness in balance and mind. I enjoy the challenges I set myself and that my habits throw up one moment after another.
Lucy Ascham is an Alexander Technique teacher since 2003 who delights in cultivating an agile mind and an integrated, healthy being.