yoga & mirrors

I went to my first yoga class in my second year of university. I had never been to any sort of yoga class before, but I was definitely yoga-curious. The little I knew about yoga intrigued me—it was just so different from anything I’d done before, filled with history and culture from a time and place that I knew nothing about. I hadn’t grown up in a religious household—we did the Hallmark holidays, but nothing other than that—and so yoga seemed to hold some sort of reverence that was entirely new.

So that first class. I found the studio and signed up, walking down in the evening after a long day of university classes. It was cold and rainy, but I stepped into this studio that felt absolutely tropical. As a hot yoga class, the heat was cranked and the humidity was thick, so thick it enveloped me when I walked in the door.

Channeling the little understanding I had of yoga, I made my way through that class, bending and twisting and stretching while trying to manage the sweat pouring down my arms, the contortions, all amongst the mix of Sanskrit and English. To be honest, as I lay there in my own sweat, I can’t tell you if it was the euphoric experience I’d expected. I just don’t remember. But what I do remember is leaving that studio, stepping back out into the cold, dark fall night from that tropical environment. It was like every single pore on my body opened up and took the largest gulp of air. It was unlike anything I had ever felt in my life.

For the next decade, I sought out yoga everywhere I went. I have practiced hot yoga, outdoor yoga, in carpeted studios, with friends, alone, in workshops and foreign countries. I read books, watched videos and gave myself an immersive (but by no means exhaustive) education. There would be periods where I would go without yoga, followed by month long challenges, wherein it seemed I was always coming or going from a class. And always doing laundry. Always.

However, no matter the style, location or type of class, you could almost always find me in the same place. The back. I would roll out my mat at the back of the room, as far away from the mirrors as possible. It was part shyness, part novice behaviour. I didn’t know what I was doing, so hanging out at the back seemed safe. Also, there weren’t mirrors in the back, so I couldn’t see myself as clearly as some of my classmates lined up against the front.

Over the last year, I’ve been working to go to yoga more regularly, even investing in an unlimited pass that could allow me to go to ten classes a day. I strive for three a week. I remember walking into one and the only spots left were along that mirror. There was no sense trying to squeeze along the back and fit in—front and center was exactly where I was going to practice.

Cue massive insecurity, vulnerability and self loathing.

Throughout the class, I got up close and personal with myself. Every bead of sweat, every bulge of spandex, every misalignment—it was all on for show. However, for one of the first times in my yoga life, I truly focused just on me. You see, hanging out at the back gave me a wide view of all the other students in class. Their seemingly lack of sweat, bulging spandex or misalignments were what I focused on, circling back to a comparison with myself. It wasn’t until I was up close with that mirror that everyone else, all that yoga noise, faded away. I literally had to look myself in my eye. My peripheral vision didn’t allow for much comparison with everyone else in the studio.

In that final pose, where you lie on the ground like a dead bug, reaching nirvana (or something), I realized that (of course!) what happens in the studio is such a poignant reminder of what happens in real life. How easy it is to hang back and watch everyone else succeed in life while looking flawless (sometimes in spandex). You compare, you beat yourself up, you just feel shitty. But when you get up close and personal, and focus on yourself, it all fades away, making space for a deeper awareness and understanding. Knowing you and all your realities can allow you to root in and have an unflappable foundation, no matter the noise around you.

So now? I walk in and grab a spot along the mirror. I root in, look at myself and focus on my practice. There is a reason my blissed out yogi compatriots call it a practice—every day is different, every day you show up and keep working on it. Not unlike life, especially when you can get close enough to look yourself in the eye.