Lately I’ve been thinking about the role of mirrors in a yoga class. The studio where I’m teaching now (Wellness on Park! Tuesdays at 7:30!) doesn’t have a mirror wall, and neither does EEY, but I’ve practiced at plenty of studios that do, and if you’re taking yoga classes at a gym, the fitness room will almost always have a mirror wall. Mirrors can be great for yoga practice because often, catching sight of yourself while in an asana will lead you to immediately correct your posture – dropping your shoulders, twisting farther, standing up taller, straightening your arms. Seeing what you look like can help you fix issues you can’t feel.
But just as often, mirrors can lead you to being overly critical. Practicing without a mirror, you might feel like a rock star, which pretty much instantly dissolves when you catch a glimpse of your belly or your tush. Especially as women, we get so used to hating certain parts of our reflections, which makes it hard to see the whole – which in a yoga class is you, strong and powerful.
Looking in the mirror can lead you to compete with others, trying to make your posture match that of the person beside you, regardless of whether your level of ability matches that of the other person. It’s so much easier to compare when we see ourselves side by side with someone else in the same pose. We forget that what’s natural and healthy for her may not be good or even possible for us. And when there’s a mirror, it’s hard NOT to look in it, which changes the focus of your whole practice, keeping you constantly peeking instead of focusing your mind on your mat.
In recent years, I’ve come to prefer practicing without a mirror. I lose those valuable visual cues that could improve my asana, but I’m less apt to compare myself to others without that visual reminder that I’m not actually a rock star, and I’m better able to focus on my own experience of the pose, what the pose feels like to me and whether it feels right for my body. My experience of the asana can become internal, rather than external. This is what I want to share with my students: every person’s yoga practice is unique, and uniquely beautiful, because no two bodies are the same. My warrior 2 is not better than yours or anyone else’s. Keep your mind on your own mat, and be present here, now.