By Emily Browder
Recently, while vacationing in Boston, I discovered the hotel had an empty fitness room for me to practice yoga. I was so excited to have a small window of time to practice, and even more thrilled to have a big open space with wood floors all to myself. I set out my mat, my towel, and grabbed a block to begin. But quickly I realized there was a huge problem. For the first time in years, I was practicing yoga in a room filled with mirrors. And the mirrors were a complete distraction for me. I would like to say that it was the novelty of them. But, to be completely honest, my ego went wild. I found myself constantly checking how my poses looked while I practiced. What does my half standing lift look like? What about half moon? How about warrior 1? Are my hips level? Do any of my poses come even close to the pictures people post on Facebook?
This led me to the next problem. I had brought my phone (and consequently a camera) in case the kids needed to get ahold of me from the hotel room. Unfortunately, I found myself constantly interrupting my practice in attempt to capture myself in various poses. Maybe I could post a cool picture on Facebook too, I thought. But, I found that it was almost impossible to take my own picture while practicing yoga. I admit, I am technologically challenged. I know people do this, and do it well, but I couldn’t. And I kept telling myself as I was trying to practice and photograph, that I was wasting so much time. I only had an hour to practice and didn’t have time for this nonsense, and resolved to let the perfect photograph go uncaptured, and just practice yoga. But then I found myself thinking about capturing a cool picture again, and got out of my practice. Then I’d resolve to let it go. I did this over, and over and over. And the practice was completely unsatisfying. Even though I put the camera/phone down, the temptation to come out of my practice to look in the mirror would return.
It reminds me of my meditation practice.
I sit and try to meditate. I focus on my breath. Breath in, breath out. Breath in, breath out. And before I know it, my mind is already wandering. I need to remember to change that orthodontist appointment. Oh, shoot, my mind wandered. Breath in, breath out. Sometimes I would find my mind wandering before I could even complete one cycle of breath. Same would go for my practice in the mirrored room. As soon as I resolved to just breathe and move, my eyes wandered to the mirror. Ego. Practice yoga, I told myself. How do I look now? Ugh. I did it again. Practice yoga. What about this pose? I feel really good in this one—just a quick check…
This particular practice was an important one for me. Sometimes, when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t look as good as I thought I would. Other times the mirror reflected how I felt in the pose. But, this is irrelevant, since yoga is not about how I look in my poses. The practice was important because it was a reminder that I still have a long way to go in my practice. I was reminded to use the practice to explore inward, and what I discovered there was Ego. Wanting to look good. Wanting to be able to show others that I can look good. But instead of criticizing myself, I am going consider the discovery a part of my self-study, svadhyaya. This is fourth of the niyamas, part of the 8 limbs of yoga.
On a daily basis, I know I don’t practice yoga to look good. I practice yoga to feel good in my body. Moving and breathing, stretching, supporting my entire body weight with my hands, all of those things feel good.
Two weeks ago I tweaked my back after white water rafting. I am not sure if it was the rafting, or pulling my 80 lb. daughter into the raft that did it, but what I do know is that when I woke up the next morning I could barely walk. Years ago, this type of injury would land me in physical therapy for weeks. But, I got on my mat. Initially, I couldn’t comfortably rest in child’s pose. But, I found poses I could do, and I did them carefully and mindfully, and eased into a modified practice. It was a very humbling practice. Looking good was the farthest thing from my mind. There were no fancy handstands, or arm balances. No poses I would have wanted captured with a camera and posted on Facebook. But, two hours later, I was walking comfortably, with my back pain free. I healed myself. And that felt way better than any “perfect” picture I could ever post.