In school, teachers are always reminding students to keep their eyes on their own paper. After all, checking out what other students are doing is not only robbing the peek-er of a learning opportunity, it’s also robbing the peek-ee of their hard work. Why should our yoga practice be any different? If you spend much time in yoga class, or read many of the wonderful yoga books available, you’re bound to run into one of the most common rules of yoga practice:
Don’t compare your practice or pose to that of another student.
Or, to put it another way, keep your eyes on your own yoga mat!
Ok, before anyone takes this too literally, it is perfectly acceptable to look at your teacher’s mat. In fact, it’s sometimes very hard to know just what exactly you’re supposed to be doing if you don’t look at your teacher’s demonstration of a pose or sequence. So by all means, peek away when it comes to your teacher.
When it comes to fellow students, however, you might be better off pretending they aren’t there. Why? To put it quite simply, because everyone and every body is different. If you start watching your fellow students, two things are bound to happen. First, time spent looking at your classmates is time that you aren’t paying full attention to your own body and experience in a pose. This sets you up for potential injury, which is never good. Also, the ego is a powerful thing, and by peeking at other students you are opening the door for all sorts of judgments. “Wow, his triangle pose is so much better than mine! I am never going to get it, I’m just not flexible enough.” Or “Look at her trying so hard to kick up into that handstand. It’s always been so easy for me. I guess I’m just naturally talented.” Is any of that really what we want to be thinking about in the middle of yoga class?
Some people are naturally looser or tighter. Some people have jobs that require them to sit at a desk all day, while others are on their feet or moving around more. Maybe your neighbor in class has the time and ability to come to class three or four times a week, while you are lucky if you can make it once a week. With all of the elements that can create differences in people’s bodies, it doesn’t make sense to compare our own poses to the poses of our classmates. Instead, practice comparing your poses to yourself. Are you looser or tighter today than other days? Is your breath coming easier or do you find yourself gripping and holding? Your practice will become smoother and the poses easier if you spend time observing and refining yourself, rather than sneaking peeks at your neighbors heels in downward facing dog.
One last note – If you can’t stop yourself from taking a look around the room every now and then, take that time as an opportunity to send love and admiration to your classmates for all they’ve accomplished. It feels so much nicer than being jealous of their loose hamstrings!