It’s happened to all of us. You show up on the yoga mat, you’re sitting there waiting for class to start, and she comes in. This ethereal creature who appears to be floating across the floor. She’s got that “yoga body” – willowy, bendy – her hair is shining and in a carefully crafted messy bun. She’s wearing pants that cost what you pay for a car payment. She gracefully unrolls her mat and starts stretching. She’s more limber when she’s not even warmed up than you are an hour into a hot yoga class.
All throughout the class, you’re peeking under your armpit during down dog, comparing yourself to her. Why am I sweating so much? Can she see my cellulite through my pants? Can she tell I wore this top last night to sleep in? Is she thinking I’m a lame ass for modifying this pose? I should be able to touch my heels to the floor. Why can’t I hold plank as long as her? I’ll never be able to do that because I’m not as thin as her.
Or maybe your mind chatter sounds something like this… Look at her stupid hairdo. I bet she spent an hour this morning trying to make it look that way. And who wears makeup to a yoga class anyway? I bet she’s not even a real yogi – she just came because it’s the trendy hipster thing to do. Look at her designer yoga clothes. I bet her rich husband bought those for her. She probably hasn’t worked a day in her life.
Bottom line – when you start to compare yourself to someone else, stuff can get ugly, real quick. Either you’re putting yourself down because you’re comparing yourself to someone else, or you’re putting them down to try to make yourself feel better. Problem is, it doesn’t work. You leave the yoga class feeling awful. You don’t get any of the benefits of the hour you just spent on the mat because you were preoccupied with this toxic internal dialogue. Mind chatter, especially comparing yourself to others, is a surefire way to ruin your yoga practice for the day. Here are some ideas I have to stop comparing yourself to others.
Return to the breath
As soon as you notice your mind start to race with all these thoughts, immediately come back to the breath. Close your eyes for a moment, and for 2-3 seconds, bring your awareness into your heart center. Deeply inhale, then completely exhale. Take two to three more breaths. If you have to give your mind something to do, think, “Inhale. Exhale.”
Be in your body
Now that your breath has broken the chain reaction of thoughts, take a moment to really be in your body. What sensations are you feeling? How do you feel in this pose? Do you feel a stretch? Are you relaxed? Are you sweating? Itchy? What sounds do you hear? What do you smell? Taste? Feel on your skin? Don’t get derailed and make a judgment about the thought, like I feel dewy from sweat coming up on my skin. Oh god, I’m sweating, does the person next to me think I stink? Just state what you notice – I feel dewy from sweat coming up on my skin. I notice that my scalp feels a little prickly.
Try to stay with your body and your breath throughout the class (throughout the day, also). Whenever you notice that you’re in your head – in some past or future thought – come back to the breath. Come back to the body. A thousand times a day, you can do this!
Let go of your expectations
Notice yourself thinking about what you should be able to do? Stop that. Your yoga class is an awesome opportunity to just celebrate what’s possible today. Each day offers us a different body to work with. Let go of your expectations about what the pose should look like, feel like, how limber you were yesterday, how tight your neck feels today. Let each pose be brand new. Let go of your past experiences. Be curious! Explore and play within a pose. Let go of the word “should.”
Change your perspective
Do you always pick the same spot in the room? Pick a different spot. Choose different props than you normally use. Wear something more body conscious instead of something baggy. Just changing your environment a little bit can make a difference in how you perceive the class. If you always dread when ardha chandrasana comes up, maybe try welcoming the challenge instead of inwardly groaning when the teacher asks you to go there. Be curious about what your body can do. Let it be your ally instead of the object of your frustration.
Ask for what you need
If your comparisons tend to be of the, I can’t do that pose fully or I can’t do that pose at all variety, speak up! Every single yoga pose can be modified. That means you don’t have to compare your plank pose to the person next to you and think, Well, I can’t hold my body weight up for even one second, I guess I can’t do plank. You can do a modified version and your teacher is there to help facilitate you to do just that – to build strength, to get more flexible. If there’s a pose you’re curious about, ask the teacher before class how it can be modified. Or, ask during class. I have never been to a class where a student spoke up and a teacher wasn’t more than willing to help that student figure out how to make a pose work for their body. There could be a prop or a modification that will help you find freedom in the pose. A great teacher will see you and know what you need, but ultimately, it is your body, and you have to speak up.
Listen to your body
If you’re a competitive comparer, that is to say, you tend to push yourself too far to try to keep up with those around you, it’s time to go back to step one. Come back to the breath, come back into the body, and listen for a moment. What are you feeling? Do you feel pain? A stretch is fine, a little discomfort is even okay, but if you feel pain, if you can’t breathe in a pose, if your breath is ragged or getting away from you, it’s time to check your ego. Just because the person next to you is taking the optional vinyasa when she could be holding down dog or resting in child’s pose doesn’t mean you should be doing the same. What is your body or breath telling you? It’s time to listen.
She’s only human, too
If all else fails, and you can’t get your mind to shut up, just try to remind yourself that she’s a human being just like you. She’s just going through life, doing her best, just like you. She has good days and bad days, just like you. She feels bad about herself sometimes, just like you. She’s self conscious and has things she hates about her body, just like you. So don’t be so hard on her. And don’t be so hard on yourself, either.