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.
Hey Amber! Eckhart Tolle has a great little exercise: just ask yourself, “I wonder what my next thought will be.” Then listen. It will come, you listen to it and let it flow on. And then, “I wonder what my next thought will be.” Then listen. Lather, rinse, repeat. After that question is asked, there will be a small oasis of silence. There, we are completely in the moment. If you ask the question enough, and refrain from judging the answer, that oasis gets longer and longer. Almost as if we have thunk all the thoughts we need to think just then, at that moment. I’ve found it ENORMOUSLY useful!! –Twyla
I wonder what my next thought will be. So simple, I love that!
Hey Amber–Thanks for reminding me that the only person I should ever be comparing myself to is me. Comparisons to others are either to make myself feel better or to make myself feel horrible. Either outcome is negative. So I shall with purpose compare me to ME. I shall strive to hold that pose for one second longer than I did last time. I shall strive to walk one house further than on my last walk. I shall strive to learn one more new person’s name in class today.
I like that attitude, Mo! Thanks for sharing 🙂
I’m so triggered when my favorite yoga instructor says something about how many calories we are burning, or how we all really want to tone such and such an area. Really? For me, yoga is prayer in motion. I need to remember that my instructor is just mirroring what is going on in her life, and I don’t have to bring it in to mine. Om Shanti.
Oh goodness, yeah I try to avoid yoga classes where they talk about how much fat they are blasting. Yoga is SO not about that for me. Sounds like it’s not for you either.
or find another yoga teacher… 🙂
thanks Amber, this article rang true of my behaviour. And it carries beyond the yoga mat or wherever you find yourself doing it, into other areas of life. I liked the tips you’ve provided and will give them a try when I find myself in this situation again! thanks – Ally, UK
Ally, Thanks for chiming in! Let me know how it goes! 🙂
These are great tips, and I’m definitely going to try them. But, at the same time, I’ve come to accept that I’m never going to be able to completely stop the mind chatter. I can channel it into more fruitful directions, but it’s never going to go away completely. I have ADD, which is probably the very definition of a busy, monkey mind, and my brain is just not wired to be quiet. Ever. Some days it’s still a struggle to accept that, much like it’s a struggle to accept my ample body, but letting go of the expectation that I need to have a calm mind to do yoga has been a goal of mine.
Kim, I like how aware and accepting you are! Letting go of expectations is such a big part of what yoga’s all about 🙂
I find myself doing this all the time! These tips will help me in everyday things, not just yoga! I have a hard time with worrying about “keeping up” especially when practicing with my friend who has been doing yoga for years now and should totally get a teacher cert. I start thinking about how things ‘should’ be easier for me (that dreaded word again) because I’m stronger here, or more flexible there, but she just seems to whiz through the asanas. I know I need to slow down and focus on the breath and not make it a contest. So I ask questions too, sometimes she’s very receptive, other times she gets mad cuz I giggle during relaxation post 😉 It’ll help tons to keep these things in mind. Thanks again!
Haha, I think we’ve all wanted to giggle during relaxation at some point. I loved that illustration I used in the post because one of the thoughts was “don’t fart.” I know I’ve thought that one haha.
what I recently learned in class is: accept the fact that your mind is judging. That’s the way we are wired (in the ages when we lived out in the woods, it was very important to judge our environment: there could be a tiger behind every tree and then you don’t want to miss it!, so judging is of life importance!) So, making judgements about the world around you is just one of the things a mind does. So look at it that way, as a natural thing, accept it, and mention it in yourself as soon as you see yourself judging: ok, this is a judgement. You don’t have to get distracted by it, just see it, mention it and go back to your breath and to your exercise.
so far for theory 🙂 But we are learning, aren’t we?
I found your blog yesterday, I love it, will come back every now and then!
I love how aware you are of your own mind patterns. And yes, judging ourselves for just judging is totally another thing to not get too worked up over! 🙂
I pretty much have the worst eyesight of anyone that I know and I make sure that I always wear my glasses to yoga…so that I can take them off and my life is nothing but a blur for the entire class. I literally can’t judge anyone or anything because I actually can’t make heads or tails of what I’m seeing! I find this allows me to be totally immersed in myself and how my body feels in a pose and I can avoid my sideways glances at the ballerina on the mat next to me. Thankfully I have pretty decent body awareness so I know what feels right when I’m in a pose and I trust that my teachers will come over and correct any mistakes that I’m making.
Just my two cents. Not saying that everyone should do a class blindfolded, this is merely what works for me! Love the blog!
I love love love the feeling of practicing without my glasses. Complete internal awareness. I may as well be in the room alone. Not only can I not see the others, I also can’t see them looking at me. And they do, I know they do. I have scars and I have strange modifications. People are naturally curious. It helps to be able to “fog them out,” and it helps me listen more.
Haha – glad to know I’m not the only one. I intentionally leave my glasses off too so I won’t be distracted by my reflection in the mirror.
I totally hear you on the glasses thing! I never wear them unless I am teaching for the same reasons!
My worst habit is comparing myself now to when I practiced in my early twenties. After taking a ten year break from regular yoga practice, I expect to still be able to hold poses for the same amount of time or experience the same flexibility. It’s truly frustrating and I have to keep reminding myself that I should appreciate my experienced mid-thirties body and take baby steps to get back where I once was…if even possible.
Boy do I feel you on that one. I’m dealing with some ankle and back issues right now and I’m definitely not at my athletic peak at all. I’m even in physical therapy to deal with the back stuff which is a very humbling experience. I think comparing ourselves to ourselves can be just as insidious if we don’t keep it in check!
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