We can’t help it: it’s difficult to leave the ego, competitive nature or expectations at the door when coming to Yoga. And although our brain tells us that it doesn’t matter what the person next to us is doing in class, we can’t help compare ourselves to that person or even the physical abilities of the teacher. And then something happens: our joyful anticipation of the yoga class has turned into a self-denigrating rant that makes us look at the clock, wishing we were already in Savasana.
Either it’s this general comparing or getting hung up about a particular posture (e.g. getting the heels to the floor in downward dog or touching our toes in forward bend) that can taint our yoga experience.
Some years ago, I had a series of back injuries (or maybe just one back injury that refused to heal because I was refusing to rest) and my yoga practice was reduced to moving very slowly and carefully in and out of simple postures. I thought that I was never able to do back-bends again and that sometimes brought me close to tears when I remembered what I could do or what I could other students see doing in class. My friend and then teacher Karen one time said to me “What is so important about backbends? Do they make you a better person?” – and that comment really hit a nerve: I was thinking that I was practicing yoga but in fact I was violating several of the yogic principles: ahimsa (non-harming) and vairagya (non-attachment). It wasn’t until I could let go of the inner pressure to ‘achieve’ that backbends became available to me again. It is with so many things in life – once we disassociate our own self-worth from physical, mental or monetary accomplishments and we start swimming with instead of against the current, magical things will happen.