“Her front leg is definitely stronger than mine!” I thought while sneaking a side glance as I stood in warrior 3. Once again, I was checking to see what the bendy lady on the mat beside me was up to. Comparisons rushed my mind as my standing leg wobbled.
“Was there a bend in her front knee?” I analyzed. “How high had she extended her back leg? What was she wearing and was she about to move into the next pose with more grace than I would?”
“You are not here to do whatever they do. The ego loves to compare” the instructor said. The words echoed throughout the room and though they came from a distance, I knew they were aimed at me.
Yoga has a way of showing us the beautiful parts of ourselves that we rarely get to know. But sometimes, whether we like it or not, it reveals some truths that aren’t so pretty. The words of that teacher revealed my less than pretty and remained stuck in my head days later.
You are not here to do whatever they do.
Simple, yet profound, these words have fostered growth, trust and acceptance of myself on and off the mat. I might even go as far as to say that they have fostered growth more than anything else I have learned practicing yoga thus far.
I started to notice how often I was looking to the mats around me feeling defeated that my pose was not “there” yet. And when I was not on the mat, I started to notice where else I was comparing myself to those around me. At work, over dinner with a friend, or perhaps while passively scrolling through social media.
As I began to see a pattern of comparison show up all around me, I realized this habit sometimes left me feeling unsuccessful, inept and unworthy and none of this was serving me.
At some point, I think we have all been acquainted with that little voice that comes in and tells us we are no good, lesser, inept and unworthy because we have not achieved what someone else has. In yoga practice, we hear that voice pointing out that the yogi two rows back is standing on their head and in the rest of life we are reminded that our friend has already bought a beautiful home, another has a flourishing career, and we are therefore lesser because we have not mastered the same areas of life.
That little voice is what I think this teacher meant by “the ego”. This is the voice that replays the negative stories that we have spent most of our lives telling ourselves. It is the voice that tells us to lift our heads and look around at everyone’s pose instead of focusing on strengthening our own. It is the voice that creates a story about someone’s success and uses that as a standard of where we are supposed to be.
These stories keep us focused on our setbacks, what we lack, what we can’t do and our problems. The voice tells us to always be striving for the ideal version of ourselves but reiterates the stories we have created that tell us why we will never achieve it. This voice does not point out someone else’s years of practice, the recovery from injury, or the patience and hard work it takes to become a master of something. And it definitely doesn’t remind us of what we have already achieved.
The words of this teacher have taught me a lesson in actively detaching myself from my stories and from the voice in my head that says that I am way behind because my path does not look like someone else’s and neither does my yoga pose.
My goal in yoga practice has become less about perfecting the poses and more about being mindful of the thoughts that occur during my practice. I am learning to focus less on what is going on in the room and more on what is going on within me. When I feel the urge to sneak a side glance, I try to remind myself that no one else can be better at my practice than me.
Yoga is and will only ever be an experience completely unique to the practitioner. This is so simple and yet sometimes we focus on what we think it should look like forgetting that it doesn’t need to look like anything at all. Your journey and growth in each pose, just as your journey and growth through your life, will never look like anyone else’s no matter how many times you glance to the side. Both practice and life will be filled with stumbles, emotional turmoil, injuries, and falls. That is what deserves our focus because all of this lead to gradual growth, breakthroughs, strength, and mastery.
We must remind ourselves that though our practice may not look like theirs, we are moving at our own pace, growing in the corners that need growth, mastering areas of our own and that this unique experience is why we are here. So keep your focus forward for we are here to do what we do not to do what they do.
Author: Kimberly Kostashuk
Kimberly is a writer, photographer, and communications professional. An all-around words aficionado, She loves good books, bad jokes and prefers her puns intended. When she’s not exploring new cities, you can find her wandering Canada’s breathtaking west coast with her camera in hand or on her mat practicing presence, peace, and patience. She craves story swapping, discussions with depth and food for thought—anything but small talk. You can connect with her at her website or Twitter and Instagram.