Sometimes we want a tool to understand and know how we are improving in our yoga practice, with regards to fluidity, strength, flexibility and breathing. Something as simple as having a mirror present in your practice allows you to observe your practice and in doing so, understand your growth, your strength and just acknowledge your commitment to your mat.
At the beginning of a class, you may look at your reflection and possibly formulate opinions regarding your body, your outfit, your hair, your skin, and every minute detail you notice within. Then, your eyes tend to wander – towards your neighbor and their clothes, their mat, and their body. It is so easy to allow the mind to drift off to your day, or to the fact that the mat next to you is too close for comfort, or wishing you had the corner spot, if only you hadn't arrived later than expected.
As the breathing commences, it’s a reflection of your body in the present moment. The mirror is directly displaying your alignment for that day; what position your hips and shoulders are in, how flexible you are. Meanwhile, your mind is still wandering to the spot in the corner, the one that you missed out on. But you bring it back to your breath. No matter the reason that brought you into the yoga room, you are being challenged to get past the interruptions of the physical world. Instead of observing the physical, with you breathe begin to observe yourself.
As your yoga practice continues on a more regular basis you notice the changes that begin to manifest. You begin to view your physical body in a new light as you become stronger, more flexible, and your focus becomes more attuned. All the while, the mirror reflects how the yoga is changing you and through it, you are starting to feel better, and you are starting to see yourself in a more positive light. Your inner dialogue also changes and you are becoming motivated to work harder in the postures you enjoy and noticing the roller-coaster of emotions, which rise and fall each day and in every class.
For example, in the practice of Bikram yoga, one needs to face the mirror as you hold poses for up to one minute. One minute can feel like forever when you in a difficult pose, in a hot room, with sweat pouring down your body but what keeps your focus? Your gaze is strong on your own eyes in the mirror, you hold the pose because the connection with yourself, eye-to-eye is strong, you are motivated, you are determined and you tell yourself this through your gaze. You really hear the words, discern how your body responds, and feel the intense connection between your mind and body. You increase your presence and mindfulness. You build upon that internal connection within yourself. Yes, you are still physically seeing your body; but, more crucially, you are also seeing your strengths, your weaknesses, as well as your reactions to both.
You are becoming mindful of your reactions to the heat, towards your neighbor, the teacher, and any other external distractions. You are now realizing that no matter what the conditions are on the outside, you still may choose to have a good class. Your thoughts and your breath are the only two things you can control; so be positive and breathe deeply. Yes, it can be insanely challenging but yes, you can actually find the joy within the challenge.
External distractions place tremendous pressure upon you, and in the yoga room, there is nowhere to run but within. The room, the mirror, the practice forces you to go inside yourself and analyze who you actually are. Sometimes, it is not enough to just feel yourself struggling, you must see yourself struggle in that mirror. Then, and only then, may you experience some compassion for yourself and that you are trying your best in everything you do. Compassion literally means “to struggle together.” You may ask yourself who is struggling in this scenario? It can be yourself and your higher self, as well as every other yogi in the practice with you. Your fellow yogis are going through the same emotions and feeling the same struggles.
What can this perception give you outside of the yoga practice? When you are able to observe yourself in your practice, you are becoming more aware and in tune to the small things that are not otherwise noticed. So outside your class, you can find joy in the little things which you were completely unaware of before – the breeze, the sun, the beautiful sky. You find yourself creating possibilities in your life that you never dreamed of before – booking that vacation, scheduling that massage and most importantly, learning to be a kind and understanding to yourself.
Now you arrive on your mat and you are so grateful that you are there, on your mat, doing yoga. You have taken this time among the chaos, to create your own peace within and through all the struggles. Your mind will travel to the past and the future, but your breathe and gaze will bring it back to the now, the only place where life exists. Who you are in the room, is who you are in life.