Teaching Yoga: Why I Teach With No Mirrors
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The first time I walked into my teacher’s yoga shala, I was taken aback. This wasn’t a typical yoga studio. For starters, the most jarring difference between this place and a yoga studio was its lack of mirrors.
As a gymnast in my younger years, I had gotten used to mirrors. Mirrors were my aid to check my form, my posture and my alignment. When I started yoga, all the yoga studios that I had been to also utilized mirrors for those very reasons. But here, on these tiled floors and plastered walls, mirrors were nowhere to be seen. Not a single surface reflected my image.
While I was surprised at the lack of this visual aid, I was even more surprised at how I felt at that moment - insecure, unsure, and anxious. Unbeknownst to me, I had become very reliant on being able to see myself in the mirror to affirm what I was doing.
Having practiced for more than 3 years now without any visual aid, I found freedom like never before. Not needing to watch yourself practice a pose is a breath of fresh air. As a teacher, I now advocate a mirror-less practice environment. Here are 5 solid reasons why.
You Stop Judging Yourself and Others
The mirror allows you to see yourself as well others, and more often than not, that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Often times, the mirror brings out the worst in us. When we are given the ability to see our practice and others, and we start becoming critical of not only our own bodies but that of others. There is a tendency to judge ourselves and what we are doing as well as those around us.
Focusing on others also diverts your attention away from your own practice, making it not only dangerous to yourself but also hindering any progress that you could make.
You Stop Feeling Intimidated
Ever felt like you are hard at work trying to stay in your pose, when you noticed someone else breezing through it? Many people don’t come back to yoga after their first class because they feel intimidated by others. A yoga class is always full of people with varying degrees of experience, flexibility and strength. If you happen to attend a class where most practitioners are at an intermediate or advanced level, you are bound to feel intimidated, and this intimidation becomes ever more so heightened by your wandering eyes that are staring at the mirror in front of you.
By removing the mirror, we removed the very thing that lets you see what other people are doing. Without this visual, it will be more difficult for you to compare yourself to others. Staring at a blank wall ahead of you allows you to remember that the practice of yoga is not a competition. It is not about others. It is about you in that moment and at that time.
You Start Letting Go
For many months prior to practicing at my current shala, I was frustrated at my inability to practice a stable headstand. Inversions were my nemesis, and watching my fellow practitioners effortlessly enter into the pose made it that much more frustrating. When I came to practice at this studio void of mirrors, I slowly forgot about this frustration, mainly because I couldn’t see myself furiously trying to kick up into the pose. And without this visual, I started to let go of the pose. I couldn’t do it. But it didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t see it as a failure because I didn’t literally see myself fail.
Instead, I started working on elements that were essential to a good headstand – core, strong shoulders and stable arms. Fast forward a few months later, I attempted headstand again. This time, I moved into the pose with ease. By not seeing, I was made to let go of my imperfections and my shortcomings. This opened up my mind to other possibilities and in time, my nemesis became my favorite part of my practice.
You Start Feeling Your Body
When we remove the mirror as a focal point during our practice, we remove the sense of sight almost altogether. Suddenly, there is no visual on our arms and leg. The first few times you practice without a mirror, you might think to yourself “Are my arms straight?” “Is my spine straight?” But removing helps you progress faster because it forces you to “see” alignment through different channels.
Instead of visualizing, the mind now has to adapt to find other ways to know whether or not the body is moving in the right direction. Without the ability to see my poses, I started feeling them. When my teacher adjusts my pose, I take the time to feel it. I take the time to understand how it feels like when my spine is lengthened, or when my core is working. It is these feelings that I base my alignment on. Internalizing your alignment also brings you a step further in trying to connect body, mind and breath together. At this point, there really is nothing external that I require for my practice. All I need is within me.
You Sharpen Your Focus
Without wandering eyes, your focus immediately comes back to your teacher in front of you. After all, blank walls offer much less distractions than staring at a number of people through the mirror. Focusing on your teacher allows you to listen more carefully to the cues given and the instructions called out, ensuring that you make the most out of your yoga class.
Beyond focus on the teacher, the focus on what you are doing is also heightened. The sense of sight is also a form of “noise” in the mind that can distract your concentration. Limiting this sense helps you to quiet your mind ever so slightly and lets you find the stillness you need for a holistic practice. Giving up external sight draws your sight towards the mind. Don’t believe me? Try it out! Observe your thoughts with your eyes opened, and then observe again with your eyes closed. Which one feels more centered and quiet?
Though practicing with our eyes closed may not be possible, limiting our wandering sight still offers the same benefits and perhaps serves also to teach us to focus with our eyes wide open.
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