When you take an advanced variation of a pose during a yoga class, do you know why you're taking it? When you forego a modification, are you aware of your reasons for doing so?
Of course, rarely during a yoga class does anyone have the opportunity for a full-scale reflection; however, there is certainly space for – and, I'd argue, a need for – a little awareness of what's going through your mind as you make decisions during your practice.
Depending upon your intention for that particular practice, challenging yourself by taking a more difficult variation of a pose can be a great thing. You never truly know where your edge is until you push yourself to it, and you can never move past it unless you're willing to step outside your comfort zone and embrace what’s beyond. It can be thrilling, surprising, and even inspiring.
But for many, especially us Type-A yogis, our choice to do each pose better, faster, stronger has less to do with personal achievement than with how we look to the yogis around us. If the person next to us is taking a certain variation, we need to match them, or better yet, outdo them. We want to appear to be rockstar yogis, and we certainly don’t want to admit that any pose doesn’t work in our bodies – something we see as an admission of weakness.
If this frame of mind sounds familiar, you might be letting your competitive nature rob you of the benefits of your practice. Not only are you opening yourself up to injury by practicing in a way your body might not be ready for, but your focus on your own body and breath is evaporating completely. Without that “meditation in motion,” so many of the psychological and emotional benefits of the practice – such as stress relief and non-reactivity – disappear.
So what can you do when you find yourself regularly competing during yoga? Try the following suggestions:
Move your mat to the back of the room.
It can be tough to hide in a yoga class, where participants not only physically move around on their mat, but also set their gaze all over the room. But you're likely to get the least attention in the back of the room, and thus less likely to worry about how you look. If you opt out of a pose to take child’s pose, chances are, no one will notice.
Take a class in a style you’ve never tried before.
You'll look like a beginner. Embrace this. Remind yourself that it's OK– it’s even fun. You get to practice not looking good while you still have a little justification: I’ve never done this before. When you come back to your regular class, pretend you’re new there, too. See what happens.
Practice at home.
You don’t have to practice at home all the time, but every now and then, throw your mat down at home. (Once a week can be a great goal for beginning a home practice.) It takes away the competitive element, reminding you why of you practice and what you actually like about doing yoga.
Meditation, by design, brings your focus to your breath and your body. There is nothing to do harder or better than your neighbor; essentially, there is no room for the ego. Once you experience the bliss of being without your ego for a short period of time, you’ll be thrilled to leave it behind more often – even when you get on your mat in class!