I was sitting in my hair stylist Katie's chair (Katie is also one of my Yoga students) getting my hair colored the other day, telling her how sad it makes me when women struggle to look at themselves in the mirror during Yoga practice. It's really, really common--I notice it with middle aged women, teenagers, women who look like Bo Derek, women who look like Fred Flintstone, there is no common denominator. It is inside, not outside that determines whether or not an individual feels okay looking at themselves in the mirror during practice. Katie said that she notices the same thing among women who come in to get their hair done. She said she can tell right away how comfortable a woman is in her body by how she composes herself when she is in the chair looking in the mirror. Fidgety, rigid, avoiding eye contact, all the same behaviors I see in women at the Yoga studio.
I say it all the time when I teach---your body follows your eyes. Look where you want your body to go. If you're forward bending, look forward, backward bending, look back. Looking in the direction is the first step to getting your body there. When you are still in between poses, your eyes are forward, you are looking at yourself. This is a stretch for a lot of women. It feels like an indulgence to spend so much time looking face to face in the mirror. Or it feels too vulnerable. There is too much involuntary scrutiny. And it is a tricky concept. You are not so much looking at yourself as "seeing yourself." You want to have a connection with yourself, a connection free of criticism-- seeing, acknowledging-- not judging. Eventually, you look through yourself, rather than at yourself. If you haven't experienced this phenomenon, it likely sounds like a load of Yoga rhetoric. But, if you've been there, you know. Your lens really does change. Your focus is different. Amazingly, you are not judging your body anymore, your attention to your body is about creating postures, not physical perfection.
When I first starting practicing Yoga, I wore soccer shorts and big t-shirts. That's how I was comfortable. The less visible, the better. Somewhere along the way, I switched to tighter clothes, because, as all of us who practice Bikram know, the less baggy the clothing, the better. At some point I just started accepting myself in these tight clothes. I stopped noticing the things I didn't want to see, the things I'd been hiding in my soccer shorts and t-shirts. I rarely thought about it. Still, after all these years, sometimes my lens reverts. I spend the first 10 minutes of class lamenting my choice of shorts, criticizing my thighs or my belly, but if I stay the course, keep focusing on myself, seeing myself, I eventually forget the judgement and I am just doing Yoga.
Yoga is union- between the body and the mind, the physical and the mental. Because we practice Bikram Yoga in front of mirrors, there is no escape. We have to look at ourselves, see ourselves, accept ourselves. Maybe that is why I am so drawn to this practice. At some point between the time we are born and the time we are grown, the body and mind learn to disconnect. The mind evaluates the body and there is disharmony. Yoga is one of the unique experiences in life where we get to reconnect. Yoga is a practice, daily, weekly, monthly. Through your practice, your mind and body find common ground. You do the best you can do. You work hard to accept yourself in every moment. The body and mind are no longer in conflict. They become unified, playing for the same team, heading for the same goal, body following the eyes.