The other day, I showed up to my Tuesday yoga class and it was getting taught by a substitute teacher. I was the first person to show up and I rolled out my mat in my usual spot (at the far edge of the room by the water jug).
“I don’t bite!” the substitute teacher sang out, motioning to the spot in front of her in the middle of the room.
“Oh, it’s fine,” I said.
Another student showed up and unrolled her mat in front of the teacher. And then another. Pretty soon there was a small huddle of students in the middle of the room and then me, off to the side.
“There’s a spot right here!” The teacher tried again. The other students (who I practice with regularly) smiled to themselves. They’re used to me by now.
“I’m good over here,” I told her.
Because I don’t practice yoga in front of a mirror.
I started attending my studio more than a year ago. That first session, the teacher put her mat at the back of the room, so that in order to face her, we had to have our backs to the mirror. I’d never done yoga without a mirror and I was irritated - how could I check my form if I couldn’t see myself? How could I know if my back was straight or my chest was lifted?
When I decided that I wanted to leave disordered eating and fatphobia behind me, mirrors were a big part of that. If I was making a conscious choice to let go of the belief that how I looked (or anyone looked) mattered, then why did I need to see myself?
But of course, staring at yourself is a hard habit to shake. And the temptation is everywhere: bathrooms, rear view mirrors, reflections on your phone, shop windows...and the yoga studio. I hadn’t realized how much I watched my “form” throughout class until it was taken away.
By the end of class, I was a convert. It was like I had forgotten that I had a body. The feeling of moving felt disassociated from the visual of the movement — I can only describe it like that feeling of floating in water and being weightless.
And so I decided that for a year, from October 2017 to October 2018, I would practice yoga without a mirror. I go to yoga 3-4 times a week and always claim my spot to the side of the room, by the water jug. My teachers are used to it and will sometimes hold my spot for me if I’m running late. The other students graciously move over if the only spot left is in front of the mirror.
I certainly would survive if I had to practice yoga in front of a mirror. It’s happened once or twice that for whatever reason, the only spot was in front of the mirror. And I was fine with it. But I noticed that the mirror started to occupy space in my brain. Instead of becoming completely immersed in the practice, in the breathwork, in the physical sensation...I was watching to see how straight my back was, how firm my thighs look in Warrior II, if my Tree was as perky as everybody else’s.
The other day, I was in a Qoya class and we started talking about many of us in the class had never danced in our lives without being aware of somebody watching. Dancing was synonymous with performing - some kind of stilted mating call that we picked up as teenagers. There are two things happening when we dance: there is a visual aspect (how it looks) and a physical aspect (how it feels). We cannot see ourselves dance so the visual aspect belongs to the audience. And when we place so much importance on that, we minimize the importance of the physical aspect. Who cares how it feels? Don’t dance in a way that feels good, dance in a way that looks good.
And then that starts to become how you approach so many things in life:
-- the clothes you wear
-- the way you walk...and sit
-- the way you pose for the camera
-- the way you smile
-- how you talk
-- your social media profile
-- your home and possessions
The whole world becomes a mirror, real or imagined.
And then we all are left with a choice -- to keep looking, or to move our yoga mats.