Reflections & Habits: breaking the patterns in yoga class


At the start of the New Year, I made the decision to change the direction my yogis faced in class.  Instead of facing the wall of mirrors as the students are accustomed to, I turned my students to face the outside windows.  This might seem like an obvious aesthetic choice, but I actually contemplated this for some time.  I truly wanted to "shake up" the class and challenge their routines. Now, mirrors in classrooms and I have never gotten along - in any of the places I've had the privilege to teach yoga.  To me, the mirrors do not offer anything useful to the practice of yoga - or really, the practice of turning inward.  The mirrors reflect back our exterior characteristics that we too often define ourselves with. In my opinion, the yoga mat is a place to experience some deeper than the shapes we make with our bodies or how our hair looks after that last sun salutation.  The yoga mat itself will mirror back to you far more than the actual mirror ever could.

Here is my train of thought around this... and yes, I realize how boring or pointless this whole post may seem... but it swirled around in my head so often, I had to get it out.

Could it be that the comfort and familiarity of the same scenery, the same reflection in the mirror & the same yoga mat space dulls the internal awareness of subtleties that the yoga practice uncovers?  What if the habitual patterns of the external environment and distractions create a dullness in the classroom? Will it close off the student to feeling or experiencing something new, however mundane it all may seem?  Routine can be deadening to our senses. our awareness checks out, and subtleties slip into the past unnoticed.

Consider this physical aspect: If in class the cue to "level the hips" is said and you look into the mirror to see the left hip much higher than the right hip - you physically respond as a result of something external that you saw with your eyes. The adjustment is superficially determined rather than internally felt.  Is it possible that body awareness and intimacy discovered through a practice  of seeing is not as authentic or honest as a practice fueled by feeling?

Or think of it this way: If the ego informs you to continually place your mat at the front of class, is that itself worth questioning?  Is it subconsciously fueled by the ego's need to compare and critique the external pieces of yourself, compete with others, or seek out the attention & recognition from the teacher or peers? Might it be useful to move to the back of the room and close your eyes during practice?  Perhaps there is a new layer of internal experience during class to uncover?  Or what if the attachment to the same yoga mat space is a habitually created comfort zone that will subtly hold you back and close you off from being "uncomfortable" in a new situation or environment?  Being uncomfortable is the greatest catalyst to growth!  It might seem silly, but maybe moving out of your typical mat space will spark something new in your practice. Breaking the habitual pattern of unconscious choices and monotony, even if so minor like where you put your yoga mat, could potentially open up other experiences in other areas of your life.

This inquiry about the mirrors and habitual patterns in the classroom is just a synonym for growth-hindering patterns in the "real world."  Whenever we fall into habit, our vision is narrowed and our senses are dulled - because we are expecting and anticipating the same responses, even if it is just subconsciously.  When we expect a response, we are living in the past or in a memory, thus missing the beauty of the present reality.

When we use our sight to determine how our bodies look rather than using our senses to discover how our bodies feel, we rob ourselves of self-inquiry and intimacy.  In my experience, looking into the mirror during yoga practice is a missed opportunity to turn inward and explore the depths of the Self, but instead cultivates attention on the outward, external form.  Which often leads to feeding the ego...

So as I often encourage in my classes, give yourself the opportunity to be truly present in every moment.  Open yourself up to the subtleties of sensations within you.  Discover the honest responses to movement continuously generated by your body.  Be present and open yourself up to the constantly changing experiences of every moment.

"Being attached is what prevents us from seeing, it is what clouds this miraculous awareness." - G. Shugen Arnold