My eyes darted from right to left, trying to understand what Utkatasana meant by following the bodies and breath around me. Ah, it means Chair pose. I swiftly leaned back into my heels and swept my arms up overhead as I deepened my stance. My ten toes hovered slightly off the earth and I felt my shoulders tightening up. Breathe, relax, you’re just beginning.
My first few months of yoga were a compilation of curious eyes and uneven breath. I would show up to class, move around on my mat, and pray the teacher didn’t cue Camel pose. By Savasana, my mind would have slowed down and I’d finally come back to that original intention of coming to class. I wanted to feel good.
Learning to Quiet the Monkey Mind
Over the months of religiously heading to the studio after work, I finally began to feel more comfortable with Sanskrit lingo and the natural progression of Sun Salutation A or B, but I still found my eyes and mind darting from person to person—judging myself, others, and the teacher leading us.
Why is she queuing us into Warrior 1? Does anyone even like this pose? This girl next to me is way more flexible, how can she do middle splits?! Why is there so much sweat in my eyes!
Then, one day I had enough. My mind had been racing, my balance was off, I had high expectations of Dancer’s pose, yet couldn’t manage to find my drishti, or point of focus. Intuitively, I knew I needed to shut out the world and travel inward.
So, I closed my eyes.
When you close your eyes in yoga, two things happen. First, you learn what it’s like to find balance without visual cues and an understanding of where we are in space. Second, you forget about the ego-driven mentality that Western yoga has built up along the years.
The only thing to compare is the sensation you felt on your mat the day before or the depth of your inhalation and exhalation.
I stopped looking in the mirror to remove my ego.
It was getting in the way of my yoga practice. I may have felt “refreshed” at the end of each practice, but I never felt stillness. It wasn’t until I closed my eyes that I had that “a-ha moment” of why so many people practice yoga. When you remove your ego from yoga, you find what it really means to just be rather than try or do.
And when you step into that state of being? That is when things get really groovy. That is when your practice begins to flow. Traveling into your body through sensation and intuition allows you to connect with yourself deeply. You are no longer bogged down by what you look like, instead, you are guided by how you feel.
When outside stimuli are stripped away, the journey inside is that much easier.
Although I hear the music and can hear the teacher cuing the class into Half Pigeon, my breath speaks much louder. It drowns out thoughts, comparisons, and to-do lists as I glide my right leg forward and across the mat into a figure-7 shape. I don’t care to check if my leg is completely parallel to the top of my mat, instead I dance along the line of sensational edge, listening to my body and surrendering my forehead onto the mat.
Without the mirror, my breath and my body become my guide. I become the only student in the studio and I move in that fashion. I open my heart and shoulders until I feel expansive and leave behind any worry of what I may look like to others.
When I stop looking in the mirror, I find what yoga is. A union of mind, body, and soul.