Attention yogis on the mat, exchanging glances.
It’s a common dilemma in yoga class: You should be focusing on your breath and alignment, but you can’t help but stare at the perfect pose someone just struck a couple of mats away.
A little envy creeps in: If only you could be that bendy. Maybe you can make yourself twist into that asana. Maybe you can even do it better and have others glancing at you!
It’s not exactly the path to inner peace.
“You’re not going to get the full benefits of a yoga practice if you’re standing there and comparing yourself to other people,” Tanya Boulton, a certified yoga instructor in New York and co-founder of a yoga lifewear company, told TODAY.
“We’re taught to be competitive… that’s why (yoga) is so challenging for us because it really teaches us to not be competitive, to be at peace with ourselves.”
Almost 10 percent of U.S. adults — or about 21 million — take part in the ancient practice, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Wellness is the number one reason we do it, followed by the desire to achieve a sense of peace and calm, a poll of Yoga Journal readers found.
If your competitive streak makes that impossible, we asked three experts for advice: Boulton; Jennilyn Carson, a New York yoga teacher and founder of YogaDork.com; and Drew Overholser, a certified yoga instructor in Denver, Colorado.
Here are their eight tips:
1. Be sure to take a class that matches your skill level
Newer students are typically the ones who look around the room and compare themselves to others, Boulton said. Many try to go too fast.
“A lot of times, people come in and they try a level 2 class — more of an advanced class where people have been going for quite some time,” she noted.
“They want to be doing what the person next to them is doing, but they don’t realize that person next to them has logged in 20 years or 2,000 classes.”
If you’re a beginner, take classes and workshops that help support your skill level.
2. Don’t expect each practice to be the same
Every time you show up on the yoga mat, it’s going to be different, Boulton said. The pose you could do yesterday, you might not necessarily be able to do today.
“We’re fluid beings, not chiseled statues,” she noted.
3. Accept that you may never be able to do some poses
We’re all built differently, so your body may not be meant to fold, twist or bend a certain way, even if your neighbor can, Carson said.
“There are some poses I will never be able to do and I don’t even try them. I’m OK with that,” she noted.
4. Remind yourself that the essence of yoga is an inward practice
Part of the reason stress is rampant in our society is that we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, Overholser said. Set an intention that your yoga practice is your time to develop your inner awareness and calm.
Be aware that looking around may cause you to lose focus and miss an important cue from the instructor.
“Teaching students to be present and in the moment and in tune within their own practice and their own bodies is the greatest thing that I can teach them, more so than any pose,” Boulton added.
5. Feel your body in your yoga poses instead of looking for outside sources of comparison
Use your breathing as your guide, rather than what other people in the class are doing, Overholser suggested.
Plus, the person next to you might be doing it totally wrong, Boulton pointed out. If you are going to look at someone, it should be the teacher.
6. Pay attention to your intentions
Since yoga encourages lots of self-inquiry, Carson suggested asking yourself: For what and for whom am I making this goal or setting this bar for myself?
“Are you trying to be as super rock star posing yogi, or are you doing it so you can grow a little bit more?” she noted.
We all like to move forward and do better, but in yoga doing better may mean being able to be still for an extra minute, or keeping your balance for 30 seconds in tree pose, Carson said.
7. Try to block out the mirrors
Overholser strongly prefers to teach yoga in a room without mirrors. He finds the reflections often make students judge their own appearance and sneak a peek at their neighbor.
Yoga without mirrors cultivates the inward journey and it reduces injuries among people trying to keep up with more advanced practitioners, Overholser said.
Ignore the mirror if one is in the room by putting a “mental curtain over it,” he advised.
Boulton asks her students close their eyes in many postures and focus on their breathing.
8. Tell yourself: “You’re exactly where you need to be right now”
That’s Carson’s go-to mantra in the yoga studio and beyond.
“Things are moving the way they should be. It takes the pressure off. It’s very helpful,” she said.