The other morning I forgot to put in my contact lenses before going to yoga. I go to this hot yoga place where they keep the temperature at 105 deg. I don’t even want to know how hot it gets when the class is full with all those bodies generating even more heat… So, wearing glasses is really not an option for me in this situation because of how dripping wet my face gets about 5 minutes into the class — rendering the bridge of my nose a hostile environment for even my super lightweight titanium frames.
I started learning yoga almost 15 years ago in the traditional and more humanely temperature controlled studios around town. The first thing that struck me and bothered me a bit when I was still new at it, was the lack of mirrors. I was used to looking at myself while exercising which up until that point had usually been in a gym. I had always found it reassuring to check in with my form and was quite attached to that feedback for the sake of symmetry, and safe movement. But, it didn’t take long for me to realize and appreciate what this new absence of my own reflection was gifting me.
I was finding myself uncomfortably forced to appreciate and trust the watchful eyes of yoga instructors who came around to give gentle cues through touch about how to move further into or out of poses. But the other more yoga sutra or philosophical type of teaching that came from learning not to see my reflection, was an inward focus that filled a completely foreign set of senses with awareness, and questioning.
I’m no stranger to looking inward in order to quiet the mind. However, it’s quite another thing to use the mind’s eye for initiating and contemplating physical effort. Turning your “eyes” in to focus on sensation relies on, and therefore develops, confidence that intention is translating into execution effectively. It’s not only a good exercise for the brain by forcing you to access your inherent mechanisms of balance and flow, but it’s a great reminder of how to tap into what that balance and flow feels like on the inside. The sensations are what inform how you move through your day and if you want to do it well, it’s best to tune in regularly about how to let your sensations guide you. As with anything, practice makes perfect or at least leads to improvement and having the opportunity to practice with tuning in to your body from the inside rather than the outside, during yoga class, even just once a week, will make for a more accurate connection with your body — what you intend to do with it and how it actually performs.
The hot yoga world breaks this rule a little bit. The studio I’ve been frequenting has two walls of mirrors. I have to admit despite my previous enlightenment about tuning in and gazing inward during practice, I’ve been enjoying the external feedback of that image in the mirror, and that validation for my efforts. It’s very easy to be seduced and distracted by the visual. Even though I tell myself “So what if there are mirrors? I don’t need them.” But I’d be fibbing if I said I didn’t sneak a peek here and there either to smugly congratulate my efforts or remind myself I have a lot of work ahead of me — depending on the state of my self esteem that day.
One idea is that mirrors will help you face the truth about yourself and monitor improvement in order to motivate. Mirrors will help you watch for your mechanics and form. But what we perceive in the mirror is not nearly as accurate and truthful as how it feels inside. One huge problem with our preoccupation by the appearance of poses is that it can be extremely deceiving. What we think looks “beautiful” and “correct” for one body can be mechanically completely unsound for another. The only way to avert this pitfall is to look inside, listen and tune in.
Not wearing my contact lenses that day and not being able to keep my glasses on my face forced me back into that brief discomfort. Practicing without being able to see myself once again forced me to let go of my distraction with the externals and served as a rich reminder that the most truthful feedback about performance whether it’s physical, occupational, or in relationship, is how it feels.