When I first started to regularly attend yoga classes at a studio, I couldn’t keep my eyes from wandering around the room. I tried not to look around, but I couldn’t help but admire the girl over there who could slide into full splits with a smile on her face. Or, the woman who could press up into a handstand, but look so light and carefree while doing it.
I wondered how they made it look so easy, and why I wasn’t able to achieve these things. Often times, putting myself down without any good reason at all.
After practicing yoga at home by myself for months, practicing in a room full of people was challenging. While I loved the sense of community and the unifying energy that was created during each class, internally, I was struggling with a battle amongst my ego.
Then one day before class, a teacher led us through a guided meditation focused on the first yama: ahimsa, which means “non-violence” or “ non-injury.” This was my first introduction to Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. The teacher asked us one simple question: Do your thoughts serve your highest good, or are they negative and self-defeating?
It was this “ah-ha” moment that changed my entire perspective.
Comparison isn’t a healthy habit to have. Over time it can have a negative impact on your self-esteem and even start to affect your mental wellbeing.
What I learned during my practice was that every time I got stuck in the comparison trap, it usually stemmed from a deeply engrained insecurity. My insecurities were bred from my own self-judgment and in order to be free from this I would need to practice compassion and start being more aware of my inner dialogue.
Below are 7 mindfulness techniques I use to honor myself and practice self-kindness. If you are often distracted by comparative thoughts during yoga class, give these techniques a try!
1. Maintain a Gazing Point
In Ashtanga yoga, it’s called Drishti, and it’s applied to every single pose. There are 9 main Drishtis. For example, in Downward Facing Dog, you’ll gaze at your navel center. In Trikonasana, or Triangle Pose, you’ll gaze at your thumb. Having a single focus point helps to detract our attention away from others and bring greater awareness into our asana practice.
2. Set An Intention
This is best done at the beginning of your practice. An example could be, “I will give my focus to my breath throughout the practice” or “I will nurture myself with kind, loving thoughts.” You could even come up with a mantra or positive affirmation such as “I am peaceful” or “I am enough.” On days I find myself feeling easily distracted, I like to simply repeat the word “centered.” Setting an intention can be broad and rather general, or it can be very specific. When you notice your mind beginning to stray, return to your pose by reciting your intention in your head.
3. Use Mudras
Mudras are a simple yet effective way to cultivate a particular attitude and facilitate positive change. A common mudra you might perform in class is Anjali Mudra. This is done from standing or seated, often pausing with the hands at heart center to connect with the moment and ourselves; it’s an opportunity for quiet reflection. By practicing this mudra you can increase focus, mindfulness and inner awareness.
4. Focus on your breath
During yoga, movements within poses are often paired with the breath. For example, as we inhale we are usually finding space in our body; we exhale as we settle into the pose. One thing I like to do during practice is visualizing breath. As you inhale, envision air traveling into your nose, through your entire body and back out again. Imagine it traveling through all your muscles, all the way to your toes and fingers, before it comes back out again during your exhale. Focusing on your breath is a great way to clear your mind and focus on the present moment.
5. Listen to your body
The next time you catch yourself focusing too much on the external practice, shift your awareness internally. Replace the attention from how you look on the outside, to how you feel on the inside. How does the pose currently feel in your body? Is it helping you relax a tight muscle or is it putting too much pressure on a weak area? Is the pose creating too much tension or is the challenge just right? If you feel pain in your body or your breath becomes too shallow, it’s time to take a step back. Come back to the breath, come back into the body and listen.
6. Let go of expectations
Every day that we step onto the mat is an opportunity to do so with a clean slate and fresh perspective. Always try to approach your practice as if it’s the first time. Let go of past experiences. Know that every practice will be different. Every pose will be different. Some days you may be able to touch your toes and other days you won’t. Allow this to just be. No judgments or thoughts of what your practice should look or feel like it. Allow yourself the moment of peace to be just the way you are.
7. Cultivate gratitude
One of the most beautiful parts of this yoga practice is that we each are on our own unique journey. There isn’t a right or wrong path. Make peace with where you are and honor how far you have come. Be grateful for your yoga practice, for your body and for yourself. If you commit yourself to being deeply grateful for what’s good in your life, and remind yourself of it daily, you’ll be far less vulnerable to comparison.
I hope these tips serve you well. If you have any other techniuqes that you practice to help avoid comparison, please do share!