The best thing about the front row in class — there is no view! The studio I practice in has a very fashionable unadorned plain brick wall. Because I love walls (well, I did train in archaeology) this can be distracting enough as I become absorbed in the colours and textures and resist the temptation to reach out to feel the contours and rough surfaces with my fingers.
But I can’t see much of what’s going on on anyone else’s mat and I don’t get distracted by the teacher moving across my line of sight. I just listen to his voice, tune in to my breath, and do my thing.
Time was when I was a back-row girl, and couldn’t ever imagine putting myself any further forward, unless space considerations made it absolutely necessary. Now for the past couple of months I’ve found I love being up front. I never think about anyone watching me from behind, I don’t care if I stop and everyone can see me resting, it never crosses my mind that everyone can see that I always take the less advanced options offered… I’d honestly not thought about all this stuff until a conversation recently with a fellow student who told me they hated the front row for these kinds of reasons.
My teacher told me recently to give up comparisons in class. I was struggling with the idea that my perspective on other people’s practice has changed. When I was a pure beginner I used to see everyone as a learning resource, since their practices were by definition ‘better’ than mine. Not so much of late. Now I find myself wondering about their stories too much. Do they know how much they’re back bending in Vira 2, can’t they feel the hip-opening as they strain to reach higher in 3-legged dog, are they deliberately ignoring the instructions about keeping a straight back in seated forward folds or are they exploring something else? Why do they never use a block? Does unevenness suggest they’re accommodating some injury? I wonder…
Now by turns I am confused and irritated by this, depending on how
confident arrogant I’m feeling. I expect to look around and see rows of perfect practice; instead I often see stuff that makes me want to jump up and adjust them!! Yikes, when did I get that thought?
There are also, of course, those whose practice far outstrips mine in accomplishment. But somehow right now they also often leave me a bit cold. Sure I’d kind of like to be able to transition from crow into headstand and stuff like that. But those who practice like this are more striking to me for their ragged breathing, almost grunting. And I don’t want my practice to be like that. If I need to be grunting, I’m not doing it right. I want to float, I want to feel graceful, I want to work hard and challenge myself — but I want it to appear otherwise, to be without such bodily tension.
So what does inspire me? When I see a quiet, focused practice. The sort of movement (or indeed stillness) that suggests some internal integration of mind and body. Perhaps it’s the absence of struggling, an acceptance or even contentment. Maybe that’s the embodiment of yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ? To be in that shape in that moment without attachment and without further desires. That’s how I’d like my practice to feel. And for that the fanciness of the shape becomes secondary.
Far off aspirations, to be sure, but between the weird straining shapes and the grunting it’s perhaps better to keep my attention on my own mat and just take care of my own thing.