The view from the front

brickwallThe 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. citta vrtti.jpgPerhaps 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.



5 thoughts on “The view from the front

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  1. Beautiful, amazing post! I went front of the class for the first time ever today. And I have been practising yoga for ten years! Your observations are spot-on and completely resonate with me. I want that stillness too. That inner experience, that magic space where your body is moving you and not the other way around. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I love being at the front now! I noticed today in an inversion class that I was braver to try things if I wasn’t watching people in front of me. I am also more in my own mental “space” which is helping me work on a more mindful, felt-experience version of my yoga practice.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah! I know exactly what you mean. I go to two classes each week: one is just a step above out intro series and the other is for a range of levels (1-3, we only go up to 4). I used to be inspired when I’d look around during a pose that I couldn’t do, but I have found myself being too focused on what others are doing wrong (or “wrong”). I know it’s all my ego talking, so it can be challenging to bring my attention back to myself and my experience of the class.

    I am with you on the ragged / loud / ridiculous breathing, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there Lynne, thanks for stopping by. Nice to hear that our experiences match up. So I’m not the only judgmental, distracted person doing yoga! 😉

      “ridiculous breathing” made me laugh! I’m sure I have annoying habits on the mat too — just not that particular one!


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