(Yoga) Hall of mirrors

IMG_0014That metaphor about the teacher holding a mirror to your practice? I always dread that he’ll do it literally one day, knowing my reluctance towards seeing myself practice. Ever since I heard Kathryn Budig talk about her teacher making her practise in shorts rather than leggings as a way of challenging her body issues, I fear that my teacher will one day insist I practise in the studio with the mirror wall. The occasional photo is bad enough, though I understand the instructional value of dispassionate observation, and how this skill is also helpful for me now in teaching. But watching oneself real-time is a different matter — there’s no safe emotional distance, dispassionate observation is 100 times harder.

But I’m usually up for a challenge and there’s nothing like confronting a difficulty head on, before some one else makes me, and in the relative safety and comfort of my own home. So I did a couple of full practices in front of a mirror recently. Not just the occasional peek to check alignment in a particular asana as I sometimes do, but a continued practice of observation. What do I see? And what do I feel? And where the two views are at odds, what reconciliation can I make?

I’m not really bothered by my physical appearance on the aesthetic level — I don’t think I’m too fat, ugly, old or whatever; I’m pretty comfortable with that kind of stuff. It’s not even that I’m hypercritical of my alignment or depth in asanas… though I did note a few weird places that I need to work on 🙂

So what’s the issue? It’s actually the opposite of any such critique — actually I had no idea I looked so beautiful in my practice! In the mirror I saw this body that was strong and flowing, that moved with a surety and a grace I didn’t imagine. I could see so much fluidity in the movements and such subtle refinements and bodily sensitivity in each ‘hold’. My reflection was so vital and alive! If I’d been watching someone else I would have smiled with pleasure. Watching myself should have been no different. Would have been no different if I could have remained the seer, the witness.

Instead there are so many emotional tangles. I am unable to read in the reflection of my body that narrative I thought I’d written, a narrative of illness and incapacity. So seeing isn’t quite believing for me. My reflection doesn’t match what I expect to see. I guess actually I see what I always thought I wanted to see, someone strong and healthy — but that involves some letting go of expectations, letting go of the role I’ve written for myself. And that’s curiously hard, even if I really want it so fiercely.

IMG_0015Hubby is kindly despairing of my strange version of body dismorphia. He came and watched me practice a little today. I mostly ignored him but I could hear some slightly theatrical sighing and an occasional gasp (I didn’t know his acting skills were so good!). Afterwards his message was firm: that he would kill to have a practice that looks like mine and that I don’t see the reality. And he’s right. But I almost do. During this week of using a mirror there have been moments when through half-closed eyes I caught a glimpse in the mirror of who I want to be. If I can subscribe to the yoga philosophy, I could steal a glimpse of who I really am. I am already whole and complete and full of light. I just don’t see it clearly. My mirror is a bit tarnished or dusty. I guess patient practising polishes it up eventually.

And then a moment before class the other day that made me laugh inside for what it told me about how others see me, since they are free of my own peculiar emotional baggage. Someone was asking about joining the advanced level class and whether it would be too hard for her. My teacher just pointed at me and said she should ask me what I thought, as someone who goes to that class. The student looked at me and said “But I can see she has much stronger shoulders than I have”. Ha! She just sees strength.

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