Anyone who knows anything about yoga knows that mirrors don’t belong in the studio.
There are some straightforward reasons for this, namely; we practice yoga to go inside, to transcend the ego, and to find peace. Mirrors are roadblocks to all these pursuits, pulling us back to the shallow surface of ourselves as relentlessly as the moon pulls the sea.
However, anyone who has practiced in a multi-purpose room or gym studio also knows, sometimes we end up doing yoga in front of a mirror.
Last week I happened to re-visit a big corporate gym to which I used to belong when my children were younger because they offer great child care. I was there as the guest of a yoga teacher whom I greatly respect, to practice and then meet with her to discuss the new style of yoga teaching they are adopting at this health club.
It’s been three years since I was there last, three years during which I haven’t had so much as a glimpse of my own body as it does yoga. I knew going in that the room where I would be practicing was lousy with mirrors. As someone who generally avoids mirrors except for tooth brushing and other necessaries—because every time I look in one I don’t just see my reflection, I see my emotions (happy, I look thin and young, sad, I look fat and old etc), I was dreading this encounter with my own image.
At the same time, I was fascinated. What would I see?
Normally, I’d have chosen a spot in the room which, by virtue of the many other bodies surrounding me, would allow me only momentary glimpses of myself. That, combined with the darkness of the room, was usually enough for me to get out of my own head and into my practice. The time, though, I set my mat right next to the monster; a big, gleaming, floor to ceiling looking glass. I’d likely never do this again, I reasoned, I should be able to look once.
As shy as a seventh grader going to her fist dance, I peeked—just for a second—at the woman who is me. I was sitting on my mat in half lotus, waiting for the class to start.
I am sad to report that I was surprised I appeared to be a normal shape and size. Years and years of hard work trying to overcome what I pretty sure is body dysmorphic disorder have evidently amounted to zilch. As soon as I saw myself looking normal, I realized what I thought I was going to see, and that is a gargantuan freak, stuffed obscenely into my Lulu’s, needing to take five yoga classes in a row and then run 10 miles just to earn the right to a salad for lunch.
As we began to practice, I absolutely could not stop looking at myself in that damn mirror. As I did it, I berated myself (getting even further away from compassion and self acceptance); “You are a teacher! You should be above this! Get a hold of yourself and stop acting like such a baby.” But I couldn’t. And like a baby, I continued to have a silent tantrum until the class ended.
It’s always disappointing to realize we haven’t grown as much as we think we should have. I felt like an alcoholic who believes their 10 year sobriety means she is safe, who struts into a bar thinking they are totally in control, and who, within half an hour does 12 shots, blacks out and wakes up to find they are in rehab once again.
The reality is, most of us will struggle an entire lifetime to resolve one or two main issues. Yoga is the most effective way I know to aid that resolution, but it’s no magic spell (though there is plenty of magic).
This body image, beauty, self esteem crap will probably dog me until the day I die—that’s my cross to bear. I shouldn’t have been so mean to myself when I looked into that mirror, I should have done what I know to do, be gentle and patient and trust that everything will be okay of I just do the work.
The good news is, I’ll get a second chance. I’ll get as many chances as I want to try and do better. Next time I practice in a mirrored room (maybe never), I plan to hold an image of myself in my heart, not my head, and to know that image is real and true and more powerful than whatever the mirror is telling me.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Meditation Music