Yoga teachers always remind us to stay on our mats. This is yogi speak for “mind your own business.” We’re not supposed to look around because yoga requires focus and concentration. Sure, we should take that seriously, but at the same time, this is yoga, not boot camp, and sometimes our eyes and minds wander.
I admit it. On occasion, my eyes travel off my mat, and what I see when I look around in yoga might be pretty surprising.
I see healing happening and it’s miraculous.
I see a room filled with bodies, and as I modify the poses to suit my body, I suddenly appreciate how varied the human form is and I understand that beauty is so much more than a copy and paste version of a girl in a magazine.
We each represent a different definition of beautiful. The woman in front of the mirrors with the toned abs and tiny waist is gorgeous for sure, but so is the elderly man whose muscles are so tight that he can barely stretch his arms above his head. And so am I, even though I’m far from the smallest woman in the room. I am beautiful too, and it’s okay for me to celebrate that.
My gaze finds pain leaving bodies and souls. Tears stream down faces. We’re sweating it out, mindfully making the choice to be healthy, face our fears, deal with our shit, and make ourselves strong a little at a time.
I don’t see flaws. I don’t see people who look ridiculous. I don’t see anyone making mistakes. There’s none of that in here.
I see chemo ports, scars, stitches, colostomy bags, tattoos. I see people who are sick or injured doing what they can alongside professional athletes who can seemingly do anything, and I have to ask myself who is the most powerful here?
The answer is all of us. Together. In different ways. The power is in the collective. That’s the real strength of group practice. When I don’t stay on my mat, I see how important we all are to one another.
I scan the room and notice ease and struggle. What’s hard for one person is simple for another and not always in the ways we might expect. She can do a handstand, but not a split. He’s flexible and strong, but has difficulty balancing. We do what we can. We work on what we can’t. We accept our challenges and step up to meet them.
I see the present moment. I see us as we are right now—not our pasts, not what we might become. And as I move, I open a space in my heart that I closed long ago. It’s a space of gratitude instead of unmet expectations. It’s a space where I can be glad that everyone in the room is doing exactly what they’re able in this moment.
That’s enough. And the proof that it’s enough is right in front of me, because when I look around, all I see is amazing beauty.
When my eyes wander, I see us as we are when we’ve left our stories outside the room. Our dramas and problems are locked outside. We’re safe in here. We are our bodies unburdened, if only for an hour and a half.
They are no longer a gaggle of pharm reps, and he isn’t The Doctor. I’m not the frumpy housewife and she isn’t The Stripper. In our practice, we’re equals without labels. Once we leave, we’ll put our identities back on, but for now, yoga lets us burn those illusions away so that our spirits can shine silently together.
It’s good for me to look around in yoga once in a while. When I do, I see suffering, but also redemption and victory. I see the work being done and the strength that it takes. I see miracles and how beautiful our bodies and spirits are when we are vulnerable and when we are moving together.
When I look at others with fresh eyes, removed from their usual contexts and defined roles, when I see us as a gathering of common energy, I appreciate myself anew, as well. I am inspired by my fellow yogis, and sometimes when I look at them, I see that I too have the strength and will to keep going.
Author: Victoria Fedden
Editor: Evan Yerburgh