I have a confession to make: I’m a competitive yogi.
And I’m not talking about the fancy yoga asana contest with judges and trophies. I’m talking about the moments when I’m in my local yoga studio, surrounded by like-minded folk seeking peace, and my ego kicks in big time. When I become that person glancing nonchalantly over my shoulder or literally twisting myself into knots to compare myself to others.
When I watch the instructor demonstrate Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose) and witness Bendy Girl in front of me execute it flawlessly, while I’m still plotting how exactly to work my forearms under my thighs. Or when Tattoo Chick stands elegantly in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), her face free of strain, and I’m trying to remind myself to breath.
The jealousy hits. I scan the room quickly, hoping no one else can see my insecurities as I attempt to will my body into positions that I know they aren’t ready to complete.
But the competition monster doesn’t just strike when I feel my poses lacking.
It also appears in the moment when I rock Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)—my thigh parallel to the ground, my arms level—and notice Black-Bob Lady unable to bend her front leg more than a few inches. Or when New Girl can’t lift her leg off the ground during Vrksasana (Tree Pose) while mine is glued to my upper thigh.
I feel a mix of pride and superiority, followed by 12 tons of guilt. I mean, it’s not very Zen to build yourself up on the struggles of others.
I know—there is no “I” in team. And there is no competition in yoga. It’s called a practice for a reason. You can’t win.
But at this point in my life, I need that winning feeling wherever I can get it.
The past year has been both devastating and enlightening. I like to think of it as my own less-than-glamorous version of Eat, Pray, Love—minus the mind-blowing pizza, life altering meditation and handsome stranger turned husband. Or maybe I just haven’t gotten to that point in my story.
Within the span of two months I walked away from a job I had invested five years and far too much energy in; left my home to start a new life on the other side of the country; and started a relationship that looked, sounded and felt like the real deal. I was surrounded by possibility. Fast forward a few more months and I was back where I began, minus the new life I had attempted to create for myself.
I felt stuck, trapped—that sense of possibility gone. And then yoga happened. The first time I sat in Sukhasana (Easy Seated Pose), hands at heart center, head bowed, I knew yoga would be the crux of my spiritual journey. I couldn’t travel for pleasure in Italy or seek devotion in India or find balance in Indonesia, but I could search for answers in a strip-mall yoga studio sandwiched between an animal hospital and an ice cream shop.
I worry that my ego is attempting to sabotage me though. How can I embrace a more blissful union if I’m constantly measuring myself against Bendy Girl and New Girl? I thought yoga was supposed to help me let go of this crap!
The other day, Curly Hair Lady approached me at the end of class. “How do you get your shoulders to stretch so far? I watch you every day in class and I just think ‘God, I could never do that!’” My first thought was Thank God I’m not the only one checking out the competition. But then I realized that she felt just as insecure about what her body could, or couldn’t do.
I’m sure I’ll keep scanning the room in comparison, and so will they. But instead of berating myself, I’ll tell myself that maybe we’re all secretly acting as each other’s motivation. Watching Tattoo Girl’s amazing form will inspire me to find my own and seeing Black-Bob Lady struggle in a pose will push me to persevere.
Maybe I couldn’t create the perfect dream life. Maybe I couldn’t find the perfect job or save my relationship. But I can still win at some things. I can fold my body in half, hands on the floor; I can lay in a pose in complete surrender; I can bend and twist and move in ways that wake me up to life.
And me (and my ego) can show up every day and practice.
Author: Nicole Cameron
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Caleb Roenigk