The older I get, the less I depend on the mirror. Other than looking at my reflection to put in my daily contact lenses, or applying a coat of mascara if I’m so inspired, I try to stay away from this potentially self-sabotaging landmine where possible. Especially when I practice yoga.
It wasn’t always this way. Early experiments in ballet (a nasty teacher clad head-to-toe in black once shoved me in front of the mirror to notice the unacceptable degree of turnout staring back at me); jazz dance (is my flying leap in a full enough split? The mirror thinks not); and Jane Fonda-style aerobics (is that chick next to me rocking a cooler leotard and skinnier butt than me?) all centered on what the mirror had to say…and 99% of the time it wasn’t all that good.
Fast forward to a style of yoga I practice and teach today – Baptiste Power Yoga.
The first time I took class, I searched hopelessly for a mirror to keep me on track. Without a mirror, how do I know my foot is in the right place? Without a mirror, how can I tell if I need to straighten out my tank top after Revolved Crescent Lunge? Without a mirror, how do I know I look as badass as the dude next to me in headstand?
Thankfully, with time and a ton of patience, I’ve learned a few powerful lessons by losing the mirror:
1. The Mirror Isn’t Always Right.
The reflection staring back at me might show a Yoga Journal cover-worthy image of Wheel pose, but if my lower back feels like it’s resting on a bed of knives, I’m not choosing the right version of back bending. Supported bridge pose or even Supta Baddha Konasana would feel a hell of a lot better. Ditch the mirror and the pressure to turn every pose into cover-worthy creations dissolves.
2. The Mirror Robs You Of Your Other Powerful Senses.
Tough to direct your attention to the mound of your big toe rooting down, belly drawing in and up, shoulder blades sliding down the back as the arms stretch long overhead, when you’re fixated on the size of your thighs…or too-tight tights staring back at you in the mirror.
Without a mirror, you feel more. You listen more closely to the cues being given; to the powerful, synchronized Ujjayi breath in the room. You smell the soft incense, or, in the case of one of my favorite studios in Seattle, the Tandoor cooking next door in the adjacent Indian restaurant. I mean, who wouldn’t prefer smelling tasty Tandoor over criticizing the image staring back at you?
3. The Mirror Isolates.
Staring at a mirror throughout practice keeps me from connecting with my fellow yogis. Staring at a mirror creates a practice in comparison vs. a journey together in positive transformation.
Without a mirror to stare at, I can occasionally share a laugh with my sweaty neighbor at the absurdity of spending a ridiculous amount of time holding a Half Moon Pose about to crash land on earth. More time spent putzing in front of the mirror each morning means less time connecting over a bowl of oatmeal with a loved one before work, less time sitting quietly in meditation, or gratitude for all the beauty that lies within.
4. The Mirror Seeks Unattainable Perfection.
Talk to anyone who has experienced an eating disorder and they’ll be the first to share that what they see in the mirror looks nothing like what someone else sees. Staring at ourselves too long breeds self-criticism and a picking apart of every little detail that needs to be “fixed.”
All the beauty that exists gets hidden and ignored. Not exactly how we want to feel during our yoga practice, or any time for that matter.
In sum, there are certainly styles of yoga that warrant a mirror – Bikram, for example – and encourage students to use the mirror as tool to adopt safe and proper alignment in postures. I get that, and that’s totally okay. It’s just not for me. It’s been in my experience that practicing without a mirror has opened up a whole new understanding and appreciation of how perfectly imperfect I am – in my practice, and in my life.