Lifting the Veil: The Maya of Comparison, Critique and Envy

prayer hands in yoga pose
Photo Credit: MARCELLY MANFRIN

A few weeks ago, a fellow blogger discussed the implications that arise when the modern practice of Instagramming is paired with the ancient practice of yoga. Whether we like to admit it or not, the explosion of asana and celebrity yogis has brought an interesting challenge to those seeking the spiritual side of yoga.

Insecurity, envy and body comparisons are feelings that surface for many practitioners of modern day yoga. For this, we can thank social media, yoga fashion trends and the popular yet erroneous belief that yoga is only accessible to the thin, the wealthy or the flexible. Moving beyond the surface however, the Yoga Sutras shed important light on these feelings, and may be able to explain just why these beliefs are so prevalent within us.

The Yoga Sutras teach that the beliefs and opinions we carry that keep us from knowing our highest self are simply maya: a veil of illusion that exists to keep us separate from our boundless nature. Maya’s sheath creates a boundary between our true self and our ego-self, which can be helpful when learning to function as spiritual beings in a physical world. However, maya’s veil of illusion can, if we allow it, work against us by keeping us separated from our own divinity and interconnectivity, dutifully tethered to our limited notion of ‘who we are.’ This phenomenon can often trick us into comparing our asana practice with that of others (in local and virtual yoga circles) as a means of fortifying the sense of self. We may often rely on the cycle of comparison and self-promotion to feed us when maya, or illusion, rules our conditioned thought processes.

After a recent minor bicycle accident that resulted in a significant physical injury, my own tendency towards comparing myself with others was exposed during a yoga class. Facing my first practice with these new physical limitations led me to worry about how my asanas would ‘measure up.’ But what initially began as a hindrance to my practice ended up being a wonderful gift. With an injury to necessitate taking it easy, my ego (the hyper-vigilant ally that works tirelessly to maintain a favorable self-concept) was able to soften its habit of comparing my postures with those of the other students. During several fleeting yet significant moments, I allowed my maya to lift. When I released the impulse to compare and critique, I experienced brief moments of eternal bliss. I was, in fact, experiencing my true nature.

Like cobwebs upon which you must shine a flashlight to see, we sometimes need to bring awareness to the ‘human-ness’ of our practice when we find ourselves thinking thoughts that do not necessarily reflect our highest spiritual potential. Only then can we dust these thoughts aside and reveal the brilliance which lies beneath the illusion of separateness, waiting to be seen whenever we are ready.

At the end of yoga practice, students and teachers exchange a “namaste” to acknowledge the shared inner light of all beings. During your next practice, how will you soften the maya of comparison, envy and critique so that you may more fully realize your own inner light?

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