Not every yoga class takes place in the bamboo-floored, Ganesh-statue littered, lightly saged yoga studio of our dreams. Lots of us have had very powerful and meaningful experiences with yoga at places like the good old neighborhood YMCA. While locale is far from the most important thing about a yoga class, classes that take place in gyms, community centers and dance studios have a feature that most yoga studios don’t: mirrors.
If you regularly practice in a room with mirrors, there is some value in assessing what effect that literal reflection of self is having on your practice.
With the proliferation of yoga selfies on social media, one wonders if people are falling in love with their asana reflections a little too much. But in a time before “selfie” was even a word, one of my teachers advised her students to take a video of themselves practicing. The purpose wasn’t to share the video on Facebook and wait for the “likes” to roll in, but to really study our alignment and tendencies. Video evidence, she said, could reveal a less-than-desirable hand placement in downward-facing dog, or a pattern of holding one shoulder higher than the other, etc. You might think you have a perfect upward-facing dog in the moment, but the video of your shoulders hunched up by your ears doesn’t lie.
Mirrors can have this benefit too. In other words, it’s OK to check yourself out during practice. You might just get some really useful information about alignment and form. For instance, if your teacher says to drop your right hip, you can actually see that happen. For people who are using yoga to build that mind-body awareness (that’s pretty much everybody), a visual aid can be very helpful in making those subtle adjustments.
So that’s the good news about mirrors. But what about those times when your teacher is talking you through a posture and your inner monologue is something like this: “Ugh. This shirt is hideous. Did I actually pay $50 for this shirt? My arms are fat. My hair is terrible. Should I stop and redo my ponytail?”
Maybe these statements are a bit extreme, but then again, maybe not. Most of us aren’t immune to negative thought patterns—what we think of in yoga as a form of samskara—and mirrors can definitely bring up a lot of that negative self-talk. This is when mirrors become distracting and even downright negative during practice. You may have heard of the term “monkey mind” before—that never-ending loop of mental chatter that we hope to quiet during meditation and yoga practice. With the visual aid of a mirror, it might just be that much harder to maintain focus. This idea goes hand in hand with another potential pitfall: over identifying with the ego. (That’s what is happening when you mentally compare your quad muscles to the yogi two mats over.)
Is the solution to move your mat to the back row so you don’t ever get a glimpse of yourself? Maybe. But maybe this is also an opportunity for deeper reflection (pun intended). Can you keep the focus on your practice and not let the mind wander too far? Can you send the yogi in the mirror some love instead of criticism? It’s challenging, but if you are mindful of the mirror’s presence, its effect and your reaction, that mirror might also help you to take your practice deeper both physically and emotionally.
What do you think? Are mirrors a helpful tool or merely a distraction?