Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: ‘Reflections’ on Mirrors in Yoga Classes

yoga mirror
Photo by Ting Estrella

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?

Comments 5

  1. In reading this article I think that a very good point is brought up, sometimes you don’t know what the teacher is wanting you to fix in your asana. Lets be honest when I say, as a yoga teacher myself, that it’s frustrating on both ends. The student wants to understand how to get the best benefit for their body and the teacher wants to help them get the most out of their practice.
    I do a very tradtional practice myself at the yoga studio I attend for my own practice. However, I am currently in the process of building a studio where I will be putting in mirrors since it wont be strictly yoga; we will be adding dance classes, zumba, pilates. I have often played with the idea of having mirrors for my beginning yoga clases to help them see what their body does when I say to go to a specific asana. My goal isn’t to make them self-concious in any way but help them build their body in a safe manner. The mirrors wil have a curtain to hide when I don’t need to use them and if I do have the ability to move the curtain how I need.
    I feel the value of seeing what your body does, especially when you are learning a new pose, is undervalued in the yoga community because of ego and samskara. I often have pictures taken of me doing certain poses in order for me to know two main things: 1) if it is painful I want to see if I am doing something wrong that I can fix or if it is just that my body is not ready for that pose and 2) so that I know what I look like when I treach so that if I show the pose I also know how to explain what it is supposed to feel like and the basic look of the pose. Being able to see right then and there what your body looks like I think has much merit to help deepen personal practice. I would use the mirrors as a prop more than anything because it will also promote safety in being able to say, “See how this part of your body is out of alignment with the rest? let’s back off and build strength in that area. we’ll come back to that pose later.”
    I also think it would be helpful for the teacher to see both sides to their student at the same time to help with proper alignment. I feel it would potentially reduce the risk of injury of unfamiliar poses.
    Again, this is my opinion, and I feel that each person as well as each yoga teacher has their own style and that should be celebrated. Namaste!

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks for all your insight Brian. I agree that the mirror can absolutely be a useful tool for students exactly in the way you describe. Good luck with your business!

  2. I believe it is important to know how to correctly perform an asana in order not to get hurt, but I also think that we should feel the asana inside even if it is nor aesthetically perfect on the outside. I am a student who can perform very well certain asanas while others come out, well, not that beautiful to watch. The mirror has to show me how to correct slight or potentially dangerous mistakes, but it should not force me to look for perfection at all costs.

  3. I could not disagree more. If a teacher is doing their job they should be able to use descriptive enough language for the student to know what they should be doing AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, feeling. And it is not necessary for a student to have perfect alignment in the beginning as long as they aren’t doing anything that could cause injury. Classes should be small enough so that the teacher can actually see what their students are doing and help them to make adjustments. A teacher should also be able to demo the pose and describe how correct alignment should FEEL.

    I have been a yoga practitioner for nearly 40 years and a teacher for nearly 20. I have only once taught in a room with mirrors and I instructed the students TO NOT look at themselves in the mirror. This class was at American University and students actually loved being told not to look and to focus on what they were physically and mentally feeling.

    Yoga is not supposed to be an aerobic workout class where the teacher stays at the front of the room and barks instructions. And it’s not like working out at a gym where the focus is solely on the physical. If Yoga is to remain the mind, body, spirit discipline that it was intended to be, there is no reason for mirrors in a classroom.

    1. While I agree with your sentiment, I have practiced many times directly in front of a mirrored wall and find that it is helpful to see exactly what I’m doing, and I’m surprisingly able to have a strong drishti while gazing at myself. I’ve also taught in several gyms and studios with mirrors and I do find it helpful to prompt my students to look at their bodies to adjust for specific alignments.

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