It happens. You go to a yoga class to connect with your body, your breath, and the purest part of yourself, but instead, get caught up looking around the room. Invariably you notice a fellow student with a more advanced practice and perfect, Instagram-worthy postures. Suddenly all of your good intentions and positive feelings fly out the window. Now you just feel bad about yourself, resentful, and completely discouraged. Congratulations! You have just met a master teacher: Envy.
Envy is defined as “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.” Yoga class is the perfect place for envy to rear its head. As the very personal practice of yoga has moved into classrooms filled with students of varied abilities and experience levels, the tendency to compete and compare naturally arises.
In yoga, we don’t want to stifle our feelings, but rather investigate and learn from them. If you notice envious thoughts, such as judgment of others, competitiveness, self-doubt, or despair creeping into your practice, pause and take a breath. This is a signpost that your thoughts have shifted out of alignment with the goal of self-examination.
When envy shows up on the mat:
- Stop, breathe, and shift your attention to your internal experience. Notice where contraction shows up in your body. Send your breath there.
- Be curious! Ask yourself what personal insecurities might be hidden beneath your uncomfortable feelings, and challenge them – Where did they come from? Are they true?
- Practice gratitude. Be thankful for all of the things your body can do. Thank yourself for the work you’ve put in and the strides you have made.
- Allow envy to morph into inspiration! Switch the script from, “I wish my hips were that open!” to “Wow, that’s beautiful! I will add more hip-openers to my home practice.”
- Beware of the urge to push yourself beyond your limits in an attempt to emulate another’s posture. Injuries happen when we force.
My teacher’s teacher used to say, “Look at your own practice!” When we can remain detached and curious, envy at someone else’s success is not necessarily a bad thing. It can remind us of where we want to improve, and simultaneously afford us an opportunity to practice santosha (contentment).
In the context of yoga, contentment is not something we simply have but is something we practice and cultivate. Santosha and ambition are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to be content with where you are, even with an eye on where you want to go. Yoga can only be found in the here and now. An enviable asana practice is either the icing on the cake or a consolation price. The true gems are peace of mind at every step, and joy in the journey.
The reality is this: There will always be people with more open hips, greater flexibility, superior strength, and better balance than you. Perhaps they have been practicing longer, or simply have a natural propensity for those things. Conversely, there will also be those who appear less accomplished than you. Maybe they are absolute beginners or dealing with injuries or physical limitations. It is quite possible they are envious of you!
Regardless, we all have our own unique strengths and challenges. Let’s allow this to inspire us. Appreciate your neighbor’s beautiful postures. Let them show you what is possible through hard work and dedication. Admire the student behind you who is clearly struggling, yet continues to show up every week, a beacon of determination. Remind yourself that your worth as a person, a student, and aspiring yogi is absolute.