The yoga practice is a glorious dance of the physical possibilities in the human body. An advanced practice can take your breath away as easily as it can expand your ujjayi. It can twist and turn in directions that make an artist quiver with creative jealousy and inspire even the heaviest of sloths to entertain a change of mind.
That being said — it can also be intimidating as hell.
I learned, trained, teach and practice in Santa Monica, California. It is the mecca of yoga these days and the cream of the crop when it comes to beautiful practices. It’s hard to find a level 2-3 class that doesn’t have at least one yogi soaring through the air in-between asanas or adding what appears to be a level-X variation to every pose. It can often be inspiring and mind-blowing but it can also be, in a word, daunting.
I’ve been blessed with a body and sensibility that gives me the tools to explore the “fancier” side of the yoga practice. I can invert with the best of them, hip open to a level that looks uncomfortable, and let’s not forget — face plant like a champ. The earlier days of my practice revolved more around the latter; fall after fall, disappointment, frustration and occasionally even tears.
I wanted yoga so bad.
I craved a fluid practice, hoping to float someday like the advanced yogis that surrounded me practicing 3rd- and 4th-series Ashtanga. Often I would look at them with awe and appreciation and other days with resentment because it seemed so physically unattainable. How is one supposed to make the impossible possible? My head would spin with so many questions that I’d have no choice but to stand on it to empty out my thoughts.
My worst experience occurred during my earlier years when I unrolled my mat next to a girl who was new to our studio. She was tall, blonde and statuesque. You could immediately tell by her body language that she had danced at some point in her life and had vertebrae that moved in ways that mine could only dream of. I was already having a particularly emotional day when the teacher brought us to the handstand section of class. I was still a fledgling in the handstand department — dutifully trying to kick up in the middle of the room but feeling more like a baby donkey than the Cirque performer next to me.
Every time I failed to kick up, or rather flop over onto my feet, the girl next to me seemed to float even more effortlessly. Every resounding thud of my body falling over made my ego shrink to the size of a peanut. The Amazonian next to me had won. I was so flustered after a few minutes that I crumpled into Child’s Pose on the verge of angry tears. If this girl could do it why couldn’t I? I left the studio disappointed in myself on so many levels — for being unable to perform the handstand, for being unable to do the pose as well as the girl next to me, and for letting it affect me so deeply.
Then I realized all of my thoughts were negative and focusing on what I lacked. I could only see what I “couldn’t” do instead of the plethora of abilities I’d been graced with. I started to see how foolish it was to be jealous. What a waste of energy to compare myself to someone else when I have so much to offer. I often revisit that day in my mind and murmur a quiet “thank you” to the memory so as to prevent myself from falling off track. It’s a shining reminder of who I am and that no one can take that away from me or shake my foundation. Especially in a handstand.
Jealousy makes us forget our gifts and our amazing abilities. All we can see is what someone else has that we think we lack. Once we can accept, as farfetched as it seems, that we lack nothing and are exactly where we should be — face plant or floating high in a handstand — the need to compare ceases. Never focus on what you can’t do — only imagine everything you could.
When you find yourself looking longingly towards another’s practice, take a moment to realize you don’t know their story. You have no idea what they were born like, what physical blessings they have or ailments they’ve overcome. You don’t know if they are happy or sad, content or confused, or if they spend every waking moment working on that pose that you so long for. For all you know, their practice may be amazing but their social life totally shot!
Also, remember that every time you look at someone with wonder and envy, someone is looking back at you exactly the same way. It may not be for the same reason or yoga pose, but there is something in you so amazing that you’ve forgotten exists because you live with it every day. Our talents don’t seem as special as others’ because we can already achieve them — no big deal, right? The same thing may go for that girl in handstand or a person with their foot behind their head. They may look at one of your poses and marvel, wondering how you do it with so much grace.
Moral of the story — you are unique, talented and blessed. The yoga practice is here to guide us. To make us unafraid of connection and to forget our obstacles and realize that everything is exactly where it should be. There’s no need to be jealous or feel any lack because you are already set up with every tool you’ll ever need to succeed or land in a physical pose. I believe Joseph Campbell put it best when he said, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
So be yourself. Connect. Evoke admiration instead of jealousy, compassion instead of competition, and inspiration as you look around a room. We’re all in this together.
Take a class with Kathryn on our new streaming video site, Gaiam TV!