How I learned to look past myself in the mirror to discover belonging instead of self-alienation.
Both of the studios I teach at have mirrors in the yoga room. It's taken me a long time to make peace with their presence. Although I recognize mirrors serve a practical purpose—to help us gain awareness of our alignment in poses—my preference has always been to feel the pose from the inside out, to sense my alignment versus see it.
Having to look outside of myself, or at my reflection, always seemed like a distraction and disruption.
And then, of course, there's the body image piece. Does the flesh around my hips really bulge like that in Warrior 2? Are my thighs really that wide? Does my stomachreally stick out that much? Do I really look like that, like all the time?
Between my personal preference and my body image complex, you can see why mirrors in the yoga room have been an annoyance and a source of angst, especially considering I spend several hours a week in front of them.
Until the other day.
Let me set the scene.
It's a Friday noon class, and it's packed. I enter the yoga room to realize that the only spaces left are next to the mirror wall—directly next to it. Meaning, to my right isn't another practitioner. It's the mirror.
I scan the room three times over, as if by the third time a space will magically become available. I roll out my mat and feel agitated. I futz with the blocks and my towel and bottle of water, nervously moving them from one side of my mat to other, pretending to get set up for class.
In the opening moments of class, I try to rest my mind on my breath, to settle in, and arrive. But that damn mirror is staring at me. I breathe deeper and try to give myself over to the flow, the rhythm of the movement, and the energy in the room.
I come face to face with myself as we enter the first Warrior 2 of the practice. I breathe deeper and close my eyes. When I opened them, magic actually did happen.
Time seemed to pause, and the sounds in the room faded away. First, I saw my own eyes—just my wide-open eyes. Next, I saw the outline of my body, the outline of Warrior 2. Then, I looked past myself and saw the entire room, filled with warriors just like me—working hard, breathing deeply, coming to their mats to find peace of mind.
In that single moment, I recognized myself in the mirror as an individual part of a larger group that came together to experience and share a common purpose. The mirror reflected the definition of the word yoga—to unite or union.
Once I looked past myself in the mirror, it showed me what I am a part of. The mirror reflected belonging versus self-alienation.
This realization brought an emotional and physical release. As the tears came I deepened the bend in my front knee, lifted my chest, reached longer through my arms, and turned my gaze forward over my fingers. The belonging I felt was so powerful and fulfilling that I didn't need to "see it" in the mirror. I could sense it from the inside out.
Now when I look in a mirror during practice, at home, or anywhere for that matter, I try to look past myself to take in the world behind me, to appreciate the spaces I inhabit or visit, to recognize myself as part of a larger group and world.
Sure, my old tapes still turn on. I am not always able to look past myself in the mirror and instead get sucked into a very small, suffocating world of negativity and self-doubt. The difference now is that I have come face to face with how mirrors can show me what is possible when I take my place in the world with the confidence of a warrior. That's a feeling I intend to hold close for a very long time.
If, like me, you struggle with mirrors in the yoga room, I would love to learn how you overcome or address the feelings they bring up for you. Please share in the comments!