I have been practicing yoga for the last 4 years and have frequented a range of yoga studios in varying locations – Bikram in London, Hatha in Hong Kong, Power Vinyasa in Australia and Ashtanga in Singapore. What all the studios have in common are…the request to take off my shoes as I enter, the constant persuasion to purchase a membership, and of course requiring practice to be on a mat! However what they all had different opinions on was whether or not the studio room had a mirror. Yes a mirror!!
Currently embarking on my teacher training and with the intention of opening my own studio one day, I am curious to investigate the general consensus on the existence of mirrors. Are mirrors indeed necessary and helpful in yoga practice or do they promote narcissistic, self absorbed and egoistic behavior? You may say this is an extremist view and pessimistic in nature, but let me tell you a short story…
Today I attended a workshop with Tryphena Chia, a famous Singaporean yoga teacher following Baron Baptiste’s Power Vinyasa method. During the asana practice, I noticed a number of the students observing their poses in the mirror, admiring the sweat dripping off their bodies, their muscular physiques, or ability to get into bakasana (crow pose). Yes I saw one girl in crow pose actually turn her head towards the mirror during this arm balance to ‘check herself out’!
I’ll admit to be able to observe this my drishtii was obviously off course because I had been contemplating whether I would have mirrors in my own studio.
It may be pessimistic to assume that these people are only ‘checking themselves out’ as opposed to ensuring their alignment is correct, but in the last 3 weeks of yoga teacher training, we have been taught to feel ourselves into a pose. Keep trying, and you will know when you’re doing it correctly because eventually it becomes effortless. We are encouraged to maintain our gaze point, avoid all external distractions, competitive behaviours and ultimately go inward. We don’t have any mirrors. We only have teachers who guide us through the asana practice and adjust and assist where needed.
The very word ‘yoga’ itself denotes the connection between mind, body and spirit. It’s about having love for yourself and others, discipline in practice and mind and karmic behavior. It’s about finding your peace, or sense of ‘samadhi’.
Not every human being can twirl their legs into lotus (i.e. me), or twist their way into revolved crescent lunge or stand on their heads. This is why it is called a practice and not a perfection. Your body is different day to day, depending on the mind, emotions and external factors such as temperature.
When I think of mirrors and physical movements, I think of a burly bloke admiring his protruding biceps while doing 50kg bicep curls. My interpretation and understanding of yoga is different, and while physical alignment is important in order to avoid injury, I believe mirrors introduce self judgment about your abilities compared to other people in the class and confuse your gaze point. Yoga is a practice that you should feel rather than think your way through. In fact one of the goals of yoga is to free the mind of monkey thoughts! When there’s a mirror in front of you, there exists the risk of having to see and think. When there’s not a mirror in front of you, your only option is to feel. Maintaining your peace and breath is more important than striving for a “perfect” pose that may not suit your body, or a “perfect” anything for that matter.
This is why I believe the teacher’s role is so important, as they serve as a “mirror” to guide you with demonstrations and adjustments. In a Bikram class, the whole one and half hours is spent analyzing every part of your body in the steamy condensing mirror staring at you. A real yoga practice is about body awareness, and knowing even with your eyes closed that you are in the best version of a posture that you can be.
This is my take on mirrors in yoga studios, but I’m always open to others’ ideas and perspectives. I’d love to know what has been your experience. Do you prefer being able to see and adjust your alignment, or does it make you uncomfortable having to watch yourself practice? What have you learnt from practicing with mirrors? What have you learnt from practicing without?
All I can say is I prefer no mirrors, because on most occasions after an hour and a half of a grueling Ashtanga practice, I don’t look like I feel!!!
Written by: Priyanka Natarajan (200 hr TTC March 2014)