03/07/2012 04:38 pm ET Updated May 07, 2012

Yoga Mirror

I tried out a new yoga studio the other day. Good girl, getting out of my studio rut. Oh no -- mirrors -- on two walls, no less. Inescapable. I am partial to the notion that our alignment in yoga ought to come from the inside, from learning to feel when we are correctly aligned, with, of course, lots of help from the hands-on adjustments I so love. I tried not to look. Unsuccessfully. Was that really my standing split? My pyramid pose?

Gumby, I am not. I know that. I'm not naturally stretchy, and I'm even less flexible once you add in the compounding factors of running and old hamstring injuries. But that hasn't discouraged me from doing yoga for the last 18 years and, at least in my mind, I've started to understand the poses from the inside out. There are some days in yoga when I feel strong and aligned and, yes, as if I've captured some of the grace of the practice in my pose.

Then I looked in the mirror. What I saw was how high my leg did not go in standing split (my poor hamstrings doth protest too much). How my upper body didn't go past 90 degrees as I bent toward my legs in pyramid pose (more hamstring chatter). My leg felt higher. My upper body felt closer to my legs. In my mind.

Because here's the thing: Inside of me, I was doing those poses to the highest level of excellence possible for me. But the mirror seemed to be telling me a different story, one that got me a little down.

Later that same day, I was having a conversation with a friend and mentioned that I'd had a big reality check in yoga that day. Here I thought maybe my practice was deepening, and instead I looked like a beginner. I get beginner mind. That's one thing. But, beginner body? How deflating.

You're so judgmental, my friend said. Where's your humility?

What? Who? Me? Not humble? Wasn't I just being self-critical? Isn't that humble?

Turns out... not so much.

As my friend so wisely pointed out, who was I to judge what was excellence in my yoga practice? My ego, the judge, was arrogant enough to think it knew better than my body what was right and good for me. Where did my ego get off questioning that little piece of the divine that's in me, in all of us, that part of us that strives for excellence, that strives to find the perfect balance between all that we are and all that we're capable of? Where indeed? I guess it's an ego, so we don't look to it for humility. Who or what knows better -- a mirror, or what my body is telling me it feels about my effort?

My experience with the mirror in yoga was, of course, an object lesson in how ill-equipped we are to judge others on appearances. I had all the information about the woman I was seeing in the mirror, and still she fell short of where I thought she ought to be. Imagine how far wrong we can go when we have only the barest sliver of information about other people?

The grace of my practice comes from inside me and cannot be judged based on how closely I resemble a photo spread of, say, Christy Turlington, in Yoga Journal. I'll let you take the next step and apply that same idea to judging others' efforts in yoga, as in life.

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