07/11/2013 02:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Downward Dog Is So Much Better Than Yours

When I first started yoga I would compare myself to others as a survival technique to figure out what the heck was going on. My eyes darted around like a fly trying to escape through a window, as I tried my best to copy what I saw. "Okay, so I put my legs here, and my arms there, and turn my head this way, and then do what again with my mula bandha?"

I envied these goddess-like creatures and Adonis men with their limber bodies folded into a variety of shapes that were vaguely reminiscent of geometry class. As I tried to force a serene look on my face, inside I would be wondering if everyone in the room was better than me while desperately searching for the one person I felt was flailing worse than I was.

As my practice deepened, I started to understand what was expected of me. Yet even though the need had dwindled, the temptation to look at others and compare myself did not go away. I would stare at the person next to me in such an extreme split they looked like an upper case W, or the girl in front doing the perfect handstand while not using her hands. But observing my fellow yogis was less about learning from them and more about likening myself to them. I realized that I was competing with everyone in the class. Those who I thought were more advanced made me feel insecure, and those who were less seasoned made me feel superior -- and tastier if I were to BBQ myself.

Any dedicated practitioner of yoga will tell you that what is experienced on the mat is often directly applicable to the rest of life. The lessons learned in the context of class are a reflection of how we operate in the world. This competitive nature of mine was infecting every aspect of my life. But I had never seen it as problematic, because I excused it as human nature. We are all competitive, and that is what motivates me to be better, right?

Considering Darwin's theory of "survival of the fittest," it is easy to assume that competition is part of nature. We had to compete in order to survive in the world of animals. This may be a relevant aspect of our place in evolution, but human nature in modern times cannot be defined by the same standards. I think it would be frowned upon if I ate someone alive at a grocery story and defended my actions by saying "lions do it all the time."

That is the beauty of human consciousness. The capacity to reflect upon our instincts and question if they are actually serving humanity -- or us. I made an assumption that being competitive with other people drove me to be better, but in actuality it distracted me from focusing on my own process. When I compared myself to others I wasn't honoring my own path. Instead of putting energy and attention into improving, I was allowing the accomplishments of those around me to divert my concentration.

I realized that this way of thinking was not only destructive, but also illogical. Whether or not someone can hold a one armed crow pose has no real relevance in my life. Just as when I get envious of a friend who has major success at work, or even a celebrity about whom I feel green-eyed. Their achievements have no bearing on me, and on what I have or have not accomplished. It reminded me of a friend who whenever she ate a cookie would always want me to do the same. As if my eating a cookie with her meant she wouldn't gain weight from it. But if you eat the cookie, you eat the cookie, and my eating it won't change a thing for you. Come to think of it, can I have your cookie too? Because these things are delicious!

In order for me to move on from this paradigm I had to change the conversation in my head. I felt it would be impossible never to compare myself to someone again, but I knew I could adjust my reaction to the impulse. Every time my ego wants to engage in that type of dialogue, I instead take a moment, and send that person loving energy. It goes kind of like this, "Uggggh, her warrior one is so much deeper than mine. I think she eats more kale then me. I am pretty sure she actually meditates and doesn't just think about what she is going to wear. But that is okay, and I send her love."

We look at others to see what they are doing to avoid facing the truth about ourselves. But the reality is that if I want to get better at something, I have to work really hard and continue to push my limits. The only person I should be competing with is myself.

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