The problem of mirrors, the promise of books

A lack of mirrors is one of the defining characteristics of Astanga vs. other forms of yoga (especially here in America). As a result, you don’t see yourself all that often (unless you’re taking photos/videos of yourself for all your Instagram followers).

Under the watchful eye of a teacher, this isn’t a huge deal, I suspect. But for the lonely home practitioners, maybe it is more of a problem?

View from my mat -- at least I was facing the sun.
View from my mat — at least I was facing the sun.

Tuesday morning, I was traveling for work and practice happened in my hotel room. Thing was, the only real spot was between two mirrors. I didn’t think much of this, until I happened to catch a vague glimpse of myself while moving into down dog.

It didn’t look like the photos in the Swenson manuals or Yoga Mala. But, I knew this. Not a real shocker.

The bigger shock was updog. (And now I was briefly unfocused and distracted by the mirror.) That’s all my back bends?

Of course, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. It isn’t as if the bend of my back in updog is somehow going to be remarkably more supple than a backbend. But nevertheless, it was a harsh reminder of where the purely physical part of my practice is. (And a reminder of why I’m not on Instagram.)

What I’m not sure of, a day later, is whether this not-so-revelation was helpful, harmful — or somewhere in between. As I said, it wasn’t a surprise, though it was a bit of humbling. And so I’m equally unsure whether the occasional status check is worthwhile — again, especially for someone not under a teacher’s eye every day. (I don’t want to muck with drishti.) Will it help me be more precise with my asana? Or will I just be focused on the wrong things?

On a separate subject, Tim Miller relates his ongoing love of books in this week’s blog post:

Last week I was browsing at the Barnes and Noble table labeled “Books Everyone Should Read”, and came across a book called Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. I picked it up, read several of the mini reviews, and was intrigued enough to buy it and take it with me on my trip to Montclair, New Jersey over the weekend. It has been a long time since a book has moved me as much as Tattoos on the Heart. Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest who grew up in Los Angeles. In 1986 he became the Pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, the poorest parish in the Los Angeles archdiocese. Dolores Mission Church sits in the middle of two large public-housing projects, Pico Gardens and Aliso Village, an area with the highest concentration of gang activity in all of Los Angeles. Tattoos on the Heart is filled with tender, heartbreaking, and uplifting stories of Father Boyle’s work with the “homies” of Pico-Aliso over more than two decades. In Father Boyle’s words, “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

In my work life — for which I was in that hotel — I’ve had the good fortune to work a bit with Father Boyle and both Homeboy Industries. (The Homegirl salsa, available in regular grocery stores, is worth searching out and then, of course, eating.) I’m not surprised that Tim found a lot to be inspired by in Boyle’s memoir.

And finally, if you haven’t seen the latest diet news, apparently more and more evidence points to what we’ve written about here: Avoid processed foods. But enjoy fats, including butter (ghee).

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

5 thoughts on “The problem of mirrors, the promise of books”

  1. Thank you for the varied thoughts – on the mirror front, I would say that it can be useful once in a while to check yourself, but it’s probably best if you make some time for it in the afternoon-ish rather than break concentration & flow. I used to do a lot of ballet and the mirrors are helpful to check alignment and how you present yourself but can easily be [not -so] borderline narcissistic. Just my two cents, the middle way as always!

  2. I found myself practicing in a mirrored room last summer. It was a humbling experience that caused me to lose some weight right off the bat. But I soon got used to myself (“Oh, it’s you. Hello again.”) and after a couple weeks, things were back to normal, including the fit of my pants. Seriously though, I do think I gained some understanding about my body in balancing poses. A humorous aside: this was in a back room of a fitness center where I was by myself. People left me alone for the most part, but thought me suddenly blind in headstand and would gather outside the doorway to stare at me.

  3. I practice daily in a shala that shares space with a dance studio. So, mirrors. It was very distracting at first. And yeah, everytime I see myself I think “Am I really that fat?” But eventually you get used to it and it’s not that much of a distraction. As for helpful/hurtful, I’d venture to say that practicing more regularly with a teacher would be far more helpful than having mirrored walls. We all have unrealistic expectations of what our asana practice “should” look like. The reality is that no two asana practices look alike. We have unique bodies, and thus our own unique asana practice. Yes, of course, there are “right” and “wrong” things that, again, can be corrected by a good teacher, but in the end I think a mirror with self criticism alone does more harm than good.

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