I am surprised every time when I adjust a student’s asana and they apologise. Thankfully that doesn’t happen often! What it does tell me is that that student is either judging her/himself or is afraid of being judged by the other participants or the teacher.
A while ago I attended a class I haven’t been to before and when the opportunity arose, took flying crow. It is a fairly advanced asana (there are other far more advanced than that!), which I enjoy doing and like to practice as my left side is not nearly as balanced as the right! While doing this, I heard a comment from the teacher: “Remember folks, this is not a competition.” She must have seen a reaction in some of the participants and was letting them know that.
Years ago, early on in my teaching days there was a fellow teacher who reasonably regularly attended one of my classes. I noticed her often rolling her eyes or frowning and shaking her head. Naturally, as a beginner teacher, that nearly threw me completely! Another teacher, also early after our training course, liked to slap the floor to get me to come over and then she would point out something she thought I should adjust in a student, or if she thought I should be doing something differently.
Yeah – I know. Really bad behaviour, right? The last two are (very real, unfortunately) extreme examples of judging that does happen. I confided in a more experienced teacher and as we talked, and her assuring me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my teaching, I realised that the judgement has so much more to do with the judger than it has to do with the judged.
So, if you find yourself feeling critical of how you practice, or if you are afraid of being judged by others, here are some tips:
1 Practising yoga is not a competition.
Yep – that first teacher was absolutely right. And yes, there are competitive personalities wherever you go. Just try to remember that you aren’t there to compete. You are there for your own practice, whatever “level” it may be at. (This is one of the reasons I never ask a new participant what “level” they are at. It only makes opportunity for labels. And if you are a teacher worth her/his salt you will get a very good idea, well before the first round of sun salutations ends, how experienced that person is. And a teacher would use that knowledge only to help with cueing and adjusting poses, offering modifications and possibly the pace.)
2 A good teacher would never judge you.
Not in the negative way that would label you. Don’t be afraid. Your practice space is safe. So is your learning. And if you ever have the misfortune to land up in a class where that happens, use your power: don’t go back to that class. Or perhaps have a chat with the teacher. There is also always a chance that perhaps you might have felt judged but in reality weren’t. Nevertheless, here is something else that would be good to remember: keep trying different classes and different teachers until you hit on someone whom you feel comfortable with and feel you can learn something from.
3 Get out of your head and into the practice.
Seriously. When we practice yoga, that is what we are doing. Not analysing, not wondering how we are doing, not thinking about what to make for dinner or what the student next to you thinks of your practice. We practice yoga.
4 Remember older poses you couldn’t do before.
Just remember the first time you mastered crow pose. When you first saw it demonstrated, chances are you thought something like: “That looks so hard. I wonder if I could do it.” Then you did progress! That’s how I advise students to think about poses that look really difficult. Chances are that some of them are, but with persistence and practice, you will learn how to do them. That is what we do when we attend a yoga class, after all. We go there to learn and to practice.
5 Judgement says more about the judger than it says about the judged.
We all see life through unique eyes, with our unique experiences and interpretations behind that. Perhaps the person you feel judged by (if they really are and you’re not just afraid they might) does that because they feel uncertain. The thing is, we can’t possibly know everything. Allow for that. Just remain true to yourself. And to your practice.
6 Yoga practice is your time and your effort.
Remember why you went in the first place. You wanted something out of practising yoga. Own your time and your effort. Don’t allow real or perceived judgements spoil that for you.
By the way, these tips work in other situations in life too! Try it, you might just notice the usefulness of that.
Wishing you lots of happy hours of practice.