I am not, by nature, a competitive person. The spirit of competition has its place and purpose, but generally speaking I have never really been driven by comparing myself to others. One of the many reasons yoga drew me in is because it places so little focus on competition; and as a result promotes a nonjudgmental atmosphere and attitude, which I am constantly striving to uphold.
In a society driven by competition, it is so comforting to have a place where I don’t have to think about how I stack up against others. Most other areas of fitness or athletics are measured by score, time, rank, points, etc…when I discovered yoga, realized that it is indeed a “practice,” I felt immediately at home on my mat. As a beginner, it is natural to think in comparative terms because there is nothing on which to base your experience. In time with consistent practice we learn how to abandon the motives of the ego and embrace the here and now. In “Yoga Beyond Belief,” Ganga White dictates, “Yoga is a field where everyone can win, because winning is not about who does the best asana but about learning to do the best asana for your body in each moment.” (p. 59)
I encourage my students to use the mirrors, especially as a tool for correction and alignment, but NEVER as a critical tool. The same principal applies to observing other students in the room, particularly those who may be more experienced or advanced. We should look to our fellow yogis as a source of inspiration, not comparison or competition. On page 59 White adds, “Watching a more advanced student can be a source of inspiration and instruction. Practice to learn and grow, not to win or defeat.”
Once we are able to let go of competition and judgement of oneself, we are able to extend that behavior outward towards others. There is not one other person who will ever inhabit your body. And your own experience is ever changing. Day to day your practice can feel and be very different. When we can accept, as students, that we are always learning and life is always changing, it becomes easier to remove the pressures of competition and judgement. In my yoga journey I have not established a fixed start or end point, nor do I think either even exists. When I begin any given practice, I know it is about being in the moment and doing the best that I can. I am grateful to have been gifted the wherewithal to take that attitude with me off the mat, removing not only the insecurity involved with comparing myself to other people, but the judgement that comes with it, both of myself and towards others.
It is highly difficult to remove the notion of competition and comparing to any activity, and yoga is no exception. But as yoga philosophy will encourage, it is less about comparing ourselves to others and more about removing the pressure that we are inferior (or superior) to others, on or off the mat. Being a good yogi isn’t about having the best standing split in the room. It’s about knowing that on any given day, you are doing your best with what you’ve been given…acknowledging the pros and cons. Some days energy and flexibility are strong…other days fatigue, soreness or injury can interfere. Again recognizing that yoga is not a linear path enables us to appreciate the many gifts yoga can provide. I’ll close with another Ganga White quote, “Your practice is for you–for your growth, development, and well-being.” (p. 59)