Could you imagine how radiation for a cancerous tumor might affect our energy level? What about dealing with the very recent death of a loved one? Could you imagine the limitations or discomfort of being constipated or having a herniated disc? What about neck problems or hamstring issues, a recent surgery, tobacco withdrawals, bad eyesight or hearing, drug addiction, hangover, arthritis, lupus, sprained finger, wrist, ankle or toe? What about PMS, menstruation, menopause or the first trimester of pregnancy? What about hemorrhoids, gout or insomnia? The above conditions are a very minute percentage of the problems and conditions that the people around us could and probably are dealing with that we would not notice by looking at them. Also, the fact that all of us are by-products of completely unique histories, which have affected us uniquely.
In other words, all of our experiences are very different, as well as our needs. Understanding this seems to highlight the absurdity of comparing and competing with others.
I really cannot think of too many better ways to disrespect ourselves than comparing and competing with others. Wherever we find high levels of competition, we also find high levels of corruption, stress, sickness and injury. We live in highly competitive times in a highly competitive world. We have created catch phrases to mock our competitiveness like “rat race” and “trying to keep up with the Joneses.” What’s ironic is the Joneses are trying to keep up with the Smiths and the Smiths are trying to keep up with the Edelsteins and the Edelsteins are trying to keep up with the Wolinskies and the reason is because the Joneses suffer from the same disease we suffer from, which is they do not believe they are good enough the way they are. So they are always trying to be better, which in our society means acquiring more, which never seems to work because those things can never help us love ourselves and accept ourselves exactly the way we are, which seems to me the only way to any lasting and deep contentment and peace.
I have two separate stories I want to share with you to emphasize the personal nature of this yoga practice.
The first story has to do with a highly regarded body builder who happened to be in my class many years back. This guy was close to having biceps bigger than his head. As I had the class in downward-facing dog, this guy’s arms started shaking pretty badly. He seemed perplexed as to why he was so quickly fatiguing, and the girl next to him was holding the posture seemingly easily and comfortably. Finally, he had to come out of the pose, as his arms were about to collapse. As he was on his knees resting, he looked totally perplexed as he gazed around the room at everyone else in the pose seemingly fine. What this body builder did not realize was that although he was very strong, possibly stronger than anyone else in the class, his short, tight, overdeveloped muscles were really restricting his range of motion, and he was expending much more energy and effort just to push his joints straight, and therefore fatiguing faster.
The other story is about a hyperflexible young woman who attended my class regularly. She was very proud to always be the most flexible person in the class. This title of most flexible can only be attained by comparing with others, so obviously her deeper understanding of yoga practice was missing. Well, one day in class we were doing a seated forward bend. As this girl was looking around the room, she noticed the girl next to her looked like she was able to go further in the pose than she herself could. Although she could easily touch her head to her legs in the pose, the girl next to her actually had her forehead resting on their big toes. This looked much deeper. At this point the proud, Loose Girl started desperately trying to get her head to her feet, but she couldn’t, and you could read the frustration all over her face. What her competitive, distracted mind failed to realize was that she actually might have been more flexible than this girl next to her, who looked as if she were going deeper into the pose. It’s just that this girl next to her had short legs and a long torso, which made touching her head to her feet easier. She, on the other hand, had long legs and a short torso; she was never going to do it (without serious injury) even though she actually may have been the more flexible of the two. The point of these stories is to emphasize how the shape of our body has a major effect on how we look in these postures, and no two people on the planet (not even identical twins) have the same shape, let alone the same diet, emotions, genetic lineage, injuries, etc. Understanding this helps one begin to see the absurdity of comparing and competing with others. It is really irrational when it comes to preventing injury and creating wellness.
Comparing and competing does not have to extend beyond our self. We could be comparing or competing with some image or ideal we have in our mind. Maybe we are comparing ourselves with past accomplishments or future goals. Maybe we are living out some program implanted in our mind by our family, friends, society, coaches, teachers or media. Incessantly told in every way how we should look, how we should act and what we should accomplish. All of this possibly being the perpetuation of a great disease or imbalance, a great emptiness that we are stressing out, trying to fill with outer accomplishments at the detriment to our true health, relationships and environment. If we do accomplish our goals or ideals, certainly there may be some satisfaction, but usually it is not long at all before it then turns into wanting something else and the cycle begins again. If we don’t accomplish our goal or the goal of our program, well that could perpetuate its own stress, from anger to depression to desperation, etc.
My experience is that we are all uniquely special and the circumstances of our conditions lead us in the direction of finding and cultivating the special gifts and qualities that enable us to positively contribute to humanity in our own unique ways. These circumstances and conditions also lead us toward the experiences that are necessary for our growth and evolution. So in that case, comparing and competing with others or with our own internal program, which is really the same thing may be a huge distraction and detour from the natural process that our conditions are attempting to accomplish so as to facilitate the experiences that will help us grow into our own, rather than something we have been told we need to be or accomplish.
There are not too many things that we are as comparative and competitive about as our aesthetics and physical prowess. So these harmful qualities certainly are likely to arise within one’s yoga practice, whether we are competing with others in the room or we are comparing ourselves with some internal ideal we have. So be on high alert. Watch carefully that we don’t fall into these old mental habits. When we do catch ourselves indulging in these harmful habits, make sure we smile. The smile is so important because we caught ourselves. It is the most important step. Then, stop feeding that habit, mental energy, and unconscious loyalty by simply bringing your attention back to your breathing and your intention of healing by touching yourself gently with love and care, which is why we are involved with this beautiful physical practice. Also, be on high alert that we do not feed these competitive qualities that can manifest as anger, frustration or disappointment by competing with this new ideal we have cultivated of ourselves of being less competitive. Now you know that comparing and competing can be harmful, so our addiction to comparing and competing manifests in the goal or ideal of “not comparing and competing.” Make sure we do not fall into this trap. If you really desire to be less comparative and competitive, then you also need to let go of competing with yourself to reach this ideal of not “comparing and competing.”
I have always felt the only way to judge your progress in yoga is in how little you judge your progress in yoga or maybe judge anything.
Welcome to Power Yoga.