It is an undeniable difficulty: it is easy (and very common) to be self-conscious in yoga class.
I look at the gorgeous young things at the front of a hot class in their skimpy Lululemon crop tops and short short shorts putting their heads on their feet with ease… I look away to see a muscular gymnastic guy balancing on his hands bare chested, all biceps and pecs, not perspiring but glistening…. if I am unlucky enough to be in a studio with mirrors I may accidentally (I try not to look) catch a glimpse of myself red-faced, sweaty, bulky, in an old T-shirt and sweat pants, struggling to reach into warrior 1.
I think, What am I doing here?
The answer is, I am trying to Know Myself. My limitations are what I am here to experience. Not to conceptualise, but to experience my edges, the edge of what I am capable of today, in this moment. Yoga is one of the few physical activities which involves or requires nothing more than your own body. There is no extenuating circumstance, no equipment failure or advantage. You simply know what you can do or can not do. Today. In this moment.
One of my teachers, Hayley, hates that stock phrase of yoga instructors, “…if this is available to you today”. (Eg., “…now put your ankle around your neck if it’s available to you today…”) I actually really like it, because it communicates no sense of shame or failure if in fact you cannot put your ankle around your neck. It’s just not available today. Sold out, we haven’t got any left. Maybe tomorrow there will be some. Not your fault if you can’t get it.
Another valuable thought from my teachers was to limit my awareness to the edges of my own mat. To practise Astreya , the yogic virtue of non-stealing, by not stealing other people’s practice. Think about your own practice only, without comparison or judgement. Sense into your own body rather than looking at someone else’s. Feel the effects of the pose rather than look at someone else doing it “better” or “worse” than you.
Yoga is a way of coming into a direct, unmediated experience of the self, ultimately leading to an experience of the Higher Self, the people we were meant to be, and in our finest moments, actually are. Self-awareness is valuable and central to yoga. Self-consciousness? Forget about it!