Mirror, Mirror, Why Are You Here?

The presence of mirrors in some yoga studios takes the author out of her practice and into her head. Do you find mirrors in yoga class distracting or useful?
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The presence of mirrors in some yoga studios takes the author out of her practice and into her head. Do you find mirrors in yoga class distracting or useful?

by Hillary Gibson

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I’ve always been intensely competitive, constantly challenging myself to meet goals and comparing myself to others. When I began practicing yoga a little over a year ago, I felt I had found a place of community, a space where competition vanishes. Yoga studios filled with moving bodies exude an air of “we’re all in this together,” a treasured space in a world where a survival-of-the-fittest mentality usually prevails.

So, why do some yoga studios have mirrors?

For me, yoga has become a place to turn off all the competition. I practice yoga to strengthen my physical body, quiet my mind, and for a little while, forget about the ultimate goals I’m constantly working toward. For one hour, my present movements aren’t the means to some end.

But when I step into a studio enclosed by mirrors, I immediately feel restricted. Even if I waltz into class feeling every bit my inner goddess, as soon as I see my reflection I know I’m not going to have the liberating practice I hoped for. I know, I know, I’m supposed to love my body and embrace its beauty as is, but let’s face it: In a society where people are trained to meet unreasonable standards of body image, practicing non-judgment is really hard. And it's difficult to tune out the yogini executing a flawless Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) to my left and not wish I could perform it as gracefully.

But yoga is about empathy—toward oneself and others—and recognition, not competition. It's when mirrors intrude on a yoga space that I have to consciously remind myself of this.

I suppose some people want to see their reflection to help them with alignment. That’s a sensible argument, but I’ve found that feeling the posture rather than seeing it induces more beneficial muscle-memory type responses. I also suppose (and have frequently witnessed) that some people really admire their reflection and use that front and center spot to strike a few model faces. I’ve yet to see any photographers around, but I guess there could be some yogi paparazzi looming in the shadows.

For me, mirrors promote a competitive visual atmosphere that otherwise wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, exist in a yoga studio. Maybe the irritation I feel toward mirror-lined walls comes from my own inability to turn off self-judgment in certain situations, but I think there’s also something to be said for their interference with yogic practices like drishti. In a room lined with mirrors reflecting teetering yogis or amplifying visual sources of self-consciousness, it’s challenging to tune out the distractions and keep your focus soft.

When mirrors are present, I find myself significantly less rejuvenated and self-loving after a yoga practice. I treasure the opportunity to turn off criticism and appreciate my feelings and bodily sensations without judgment. During my yoga practice, I want to focus my reflections inward, not on an image in a mirror.

Hillary Gibson is the Web Editorial Intern at Yoga Journal and studies English at University of California Berkeley.