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In the first few years I practiced yoga, I used to lay my mat in a different spot in the room for each class. Then I realized that was every bit as compulsive as always being in the same spot! Now I set up in a corner, usually a back corner. When I go to class, some of the students identify me as the studio owner, as a teacher, or as the author of books on yoga for athletes, and I don’t want the pressure of expectations. These expectations go both ways: if students (mistakenly!) think I’ll be an asana superstar, I don’t want to feel like I have to perform; if I am feeling tired from my workouts, as I often am, I don’t want to push in my asana practice as the result of my misguided sense of peer pressure. Of course the practice is about each individual, and of course we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others—but why not stack the deck in our favor by choosing the right spot in the room? It will make focusing easier.
You probably make similar choices about mat placement, possibly without realizing it. Your position in the room can directly affect the level of competition you sense and indulge. As we’ve already seen, yoga is not a competition. But for athletes who are used to demonstrating their physical ability and comparing their skills with others’, choosing the right place in a group class can be critical to the success or failure of the practice.
Know your personality so you can choose a location in the room that supports your needs instead of playing into your insecurities. If you get swept up in the action of the crowd and are tempted to notice what others are doing, you can fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. In this case, you may want to put yourself in the front corner, facing the wall, so there’s less visual distraction to detract from your focus.
Conversely, if you feel self-conscious in front of the room and would like to feel fewer eyes on you, try a spot in the back. You’ll have more visual input from the class, but the gaze will be primarily a one-way experience, so you may feel less pressure to perform.
Wherever you wind up, remember that each student brings an idiosyncratic set of abilities and life experiences to the practice. The very things that make you less flexible—stiff hips that help with efficient energy transfer for running, strong chest muscles to help you block linebackers—may be plusses in your sport. In my classes, I’ve seen professional athletes gawk at the abilities of advanced asana practitioners, and I’ve seen weekend warriors go wide in the eyes while looking at the figures of collegiate-champion athletes. While we can appreciate the range of abilities in class, ultimately each of us must work with the body we have, in the shape and energy level that show up on the mat today.